quinta-feira, 19 de novembro de 2009

Interview - Dogme ELT - William Chaves Gomes

Do you know what the Dogme ELT is about? I didn't know as well...
After watching a presentation from a colleague at the ICELT, where she introduced to us the article Dog Days, by William Chaves Gomes, I decided to interview the author, and he kindly gave me this interview.

Tell us a bit about your graduation and experience.
- I graduated in Letras and I’ve been working as an EFL teacher and teacher trainer for 13 years now. I’m also a Cambridge ESOL oral examiner and an EFL writer. In 2006 I moved to England, where I did the DELTA and where I started teaching multi-nationality groups. At the moment I’m based in London, working as a teacher trainer for the Trinity College Cert. TESOL and writing components for a series of coursebooks to be published by Richmond Publishing in 2010.

What's the DELTA course like?
William -
The DELTA is an incredible course and you learn a great deal about teaching and about the language itself. But it’s not an easy course. It’s really hard work and you have to be extremely organized, motivated and above all: you need to have a passion for ELT.

Is the Dogme ELT a new method? What is it exactly?
William -
I wouldn’t say it is a new method but more like another teaching tool for the teacher. The Dogme ELT idea derives from the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier and three other colleagues who believed that the art of making cinema has been destroyed by the high-budget and highly technological Hollywood-style productions. Because of that, they created a set of vows of chastity, known as Dogme-95, in order to protect what they call “the joy of filmmaking”. One of these vows says, for example, that ‘Shooting should be done on locations. Pros and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where the prop is to be found’. Based on this idea, Scott Thornbury suggests that the absence of materials, such as loads of worksheets, videos, downloadable resources and the like, maximises interaction in class and allows language to emerge out of communicative needs of the people in the classroom.
Generally speaking, in a Dogme lesson the teacher suggests a topic for the class to discuss or, alternatively, asks students to choose what they want to talk about in that specific lesson. Then, the teacher works on the emerging language generated in the discussion and helps students reformulate it or provides students with the next level of the language they need. There are many ‘Dogme versions’. It may range from a materials-free lesson to one in which students bring the materials and nobody really knows what the focus of the lesson will be. It is worthy pointing out that the Dogme ELTis in not opposition to materials in class. Dogme has to do with lessons which are, above all, language that emerges out of students’ communicative needs, interests and desires.

Do you know any school which apply it in a whole course?
William -
I don’t know a school where they use the Dogme ELT in a whole course and I honestly think it is rather utopian to let students dictate the whole syllabus of a course. Teachers are professionals and they know better what students need to learn. Nevertheless accepting students’ contributions and working language gaps or the language that they need is equally important. That’s why in my article I encourage teachers to include ‘slots’ in their lessons. I am convinced that Dogme works beautifully as another teaching tool to foster students’ learning process but not as a method to be followed. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong one day, who knows?

I have the impression that many ELT teachers already do some of the activities suggested in your article, such as asking the students about their weekends or talking about what's going on on TV or just having a conversation on a free topic. How do these chats differ from the 'Dogme slots'?
William -
I’ll answer these questions based on the teachers I have been observing. I am not generalising! Being a teacher trainer I observe from 8 to 10 lessons a week. From my observations I can say that teachers do interact with their students and they do use many of the activities I suggest in my article. Nonetheless, these activities differ from the Dogme slots in the sense that most of the teachers I observe use such activities as a warmer and, many times, they miss golden opportunities to fill in students’ lexical or grammatical gaps simply because ‘that grammar topic’ will only be dealt with in the following week, month or semestre. Other times, teachers feel reluctant to engage in a 5-minute ‘chat’ with students because they have other fish to fry or even because that part of the lesson was not supposed to focus on vocabulary or grammar. Fair enough! But that’s not Dogme! Dogme slots in class have to do with the language that emerges from students with a clear focus on this language, be grammar or lexis.

It seems that by allowing students to talk freely in the classroom all the time, without a guided activity or a planned way to correct errors and mistakes, there will be lack of some specific content after a set of classes, won't it? How do you manage that?
William -
As I said before, I’m not 100% sure the Dogme ELT works as method to be used in a whole course. I believe in Dogme lessons and slots in a lesson. I would just like to make it clear that Dogme has nothing to do with allowing students to talk freely just for the sake of talking, without guidance, a purpose or an error correction stage. It’s quite the opposite. The teacher has to be on the ball all the time so that he diagnoses the language gaps to be worked on. Students must get something out of this ‘free conversation in class.’ Dogme has nothing to do with killing time or just having fun.

In a monolingual class, isn't there a tendency that students use their native language much more than the target language during these 'Dogme slots', as they will probably lack vocabulary to talk as fluently as they wanted? What does the teacher do in this case?
William -
The teacher has to encourage English in class. Allowing students to use L1 doesn’t sound a good idea to me. Students have to benefit from Dogme lessons/ slots. The teacher has to understand/feel what students what to say or ask them to try to explain in L2 what they want to say and then work on the emerging language. However, the teacher must be sensible. If the students vocabulary is very poor, there is no point starting a topic because students don’t have enough language to talk about it and the whole experience will end up being frustrating.

Many teachers will probably say they won't have much time to insert Dogme slots in their classes due to the extensive syllabus they need to cover. What's your answer for that?
William -
Dogme slots don’t need to be long. Again, they have to do with teacher’s ability to diagnose what students are trying to say and provide the language they need in a given moment or reformulate it. Of course, spending some time with the Dogme slots means that the teacher will have to skip a stage of his original lesson. I honestly see no problems in skipping an activity in a lesson. As teachers, we know which activities can be skipped or done as homework if necessary. Also, the teacher can plan an ‘unplanned slot’ in the lesson and fill it in with another activity in case no emerging language crops up. Finally I believe that we have to keep asking ourselves that old question: Are we teaching the book or the students?

Any additional comment you wish.
William -
Give yourself sometime to think about the importance of the emerging language and when you feel ready or comfortable, give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.