Teacher Training Unplugged?

The Story

Due to popular demand here at International House Costa Rica, our professional development workshop was on the topic of Dogme (also called Teaching Unplugged here) last week. I had already done a Dogme session on a recent CELTA and so was simply going to repeat it, with a few modifications, for our teachers. However, our DoS, Ben, suggested that we try to approach the session in a fashion similar to how Dogme would work in the class.

And so, why not? After all, my own teaching certainly leans towards the unplugged direction and I’d been reading about the upcoming Unplugged Conference in Barcelona. Anthony Gaughan had blogged just the other day about unplugging staffrooms and suggested the following: “Could you offer to run workshops for colleagues who are interested but want some “training”?”. And not to forget the guest post by two participants on Jason Renshaw’s site about a recent Teaching Unplugged session he’d given at a conference in Korea.

Ben’s idea seemed to catch the mood of the Unplugged world and so, in short, it seemed like a germane moment to experiment a bit. Ben and I had a couple of planning discussions and came up with what we thought would be an appropriate structure: a warmer relating Dogme ELT to Dogme 95; a paper conversations activity ending with groups displaying their top 5 principles and then a class selection of a top 3; reflection on what had been learned. (Here it is, briefly reconstructed after the workshop. The original was a piece of A5 paper with things like ‘follow up activity’, “?” and “4 groups max?” written on it.)

This was to be the first of two sessions, and possibly and on-going series of Unplugged workshops, with the next one(s) focusing more on practical activities teachers can use. This session was to highlight the underlying principles behind an unplugged approach.

Was it an ‘unplugged’ workshop?

I would say that it had an overwhelming sense of the unplugged about it. To take the three core precepts of an unplugged approach into account, we could analyse the workshop in the following way

Conversation-driven
  • The classroom dynamic was conducive to learning, with good humour throughout and with everyone participating. The teachers worked in small groups throughout and, in response to answers from myself and Ben, discussed further questions to ask. All the questions came from these mini conversations

  • These questions were answered in the form of a conversation with those leading the session, though I should say “participating” in the session, rather than “leading”

  • The above is where the conversations were scaffolded

  • Even the warmer, the least unplugged part of the workshop perhaps, served to introduce the topic and stimulate conversations

  • In changing the pairs, these conversations served a social purpose too, helping to integrate some new teachers into the group and ensuring that everyone’s voice was heard

Materials Light
  • The only materials were the people in the room, some strips of paper, some pieces of recycled A4 paper and the big piece of paper to cover the Dogme 95 manifesto

  • The teachers took notes throughout and created the class materials through the questions and creation of the 5 key principles of Dogme

  • The whole workshop addressed teachers’ needs and interests, was directly relevant to those present

  •  The workshop was a challenge to the structure of the usual style of workshops in teacher training.

Emergent Language
  • The questions the teachers wanted to ask emerged as the session went on. Starting with the warmer to introduce the topic (a topic suggested by teachers, remember), the teachers gradually uncovered the precepts that lie behind Dogme – rather than simply being lectured –  by constantly engaging with each other and the information flying around the room

  • To this end, process took priority over product, with interaction being the fertile ground where these questions emerged

  • The feedback stages addressed further and expanded upon the ‘emergent language’ and acted as a ‘focus on form’ moment

  • The ‘teaching’ was responsive. Ben and I had only a minimal idea what would be asked, how long activities would take, where one discussion would lead, etc. and had to constantly adapt to this

What the Teachers Thought

Following the workshop, I interviewed some the participants to find out their reactions to this style of training session. Here’s a few of their responses (in no particular order).

I felt intimidated by it all. As a theory, I really like it, but as a participant in it, I felt out of my depth. Personally, I prefer structure, as I feel I can follow it better. I prefer a tangible outcome that I can see coming” (Hana)

I was sketchy about the whole idea, but we did kind of fill in each other’s gaps. I felt I was asking questions before I knew what it was all about, but then that’s the whole point I suppose, what the questions were for” (Sarah)

I thought it was great, dynamic, I really enjoyed it. It was a good way of using Dogme to demo what it’s all about, with you more or less eliciting what it was about from us. It was very practical” (Becky)

It was a new methodology, well, one I’d used in my classes, but without knowing it had a name” (Craig)

The last part was really excellent. When we came up with our own ideas, the 5 principles, and put them up on the wall and then chose a class top 3. It was an example of how we can use this in the class. We were working with our own ideas and seeing other’s. I could see myself using those things in class. For me it was good that you did it in a Dogme style; I need to see these things in action, to see how you worked the room, to visualise it in my own teaching” (Robin)

