Hugh Dellar on Dogme with coursebooks

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IATEFL-Liverpool -

Hugh seeks to engage with Dogme, and Scott’s sitting near the door! Good healthy banter and discussion on a current polemic.

Hugh began by giving us a brief history of the Dogme 95 manifesto (which includes 10 tenets that would enable filmmaking to return to traditional values), and its subsequent development to an opt-in form for filmmakers in which they self-certify a film’s convergence to the Dogme rules. He then set about describing Dogme Language Teaching, launched by Scott Thornbury in 2000 as a reaction to the plethora of publisher-generated materials being churned out. Hugh’s presentation aimed at exploring how the main principles behind Dogme could inform the production and use of classroom materials; in other words, to reframe the Dogme debate by moving it on from a ‘for or against the use of coursebooks’ scenario - a position assumed by many Dogme disciples today. 

Conversation-driven teaching: In the Dogme-approach to teaching, this precept manifests itself as a response to an initial task set up to get students talking. The teacher then mediates the ‘emergent language’ by paraphrasing, personalising, extending, reworking and reformulating. Hugh expressed concern that with this approach, students would inevitably be talking about the ‘here and now’, and this would make it difficult for a Dogme course to cover all language needs a student might have.  He argued in favour of developing more rounded conversational skills through materials which had been designed with communicative goals in mind (for example on those based on the CEFR Can-do statements). This, he posits, would result in more effective and coherent coverage. The materials would scaffold conversations, just as the Dogme-approach advocates, and would additionally also cover core lexis and grammar.

Affordances: Scott’s 6th commandment is that the teacher’s role is to optimise language learning opportunities by directing attention to emergent language. For Hugh, affordances might also be embedded in materials themselves through what he terms ‘ambient language’, that is language lurking in exercises and which teachers can choose to focus on. He demonstrated this using a piece of coursebook material, pointing out that we can plan how to use ambient language in tasks and activities to provide students with greater opportunities to say something (either personal, or related to the experience of others) by using words and ideas that are ‘floating free’ in the materials. This approach would result in a lesson being materials-light, and one which would minimize the need for supplementary materials … as in Dogme.

Speaking generated by coursebook materials: Hugh commented that this provides as much of an opportunity to explore what students want to say (but can’t quite do yet) as any authentic non-coursebook material might do. He demonstrated with an Upper Intermediate activity in which he presents responses to statements and questions given by others (say, people who live in Britain, for example) before getting students to share their own opinions. Monitoring, board work and a focus on language after the activity also provides a foundation for language embedded in a listening to follow. Another area of convergence.

Student engagement with content: For Hugh, here’s where the Dogme approach isn’t his cup of tea - he doesn’t subscribe to the belief that students will always be most engaged by texts created by themselves. Hugh argues that such content would be unlikely to contain language beyond the students’ current levels. Rather, getting students to create texts before hearing or reading materials pitched slightly above their level provides the opportunity to work on language in a continuous and coherent manner.

Interactivity and dialogic process – with knowledge being co-constructed: Two more rules of a Dogme-driven approach which Hugh demonstrated were not mutually exclusive and thus appropriate to working on through cousebook materials. Using a coursebook listening activity, he showed how teachers could generate interactivity, and co-construct and mediate for both stronger and weaker, less confident class members.

Voice, relevance, critical use: the final three areas Hugh addressed and applied to teaching based on published material. Again, no mutual-exclusivity to be afforded to Dogme.  

Hugh’s presentation clearly argued and demonstrated that Dogme principles can indeed contribute to good classroom practice using coursebooks – so dispelling the myth that it’s a case of either one or the other. To be continued … for sure …



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