Light Coke and Learning? – Dogme Challenge #4

 

“Dogme is about teaching materials light”

  

That was the quote for Karenne Sylvester’s Dogme Challenge #4. And I wondered how I could respond to that…

      

A light drink... helps me with a (hopefully) light analogy

             

  

So I decided to bring it to something that’s close to me… coke. My beverage of choice, the one I am addicted to is light (actually zero) coke. So, as I try to draw the analogy, what is light coke, how is it different from regular coke? Well, one of the reasons why people might drink light coke is because they may get the same taste without the calories. The calories from a can of coke are empty calories - they give you nothing but themselves, no nutrition whatsoever. So, with that in mind, could we say that going materials light is teaching the same content – trying to help the students reach the intended learning - without burying them in empty activities? What would these empty activities be? Empty of what? Of teaching capability? I don’t think so, after all I learned English through those pseudo-empty activities of drilling and fill-in-the-blanks grammar. They must work, because I dare say I’ve learned ;-). No… I think the word ‘d use here would not be empty but rather lacking – lacking relevance. Relevance to the students. Let me expand that thought…

 

The world we live in today has changed greatly and in many ways. But regarding learning, the most meaningful of those changes has to do with information, the way it is produced and distributed. Information is available everywhere and it’s ever changing, dynamic. Access to it today is more democratic than we could’ve ever had imagined 20 years ago. And the ways it is presented are incredible: videos, interactive applications, podcasts, instant exchanges…. and the list grows longer (and more imaginative) each day – it’s hard to keep up! Our students of today use that information, access it, interact with it…learn from it. So can we (should we?) comform to our old ways? Taking to class materials that aim at interesting all kinds of students – the “one-size-fits-all“? What is interesting and relevant to a student may not have the same relevance to the one sitting beside him. With the advent of technology and the broadening of sources of information we have also become more diverse in a sense – with more to choose from it’s easier to do that.

                                                  

David Ausubel says that significant learning takes place when new information is acquired through by the learner’s deliberate effort to connect the new information with concepts or relevant propositions preexistent in his cognitive structure. (Ausubel et al., 1978). For Ausubel, the main issue in the learning process is for it to be meaningful, that what is intended to be learned by the student needs to make sense to him. And this happens when the new information is anchored in the relevant concepts the student already has in his cognitive structure. When we can’t connect what is being taught to something familiar to the student what takes place is the “rote learning” – or mechanical learning. In other words, the student has to relate to what we are teaching, to what we use to teach the language, or else we won’t really achieve true learning. Learning in which the student will not only repeat language structures that have been “fed” to him, but rather assimilate them and use them in the contexts he’ll find himself in.

                              

And how does all of this relate to teaching materials light? As I see it, materials light means not relying and basing our whole lesson on what has been done, on activities we have used, preexisting models. It means going to class with ears, eyes and mind open to see the students’ needs and interests. To use that as a mean of presenting and working with the target language. Am I saying we should forget all the activities we’ve developed, the coursebooks we’ve been using? Not at all! We can’t turn our backs to them. But we have to be willing to adapt and change them, to take what is there and shape it in a way as to come closer to the learners’ relevant concepts. If the world we live in today is marked by dynamism, so should our teaching.

                                    

And on a final note… As with everything else, too much of anything is bad for you. Too much light coke will load your body with an excess of chemicals. Balance and good sense are always the key. :-)

 

Other Posts on dogme Challenge #4:

Dogme Blog Challenge #1 – Interactivity and Co-construction – My Take on It

 

This post is part of a challenge proposed by Karenne Sylvester on her blog . She proposed that every Thursday, for 10 weeks we blog in response to questions she’ll put up, in an attempt to take a deeper look at Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings’  Teaching Unplugged approach. The question posted for this first challenge was:

Materials-mediated teaching is the ‘scenic’ route to learning, 

but the direct route 

is located in the interactivity between teachers and learners, and between the learners themselves.

Learning is a social and dialogic process, 

where knowledge is co-constructed 
rather than transmitted or imported 

from teacher/coursebook to learner.

What does that mean to you?

