Rachel Roberts on doing Dogme WITH a coursebook

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Rachel’s was one of several talks at this year’s IATEFL which sought to redress the balance in the coursebooks versus Dogme dichotomy. Others included Hugh Dellar and Herbert Puchta. Her principle claim is that you don’t have to choose between using a coursebook or letting the language ‘emerge’ from interaction in the classroom – you can do both. Rachel’s talk was rich in visual metaphors, and her images for the two polar positions here were a man naked in the woods, representing the teacher who goes into the classroom with nothing but their wit, versus an armored combat vehicle representing the teacher that hides behind too much material. While the latter is obviously bad, the former would be unattainable to most teachers, and especially to newcomers to the profession.

Rachel took the image of a dog’s tail to cue a Scott Thornbury quote to the effect that materials should not be the tail that wags the dog. This was an idea that she endorsed. She showed an image of a set of winding steps in a garden, which represented the steps of grammar mcnuggets which is a naïve teacher’s perception of how languages are learnt. The same image with massive sections erased represented the learner’s perceptions of the same thing. One, for example, showed the steps with the garden blanked out, showing how in this learner’s perception, language was nothing more than grammar structures. To illustrate the alternaive ‘complex-systems’ view of how languages are learnt, Rachel presented photos of natural formations – flocking geese; snowflakes; crystals – which illustrate how complexity can emerge from simplicity.

Now, having gone this far in agreement with Dogme ideas, Rachel set out to demonstrate how teaching with materials can do much the same thing as teaching materials-light, and in a way which is much more realistic for teachers who may have limited experience and high time constraints. She took some sample pieces of coursebook and online material (from her site elt-resourceful) and suggested how to exploit and adapt them to make them more interactive, motivating and engaging.

In question time at the end of the talk, Hugh Dellar said that coursebooks had come a long way since the examples often quoted in support of Dogme positions. Hugh also picked up on Rachel’s metaphor of the coursebook as recipe book: he said that teachers can become so experienced in the use of a coursebook that they ‘internalize’ it., much as a cook might eventually dispense with the receipe. Such teachers may be able to improvise, materials-light, but they are enabled to do so precisely because of the previous use of a coursebook. Chia Suan Chong remarked that coursebooks can be damaging in that many teachers do not realize that they are ‘allowed’ to depart from them, so that they become a straightjacket. Finally, Mike Hogan echoed Rachel’s call for a balanced middle ground, steering clear of the ‘evangelists’ on either extreme. See Rachel's audio slide-show of the talk.


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