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
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
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.
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)
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.
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!