TESOL France: Jemma Gardener on emergent language

Blog - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/140

Jemma began her presentation by explaining that she would be dealing with the ‘hows’ rather than ‘whys’ in her ‘teaching unplugged’ or dogme-based presentation. She started by explaining the three main pillars of the approach: it is context-driven, materials-light and it focusses on emergent classroom language (spoken or written and can involve any language at any time). The key principles of the approach are that it is a dialogic process, with content being relevant to the learners and driven by their interests. The teachers’ role is to bring attention to the features of emergent language then put that language ‘back to work’.

True to the ‘how’ focus, participants were asked to consider how the following example of emergent language ‘It was really embarrassing’ might be put back to work (hints: think about functional/situational contexts, vocab building, discourse features, phonology or grammar – NB: Note the position of grammar!). This decision should be made in tandem with what our students most need, what’s most relevant today, what our learners most want to do, and what we teachers are most happy to do today. Once decided, focus on the emergent language can take many forms, and involve, for example, pair-work, discussion and role-play.

Jemma acknowledged that institutional constraints, for example having to use designated coursebooks and present detailed lesson plans to superiors, might make it difficult for teachers to take up a dogme approach. She did, however, make the case that teachers could start by generalising rather than specifying when it came to lesson plans, leave space for emergent moments in our classes, plan less than they’ll need and not fear what might happen.

In the Dogme approach, the teacher still makes decisions, but they are based on what’s happened rather than the blind turning of the coursebook page which, inevitably, will have been written by people who weren’t there and won’t know the needs of particular individuals. The approach doesn’t outlaw use of the coursebook per-se, rather teachers should feel free to use it as a prop as or if they wish to.

One lovely touch in Jemma’s presentation was her exemplification of the dogme approach as her presentation proceeded. Rather than following a pre-determined sequence of content and corresponding slides, she moved with ease from one topic to another as participants raised various issues. The effect of this was that we teachers felt we were being listened to, and our emergent and immediate needs were being valued and dealt with. A compelling parallel …

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