It was very ‘Zen’. It was worth a try. It was theory-based, but the activities will be memorable as we spent most time on them. I’d never been to a workshop like that before” (James)

I thought it was good because you demonstrated for everyone what it would ideally be like in the classroom. The opening activity wasn’t the best of introductions to Dogme. It wasn’t so clear for those who didn’t know so much about it as it was for me.” (Robin)

During the first activity, I couldn’t contribute much as I didn’t know anything about Dogme – my partner knew much more than me and I didn’t feel great. I worked it out through the pairwork in the paper conversations activity. It was applicable to me in that context. It was a little uncomfortable until, all of a sudden, it became clear and I could see how applicable it was”. (Craig)

I liked writing the 5 principles from our own impressions of Dogme, then condensing them into 3 by reading everyone else’s. I came out feeling much more knowledgeable and less skeptical as I could see how it would work in class. I think I use many of the ideas in my teaching already“. (Sarah)

Reflections

Overall, a very well-received, enjoyable and useful workshop for the participants. The feedback was positive and the practicality of the larger part of the workshop really appreciated by all those who attended. A sense of learning was also palpable, both during the session itself and in the feedback. Those who knew very little about unplugging their teaching benefited from gaining at least an initial insight into the principles behind Dogme, while those with more knowledge saw how this knowledge could be transferred into a classroom context through the conversations activity.

As a trainer, I enjoyed the session and the unpredictability of what would come up. It was a good experiment, to take unplugged-ness from the classroom to the training room. I think this workshop also served a good basis on which to work with unplugged activities in future workshops. My sessions tend to be called things like “minimal materials activities for developing oral fluency” but now I feel I can move on and start calling them “unplugged activities”.

That said, the first activity didn’t suit everyone and consequently didn’t go down as well as I’d hoped. The reason for this seems to have been the ‘mixed ability’ of the group i.e. that some teachers already knew some principles of Dogme and other’s none. This activity worked very well in my CELTA session, but there we had a level playing field of knowledge – it was new to everyone. If I repeat this workshop, I’ll take this into account and try something different (feel free to suggest anything you like!). I’ll more than likely start with a demo activity and take it from there, discussing how and why this activity could work and move into the principles from this. Go unplugged right from the get-go.

Ben’s Reflections

Heading into the workshop I was unsure as to how it would be received and had some doubts about whether it truly was loop input, i.e. Dogme about Dogme.  Regarding the first concern, I was pleasantly surprised by how useful the participants found it in terms of knowledge gained, but also how well they responded to the style of workshop; it is very encouraging that many of them mentioned how practical they found the workshop to be.

As to the second concern, I feel that for the most part it was in the spirit of Dogme, and that the justification in terms of the three core precepts is a sound one.  Of course it was always going to be a bit of a stretch since the focus is on ‘emergent knowledge’ rather than ‘emergent language’.  Like Chris, I considered the warmer to be the least successful part of the lesson, as it did feel more like teacher input, albeit in a guided discovery manner.  I would concur that an actual Dogme speaking activity followed by participant discussion and reaction would have been a better lead-in.

One other point to consider for next time – before doing a workshop on Dogme, a workshop on TBL might be one way to accustom new teachers to many of the principles inherent in Dogme, whilst still affording them a bit more structure.

The Moral of the Story?

If you’re going to unplug training, unplug it right from the start. Keep the session as much about what the participants want to know as possible, rather than bringing something in for the warmer. Keep it practical and engaging; the learning will follow. Be on your toes. Try it yourself!

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22 thoughts on “Teacher Training Unplugged?

  1. Is this really your 1st blog post? If so, welcome to Blogosphere! Fantastic 1st post, and it’s great to see dogme being tried & tested all over now. Even though it’s been around for a long time, it seems that only now, it’s mushrooming. Scott & Luke et al must be proud!
    Once again, congratulations!
    Chiew

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Mr CLIL, thanks for being the first to comment! This is indeed my first post! I’d been thinking about a blog for a while and drafted a few posts and it just seemed like the right time to blog on this particular topic. So, off we go…

      I’ve been experimenting with unplugging for about 2 years now. While I’m not a dyed-in-wool Dogme-ist, my teaching is certainly very unplugged: materials light, conversation-driven and responsive to emergent language. I have to admit that my principal motivation for this was that I hate using a coursebook and, although I have to, set much of it as homework or use it only for controlled practice as things come up.