 

I’d like to start this post by saying that I am still learning about dogme and unplugged teaching, I am still trying to grasp the concept. All I know for certain now is that it interests me, it’s sparked something within my teaching beliefs and practices. I have ordered the book and hopefully it will be here by the end of this month (it had a 60-day estimated delivery). So what you’ll read here are much more thoughts and questionings, perceptions and feelings I have from the little I know about it. I hadn’t even heard of it until I joined twitter and started reading my PLN’s blogs. so here it goes:

A “Scenic Route” can be defined as “a road or path designed to take one past a pleasant view or nice scenery; the long way round, a deliberately slow path” (definition by en.wiktionary.org/wiki)

 

When relating that to teaching I am bothered a bit. First by the deliberately on it – are Coursebooks deliberately slow? I don’t think so. Learning takes time, it takes exposing the student to a new thing repeatedly, provide him with opportunities to experiment and use the language he’s been presented to. The other thing that bothers me is the pleasant view reference. Do we, as teachers, see the coursebooks we use as pleasant? Coursebooks, their effectiveness, how we should use them, whether they’re evil or not has been the topic of numerous discussions (it was an #ELTChat topic), blog posts, tweets etc… I haven’t made up my mind yet.  Right now I think they’re not all bad – but basing your teaching solely on one handicaps you, restricts you. Because they’re pretty much a “one-size-fits-all” thing – and I don’t know about you but I am yet to come across a group of students who learn the same way, have the same level or motivation or share the exact same interests. Diversity is the word.

 

And when we restrict our teaching, we smother creativity, spontaneity. We miss opportunities of meaningful teaching given by our students when they demonstrate interest for something that is not on the coursebook’s agenda that day. The school where I teach adopts coursebooks (as all schools I know do) and teachers are expected to cover it thoroughly. We don’t necessarily follow the order proposed by the book – we have established benchmarks and paths that we see as more adequate to our students, changing the order and adding extra material where we found necessary. And teachers have flexibility to add / create activities to the classes they teach, as they see fit. And so the teachers have been doing – so I have been doing, ever since I started teaching, almost 17 years ago.

 

My first “face-to-face” encounter with unplugged teaching came as a response to a challenge (A challenge to teachers: Trying upside down and inside out) proposed by Jason Renshaw on his blog. (Note: As you may have noticed by now I have a problem declining challenges ;-) – Go figure!). I taught a whole class without planning – and then wrote a guest post on it in Ceri Jone’s blog. Suffice  to say it was one of the best, most successful (and greatly enjoyed by the students) lessons I’ve ever taught. So that just added to my interest and curiosity to learn more about it. There was a lot of interaction, mostly student/student, a lot of students learning from each other. But that was not all. There was also teacher/student interaction, and there was no interaction (individual work). So in a way, my (so I think) perfect example of unplugged teaching disagrees with the quote posted for today’s challenge. There was learning that came from no interaction, individually constructed, by the student.

 

As a student, I’ve always been able to draw learning and knowledge from books alone. I do know that not all students do that, but there are those who do. And here is that word again: diversity. If we have student diversity, why not teaching diversity? why do we have to completely deny one thing in order to adopt another one? What tells us we can’t do both: coursebooks and unplugged lessons? Enough about that…

 

 

On a final (and more personal, free thinking interpretation) note, I’d like to make an analogy as to learning being a “social and dialogic process where knowledge is co-constructed. I love cooking. And I am able to follow the instructions on a recipe and produce something good to eat. But I’ve always prefered learning a recipe by watching someone do it, having someone who knows the recipe and has done it before prepare it together with me. When I learn a new recipe by doing it together I can ask questions, I see how it’s done from up-close, I smell it, I put my hands in it… I owe it. And I learn it. By doing. Co-constructing a dish.

 

Co-constructing learning, be it with another student, be it with your teacher is much more effective, faster and so much more enjoyable. Coursebook or unplugged, this is always true. Don’t you think?

 

And if you’re ever in São Paulo I highly recommend paying a visit to “L´Entrecôte de Ma Tante” where you can have some of that chocolate mousse ;-)!