A few months ago I had no clue what a ‘dogme’ lesson was. When I first heard the term I thought it was something related to either dogs or dogma. Very baffling.
It turns out it has nothing to do with either. A dogme lesson is:
So ever since I’ve heard about it, I really wanted to try it. Why? Because it’s one of the scariest experiences but also one of the most empowering for a newly qualified teacher. We heavily rely on lesson plans, carefully and painstakingly prepared activities and coursebooks, especially in the first couple of months, as that’s the only lesson planning we know how to do
But we often don’t have enough time to plan a lesson as well as we would like to and panic that we might finish a lesson earlier than expected and not know what to do with the remainder of the time.
Therefore, as one may expect, walking into a classroom with zero material it’s terrifying. I really enjoy a challenge though and I firmly believe that every newly qualified teacher should try a dogme lesson. Why?
Improvisation and thinking on the spot are critical if not fundamentally essential skills for an ELT teacher, or for any teacher for that matter and a dogme lesson is perfect to practise both.
And that’s why I decided to give it a go. I’ve built great rapport with my B2 plus adult students over the last year and I thought that would be the best group to try it with.
After consulting a senior colleague (thank you James!) for valuable advice and much needed encouragement I was ready to experiment.
You can have a semi-dogme lesson, going into the classroom with some ideas which might be better for new teachers, but I as Jame explained it’s not really a dogme lesson if you already have a structure in mind and I really wanted the students to lead the session. I had prepared a back-up lesson just in case it didn’t work out (which helps a lot to know you have a back up) but other than that I left it to the students to decide what they wanted to focus on.
I find it hard to put into words how it felt to run such a lesson but I’ll try. I was terrified to begin with, but as soon as we started, time flew by and I somehow found ways to facilitate the lesson and provide as much content and language feedback as possible. My students wanted to focus on speaking, so I left it to them to come up with topics. We had 3 pair and group speaking sessions, first each pair or group discussing a separate topic, then focusing on just one. For all the activities I monitored and made notes on good language used as well as language they could improve/express better (which they did) and asked the students to try and use that language on the following activities.
Feedback from my students
I asked my students to give me feedback at the end of it and every single student enjoyed this lesson more than usual because it was on topics they chose and they were interested in. When asked what they enjoyed and what they learned:
And they all enjoyed the lesson more than usual and would like lessons with combination of both their own material and coursebook.
What I learned
Needless to say I was super happy with the feedback and they gave me a couple of ideas on what to improve for next time. I would also like to try and incorporate a grammar language point which would be challenging to do during a free flowing lesson such as dogme, but I’d like to try.
I guess the main lesson I learned from using the dogme teaching approach is that a good lesson doesn’t necessarily need a thorough, detailed lesson plan or a coursebook. Students can learn and enjoy with minimal preparation.
And since then I feel more confident about my teaching and my ability to facilitate a lesson if/when there is no plan or time to plan in detail.
Also I didn’t expect to learn so much from my students and their knowledge of rare spiders that can fly to modern history to emotional intelligence!
I firmly believe a dogme lesson should be part of the teacher training process. Even if it goes horribly wrong it will be a great practice for the real world when you are thrown into a classroom and start teaching and have to deal with situations where you run short of material or technology fails or you just forgot your lesson plan when running from class to class.
PS If you’d like to learn more about the dogme teaching approach this is a good start.(link)
PS2 Thank you to my colleagues for the advice and encouragement and my wonderful students who I’ll dearly miss!