      I think it’s very difficult for some teachers to get their head around what Dogme is and what it means for classroom practice. Many seem to think it’s just a synonym for ‘winging-it’, while others are fearful of the lack of control or structure. Maybe that’s why now it seems to be taking off. It’s gaining a sort of EFL cultural currency and the blogosphere especially is alight with Dogme posts. Long may it continue…

  2. Thanks for the post! It is always helpful for me to understand more about Dogme when I can read clear examples of it! I still am not sold on it, but I think it is something I would like to use some of the time – on Fridays or something like that. Thanks for your clear reflections!! I really enjoyed it!!

    1. Chris Ożóg

      No problem at all and thanks for commenting. The idea behind the post was exactly as you described: to give a clear, detailed account of our session. I’m glad it was useful and my advice would be to go for it, see what happens; you might just find you and your learners love it.

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  4. Rim

    The more I read about unplugged teaching -something I discovered only recently- the more sense it makes to me as to its effectiveness a methodology specially in conversation-driven classes. I confess having committed dogme before with that guilt feeling and fear that the inspector would make an unexpected visit to my class and catches me in the act. Today, I feel more confident about using it and intend to start an unplugged lesson next Sunday with a small group of elementary/pre-intermediate adult learners. I hope it’ll work.

    1. Chris Ożóg

      I love the collocation “committed Dogme”. Makes it sound like a crime! Let us know how your class goes and good luck.

  5. Anthony Gaughan

    Great post and good work, Chris and Ben!

    But I think you have a rogue question mark in the title to this post – there seems no question to me that this was Teacher Training Unplugged 😉

    Anthony

  6. Alice

    Awww….sounds like a good workshop. Wish I’d been there, or that you’d done that when you were originally ‘supposed to’! Hehehe….no, really, sounds like it was well done!

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hi Willy,

      Thanks for the comment and for letting me know about the Facebook page. I’ve seen it pop up on Twitter about a thousand times but must’ve missed the boat somewhere as I didn’t know what it was referring to. Just became the 113th person to like it and shared it on my wall.

      In a strange coincidence, I was going to watch a video of you talking about Dogme last night on the #breltchat blog, only to discover that it was in Portuguese. I can pick up the gist from my Spanish, but that’s where it ended. Feel free to be interviewed again in English or Spanish…

  7. Well done, Chris and Ben. I like not only the workshop schema, but your own reflective assessment of its implementation.

    I once had an idea of doing a TT workshop based around this text (taken from an early article on Dogme)

    • Materials-mediated teaching is the “scenic” route to learning, but the direct route is located in the interactivty between teachers and learners, and between the learners themselves.

    • The content most likely to engage learners and to trigger learning processes is that which is already there, supplied by the “people in the room.”

    • Learning is a social and dialogic process, where knowledge is co-constructed rather than “transmitted” or “imported” from teacher/coursebook to learner.

    • Learning can be mediated through talk, especially talk that is shaped and supported (i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher.

    • Rather than being acquired, language (including grammar) emerges: it is an organic process that occurs given the right conditions.

    • The teacher’s primary function, apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic which is conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy, is to optimise language learning affordances, by, for example, directing attention to features of the emergent language.

    • Providing space for the learner’s voice means accepting that the learner’s beliefs, knowledge, experiences, concerns and desires are valid content in the language classroom.

    • Freeing the classroom from third-party, imported materials empowers both teachers and learners.

    • Texts, when used, should have relevance for the learner, in both their learning and using contexts.

    • Teachers and learners need to unpack the ideological baggage associated with EFL materials – to become critical users of such texts.

    In fact, I didn’t know how to go about it in a truly dogmetic way. That is, I didn’t want to photocopy the text and hand it out. I had the idea of maybe taking out key words – one per bullet point (e.g. engage, emergent etc) – and have the trainees brainstorm questions, with a view to constructing a text. Your workshop confirms that this might be a viable route to follow. I might give it a go!

    Thanks for inspiring me!

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hi Scott, thanks for the comment. I’ve read that article somewhere, maybe on your site. It’s the part about the “scenic route” that sticks out in my mind. Can’t remember.

      Anyway, I have to say I think the idea you outline looks very do-able. Once the participants have constructed their texts – assuming they’re doing this in individual groups and so will have different versions – it would be good to look for common themes running through them and perhaps create a class text. This could then be compared with the original in some way and any differences – and the implications of these differences – discussed. They could even possibly do this at home with the version published somewhere online, before coming back to the next workshop which could begin with this discussion before moving on to some more practical activities teachers can use to scaffold conversations. I have another workshop next month on this latter point and am wondering whether to simpy start with a conversation and move it into ‘demo’ activities as it develops. A bit of a risk, but we’ll see.

      I’m sure you’ve thought of the above already, but that’s just what popped into my head just now as I read your comment. If you do follow up on your idea, it’d be great to read about it on your blog and find out how it went.

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