As I promised here, today I would like to tell you about my experimental Dogme lesson. I have been really fascinated by the Dogme idea since I first heard about Thornbury and Meddings’s book from Anthony. I bought the book immediately and, as I was reading it, I thought the authors were saying exactly what was in my mind but I couldn’t express (but then again, this often happens when I read methodology books).

Anyway, I have been referring back to that book ever since, so one day – a couple of months ago – I decided to try a Dogme lesson with my intermediate class. I chose this particular class both for the level – I still have strong doubts that Dogme can be effectively used in lower level classes – and for the fact that I knew all the students very well. The activity that I chose for the lesson was “Everyone’s a teacher” from page 29 of Teaching Unplugged.

I prepared the students the week before by telling them that the next week we were going to do a lesson that would have been different from the lessons they were used to (which were generally based on a textbook). Furthermore, as homework I asked them to prepare a short lesson on a topic they knew about or that they particularly liked. I specified it could be anything, from history to science or current affairs, but that it needn’t be an English language lesson.

So they did, and the next lesson we learned about the life of Nikola Tesla, about the Chakras in Indian philosophy and medicine and about the importance of vitamin C for the body. The three students took turns in standing in front of the class (teacher included) and teaching about the topic they had chosen. After each short lesson, the rest of the class would ask questions, clarifications or add their opinions/ideas to the topic. In the meanwhile, I was noting emergent language as we went along. After each lesson, I would put the things I noted on the board, clarify and expand from these to dig deeper into the language points that had emerged. Finally, I would also “improvise” a quick practice exercise. For example, during one of the lessons we had a look at the passive form, so I clarified MFP and then the students wrote 3 true sentences about their life/job/family or about the lesson just heard using the passive. In this way I was able to see if all the students had understood the language point in question.

After the end of the two-hour lesson, I immediately got to my computer and typed out the outcomes of the lesson to upload on our school e-learning platform for the students to see. In this way, when they got home they were able to revise what we uncovered in class, and if necessary to ask me further questions or exercises through the platform.

The week after this experimental lesson I asked the students for feedback. Two of them were absolutely delighted, they asked me to do this periodically and they claimed to have learnt so much more in this way then from the traditional textbook-based lesson. The third student, on the other hand, objected that the lesson felt like it was going nowhere. She expressed her concern that such a lesson, not following a pre-set course programme or textbook, would end up being just a jumble of unrelated topics and language points, difficult to study at home and make sense of.

Examining the lesson from my point of view, I have to say I stand somewhere in between these two extremes. I do think the lesson was enjoyable and, since the topics were chosen by the students, motivation was exceptionally high. The language points that emerged were something I would have covered in an intermediate class anyway and I could notice that attention levels were high throughout the lesson.

But I can also see how, for a whole course, such an approach could lead to a bit of confusion for the students. After all, these are professional adults who only come to English class once a week, who haven’t studied or been to school for years and have forgotten what it is like to sit down, study, revise and in general learn. The more I teach the more I realise how many adults don’t even know how to take proper notes! The e-learning platform is really useful in this respect, as it can help students to make sense of the notes they took in class, but I still believe for some students the safety of the textbook is a precious ally to their learning process.

In conclusion, I can say that the experiment was a highly successful one, both for me and for the students. But I remain convinced that a fully Dogme course could be a problem. I understand that the teacher could train the students to take notes, could prepare them to the approach and guide them through the course, but let’s not forget that these are busy people, with a life and family, that hardly find the time to come to class once a week. They are investing their little time and money on the course, so they understandably want to learn English as fast as possible. In this context, how do you justify, from a “business” point of view at least, hours spent in teaching them how to take notes and copy from the board?

I know this might sound a simplistic and commercial objection, but unfortunately it is the reality of things, at least where I teach.

If you have any comments, direct experience with Dogme or if you have run an Dogme-based course I would love to hear from you, as these are only impressions taken from a single Dogme-style lesson (or better, my understanding of it). I am very curious to know what it is like to run a Dogme course…