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Dogme and the coursebook

Scott Thornbury & Luke Meddings (published in Modern English Teacher) A Dogme approach doesn t necessarily exclude the use of a coursebook. After all, if you follow the first rule of dogme (Teaching should be done using only the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom - i.e. themselves - and whatever happens to be in the classroom), you could argue that, in most teaching contexts, the coursebook is a naturally-occurring item of classroom furniture - as natural, say, as the blackboard or the cassette recorder. Love them or hate them, coursebooks are a fact of (classroom) life. To be faithful to the spirit of Dogme, however, coursebooks should not be allowed to become the tail that wags the dog. They are the props, and not the screenplay, of the dogme film. When the use of the coursebook either dictates, or distracts from, the main action of the film/lesson, then learning opportunities are likely to be prejudiced. This is particularly the case when coursebooks are allowed to set the language agenda, especially if the language agenda comprises a graded list of structures such as will and going to, or the first, second and third conditionals. There is no research evidence to suggest that such lists match the manner nor the order in which language is learned. It is more probably the case that such language items emerge naturally in real language use, through repeated cycles of exposure, attention, output and feedback. (Some writers now talk about second language emergence, not second language acquisition). This presents teachers who are using coursebooks with a dilemma. Do they flog away at the unlearnable grammar syllabus; do they abandon the book altogether; or do they try and thrash out a compromise? Here is a compromise. The idea is to use the coursebook, but sparingly, taking its grammar syllabus with a pinch of salt. It does not mean, however, propping up the books weaknesses by bringing in yet more materials in the form of photocopied exercises, for example. At the same time, the idea is to include activities that provide optimal exposure, attention, output and feedback, thereby maximising the chance of language emergence. Whatever grammar work is done is based on what emerges as the outcome of the following planning strategies. Planning strategies: While their primary organising principle may be grammatical, coursebooks also include the three Ts: topics, texts, and tasks. Make these your starting point. Real language is always about something - i.e. the topic. Ways of activating interest in the topic (without bringing in a load of other materials) and at the same time producing lots of language, include the following:

Questionnaires/surveys: Lets say the topic of a coursebook unit is shopping. Students in groups of three prepare a survey to ask other members of the class

about shopping. (Give them some sample questions if necessary). Typically, a survey can focus on three aspects of any topic o peoples knowledge (What is that big shop in London called?) o peoples experience (Have you ever shopped till you dropped?) and o their feelings (Do you feel guilty if you try something on and then dont buy it?). Monitor the question-writing stage, feeding in ideas and vocabulary. Note any persistent errors for a later review stage. Re-group the students so that each new group includes one representative each of the question-planning groups. You can do this by giving each student in the group a number (1,2,3) - and then grouping all the number 1s together, all the number 2s together, and all the number 3s together. They survey each other, making notes of their answers. They then return to the original group to report their findings. They can write this up in the form of a short text (Ten out of twelve students really like shopping etc). They present their report to the class. You note, and give feedback on, any interesting errors. The results of the survey may trigger a more general discussion about the topic.

Teacher anecdote: Tell the class a personal story or point of view on the topic: I hate shopping. If I have to buy new clothes I.... The last time I went shopping was... In order to capture the language, ask the students in groups to write a summary of what you said. One or two can put their groups summary up on the board and then you can correct it, with help from the class. And/or record yourself at the same time as you are telling your story to the class, and use this at the correcting stage, so that learners can compare their summary with your exact words. Deal with any interesting language points that emerge. Students story: Interview one of the sts about the topic - their knowledge/ experience/attitudes. Others listen and then write up the interview, including the questions. (The guinea pig does the same). Monitor and check. Then they interview each other and report back to class. CLL (Community Language Learning). Students sit in a circle and have a conversation about the topic. After each contribution is constructed and checked by the teacher, it is recorded. The teacher acts solely as a language consultant. Then the conversation is played back and written up on the board. Language points that emerge are highlighted and commented on. Paper conversation: This is like on-line chat: students write their conversation (on the topic) in pairs/groups, passing a sheet of paper back and forth. This helps slow up their language processing, allowing time to pay attention to form. It also allows you to monitor and correct. Free discussion: Generate an open class chat about the theme (using your best dinner party host skills!). Draw students out, and keep the focus off heavy correction. If/Once the discussion gets going let it run. Then put the students into pairs/threes to write a summary of what was said, e.g. as if for an absent class member. Monitor and correct. Deal with any interesting language issues that emerge.

