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I came away from the recent IATEFL annual conference in Brighton (this link will take you to the online site where there is a plethora of content available – plenaries, videoed sessions, discussion fora, and more) with a few questions and a lot of ideas.

One area that piqued my interest was that of Dogme and thinking about how to assess it in practice in my own teaching content.

If you’re not familiar with the term Dogme then the following links will, I hope, be of some use:

Scott Thornbury: D is for Dogme, An A to Z of ELT

The Dogme Yahoo discussion group

Teaching Unplugged, Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Delta Publishing

Willy Cardoso, Anthony Gaughan, Candy van Olst, Luke Meddings, in varying degrees on the Dogme Symposium, Monday 18 April

#ELTchat – revisiting Dogme, summary by James Taylor

There are a few reasons why I feel a dogme approach (as I see it) is appropriate for me to take in my teaching context, one of which is as follows:

  • In ESOL, much more so than in what you would call traditionally EFL contexts, you can have learners from almost any walk of life. Because the common factor is the level of language, you can have PhD graduates rubbing shoulders with learners who cannot read or write in their first language, meaning that…
    • almost any course, however it is organised, be it by grammar or function or vocabulary, cannot possibly cater to a learner body with such a wide range of ability and experience
    • a lot of published material that is out there is simply not relevant to these learners and their lives; I feel it much more relevant to teach, and hopefully for them to learn, ‘from the life’

However, the context in which I teach requires the following which could be quite obstructive to taking a fully dogme approach:

  • the learners all need to take and pass the Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life in three modes (Reading, Writing and Speaking & Listening) at the level they are enrolled at in order for my college to get government funding
  • part of the requirement as a course tutor at my college is to produce a scheme of work (which I’ll be referring to as SOW in future posts on this subject), which is usually done for 6 week periods (a ‘half-term’)

This is my initial thinking about putting dogme into practice in my classes and documenting what progress is made, probably to start next academic year (September 2011):

  • Taking a dogme approach (conversation-driven, materials-light, focused on emergent language) in class with my main group (likely to be elementary to pre intermediate learners, but given the current situation in the UK, nothing is certain!)
  • Taking wherever possible inspiration and as stimuli the learners’ lives and what they do
  • Using teaching and learning journals (i.e. me and the students writing) to keep a record of what happens in and around class, be it successful or not
  • More specifically, attempting to subvert the ‘syllabus’ that exists for ESOL/Skills for Life, to reflect a more bottom-up approach to covering the content over the academic year

This is still very much at the embryonic stage as an idea, so expect to see it develop more over the next few months and hopefully, all being well, I’ll be able to put my words into action come September.