Dogme for Elementary Japanese Learners

Although the past few months have enveloped me in reading, research and writing for my Dogme Dissertation, I have found enough time to teach for two weeks part-time.  I have been teaching at a local university and was kindly asked to teach Japanese learners.  They arrived last week and I didn’t know what to expect.  However, since I had spent the past few months reading and writing about Dogme ELT, I really wanted to put this into practice with the class.  The first day was spent relaxing the students and providing an environment whereby we could all get to know each other.

Nevertheless, I was provided with Macmillan’s “Move” which is a wonderful coursebook with some great ideas and tries to link the CEFR with learning objectives.  However, I feel the coursebook falls short with some of the selected topics.  For example, there are hardly any topics about food, sports or education (albeit sparingly).  As I had never used this coursebook before, I thought I would give it a go.  I prepared a lot of material to be used on the SMARTBoard in my classroom with reading, images, etc but I started to think why I really had to go through the process of trying to improve a coursebook which was not really suitable for closed groups.  I must mention that I believe the coursebook is professionally written and has a lot of possibilities for classes but I noticed that for the Japanese young adults, it wasn’t that suitable.  Anyhow, I persevered through the first week with a combination of coursebook and complimentary material.

I know there was an ELT Chat about Dogme and whether this was possible with Beginners.  I hope the rest of this blog post provides an opportunity to suggest that Dogme is possible with Elementary and hopefully with Beginners if there is patience and perseverance.  The first Dogme related moment occurred during the third day when the class were describing their home-towns (a topic that was selected from the coursebook) and a Japanese student mentioned:

There is Army base in home-town but not there now.

I knew exactly what the student was trying to say and she tried her best to convey her message but she didn’t have the linguistic knowledge for accuracy.  So I stopped with the coursebook (and mostly the lesson plan) and I transcribed her utterance on to the IWB.  I tried to elicit and check if any other students were aware of the correct form with the above sentence.  There were a few students shaking their heads and a bit of silence, so I made the leap and thought that I would scaffold the language that had emerged in class.  I wrote the following statement on the board:

There used to be an Army base in my home-town.

I underlined the phrase ‘used to’ and drew a timeline to ensure that students were aware of the above statement.  Once the timeline had be drawn, I checked students’ understanding with the use of CCQs (Concept Checking Questions).  The next part of my Dogme-styled lesson was to drill students the structure and provide them with a couple of personal examples about myself: “I used to be in the RAF”, “I used to live in South Korea”.  I asked students to make a note of some personal examples and write them down.  Once these were written, I got the students to mingle and compare their sentences.  There was a lot of chatter in L1 but mostly L2 about some of the statements.  Once students settled a little bit, I decided to elicit any interesting facts that they had learnt about each other.  The whole lesson lasted about 45 minutes but it was a nice distraction for the students to learn something that had emerged from themselves at the beginning of class and was relevant.  I checked other coursebooks to establish when “used to” is normally taught and it is generally introduced for Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate learners.  I suppose emergent language and the teaching of language is not predictable.  It changes and develops from interaction among the other people in the classroom.

Finally, the first difficulty that I faced with these learners was trying to develop their conversational skills.  I have tried to work very hard to improve interaction with the use of continuation questions.  For example, a topic that the learners wanted to focus on today was related to sports.  The students were provided with an opportunity to practice speaking.  I was making a note of the emergent language that was suitable and language that needed scaffolding (I don’t want to be overly critical with the learners and demotivate them – so best to provide the best of both), writing language and phrases on the board.  I really did feel that the students made some great progress today and they felt more comfortable conversing in English with each other.  Interestingly, the second part of the lesson (which lasts for an hour and a half) focused on conversation and there was a lot of interaction between all the people in the class.  Before I knew it, the lesson was over.  I enjoyed the lesson so much that it flew by.

The whole experience of incorporating my research into the classroom has been a rewarding experience and I thank the learners in the class for being so flexible and open to the personal approaches and techniques that I decided to incorporate during lessons.  A final note to add, my dissertation will be submitted in the coming weeks.  I will be sharing some of the procedures and materials that were used during the research in due course.

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