Real language always takes the form of texts. Language acquisition begins and ends in text. Exploit the texts that the coursebook provides, especially those that have

generic features (i.e. a sample letter, postcard, joke, news report, conversational anecdote, party political broadcast etc etc). Some ideas for using the coursebook texts:

Go straight to the text (whether a listening or reading text). Situate it (What kind of text is it? Where would you find it? Who is it addressing? What is its function? ). Give students time to engage with text. Let them respond to the content of the text: Do they agree? Do they sympathise? Is it funny/sad/unusual? etc. Treat the text first as a vehicle of information - i.e. ask questions about the content, going from the very general to the much more specific, with a view to helping students formulate a mental schema of the content. For example, if its a story, do they have the events in order? This may involve explaining unfamiliar words. In a monlingual class, it may even mean translating the whole text - or parts of it - into their first language. Then (when completely satisfied that students have got their heads round it) focus on the text as a linguistic object. (If recorded text, give students a transcript. If a written text, read the text to them aloud). Focus on the overall organisation - the beginning, middle and end - before homing in on how the text is held together (linkers, use of pronouns etc), and actual details of sentence structure, e.g. tense, noun groups, article usage etc. Ask the students to search the text: e.g, to count the number of modal verbs, underline all phrasal verbs, circle verb-noun collocations etc. Respond to questions about features of the text that interest them. Then, students in groups/pairs can cover up the text and attempt to reconstruct it (or part of it), before comparing it with the original. To help them do this, at some stage you could extract the keywords of the text on to the board. Having done a text in the way described above, ask students to write/speak their own text (e.g. the same genre, and/or the same topic, but from a personal point of view). Monitor their writing, noting any interesting errors for class correction and discussion. Students then exchange and read each others texts. Give the students the title and gist of the text in a summarised form before they read/hear it. Establish the context, the text type, its function etc. (Alternatively, make a translation of the text and read it out to them). They then have a go at writing the text before seeing/hearing it. They compare their version with the original, and respond to questions about language features of the text that might be different from their own. Use student-generated texts - e.g. those derived from the topic-based activities mentioned above - survey reports; CLL; paper conversations; etc.

The successful management of learning involves providing a sense of purpose in classroom activities: this is achieved through the setting, monitoring and checking of tasks. Moreover, real life language use is always purposeful. The best classroom tasks are those that incorporate elements of real life language purposes - e.g. to win an argument, to reach a consensus, to finalise an arrangement, to confirm an intuition etc. Coursebooks often have activities that can be turned into language productive tasks, if they are not in that form already. Allow students to use all and any language resources they command, and push them to extend themselves by a) repeating the task (with different students for example) and b) going public - reporting on the task process and outcome to the whole class. Some generic task types:

Survey (see above); set a purpose - e.g. find out the person in the class who is the most careful/careless shopper... Consensus: students produce a ranked list - at first individually - and then in pairs/groups they negotiate a consensus. E.g. the five best department stores in their town, plus reasons. Ultimate purpose could be to include this in a tourist info brochure. Alibis-type: students in pairs devise scenario - e.g. alibi, UFO sighting, green card type domestic arrangements - and are then interviewed separately to see if their story holds. Could be, for example, a joint shopping excursion. Spot the lie: similar to above: students individually prepare set of statements, opinions, experiences etc. and tell them to neighbour - idea is to spot the deliberate lie Quiz: students prepare general knowledge quiz, and then test each other Interview the teacher: students prepare questions related to the topic to ask the teacher, and then write up the interview as a piece of journalism. One variant on this is to have students submit questions on slips of paper - say three groups - teacher writes answer on paper (but only if the question is correctly formed) and then, afterwards, each group uses their questions to write a connected piece that is then read by other groups. Show-and-tell: students tell the class about their interest/hobby/object/favourite film - with a view, perhaps, to persuading other students to take it up, get one, see it etc. This can be prepared for homework, but should be spoken, not read aloud. Listeners ask questions. Talk could be recorded. The presentation can also be related to the coursebook topic, of course. Design-type tasks: where students in pairs/groups design something, taking into account relevant factors, and then present it to the class. E.g. design a days shopping in your town for the class, so that it takes account of everyones needs, tastes, budgets etc. Other design-type tasks: layout of zoo; turning the classroom into student club; weekend excursion for class.etc Material-free role plays: e.g. shopping for a school/package holiday/flat mate - half class are clients, other half are schools/agencies/owners etc. Each service provider is paired up and interviewed by a client. They then move round one, until everyone has talked to everyone. Clients then decide which service they will choose; service providers decide which client they would prefer. Non-directive listening: the focus here is on building a good dynamic as much as on language practice. Students are grouped in threes, taking turns as speaker, listener, and observer. The speaker tells the listener facts, experiences and/or opinions, related to topic. A time limit of three minutes is monitored by the observer. The listener - either during or after listening - reflects back what he/she understands the speaker has said and the speaker confirms/ disconfirms/clarifies etc as necessary. Afterwards, short (2 minute) discussion led by the observer on the process they have just engaged in - was it easy, difficult, fluid, comprehensible, accurate etc. The teacher can monitor discreetly.

Remember: if the students are engaged in a range of life-like tasks about a range of real life topics and using/producing a range of real life text types, they will be covering all the grammar they need. Your job is to uncover this natural syllabus -

i.e. let it emerge, shape it, before letting it submerge again, in the interests of automaticity and fluency.