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Re: [dogme] Quick Question, Long Answer

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  • David Kellogg
    Jesse: Welcome aboard. As David French (not to be confused with the present David, Kellogg) says, it s a very small group, and so we tend to indulge in too
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 4, 2000
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      Welcome aboard.
      As David French (not to be confused with the present David, Kellogg)
      says, it's a very small group, and so we tend to indulge in too much
      insider talk. Every once and a while, though, a salutory voice like
      yours intrudes and brings us back to the real world.
      Chicago is my hometown, but Puerto Rican high schools are a VERY
      different and very welcome perspective for this discussion. In
      particular, the issue of bilingual education, the problem of Spanish
      language loss as a predictor of economic success (but cultural collapse)
      in the States, all of these are very relevant to and thus far completely
      untouched upon by, our discussions of minimalist, or "poor" teaching.
      It's all very very different, even from Graham's overseas students, and
      we are very interested. You will find that throughout our discussions
      the key question is always, "can we generalize?", and a work environment
      like yours is going to be a key touchstone for us.
      In return, let me say that I think we are actually even more
      interesting than DF makes us sound. Like any small sect, we have a
      number of distinct tendencies. There is first of all pure dogme,
      associated with the founder, Scott Thornbury. Scott remains truest of
      all to the contradictory, cantankerous and contentious spirit of the
      first "dogme" challenge to "take a vow of chastity" he wrote in IATEFL
      Issues 153 (unfortunately not available on the Web); elsewhere on the
      list you can read his radical "program", which (lest anyone take his
      invitation to chastity too seriously) includes a ban on all teachers
      incapable of a meaningful loving relationship with at least one other
      human being of either sex. Then there is the liquidationist tendency
      represented by DF himself, which would like to drop the name dogme, the
      association with film, and perhaps even this list and become something
      of a meditative staffroom or maybe even a cubicle for purely classroom
      concerns (DF will undoubtely contest that characterization....).
      My own tendency I would characterize (as Graham has characterized
      it) as critical dogme; I am trying to find abstract principles
      underlying the dogmatic proposals Scott originally made by a process of
      finding ways to break the original dogme rules while still keeping the
      Spartan, "poor teaching" spirit.
      I do, however, cling to the original film metaphor: the revolt of a
      few European minimalists against the Hollywood SFX Titantic III style of
      directing. The "dogme" directors used no artificial light, shot on
      location, held the camera in their hands, and even renounced anything
      that did not involve the here and now. You can check out the website of
      the "dogme" group at http://www.dogme95.dk
      Translated into the language of teaching, this film making metaphor
      means no CD ROM SFX, no Powerpoint presentations, no global coursebook
      (or indeed any commercial coursebooks), classes in whatever location is
      required by the class content, and (which point I have trouble with) no
      role play or simulation. The teacher is a teacher. The learners are
      learners. They interact as themselves.
      But as DF said, dogme, or "poor teaching", has outlived the film
      metaphor and battened on other ideas. In addition to the usual suspects
      of British communicative teaching, these include rather unlikely
      sources, for example, the Brazilian theorist of mass literacy Paolo
      Freire. Queer theorists, like Sarah Schulman, who contest all "default"
      categories and revalorize terms like "queer", "nigger", or in our case,
      "teacher-fronted", "poor teaching", and "chalk and talk". My own
      influences include Berthold Brecht, who believed that teaching had to
      include a moment of alienation, in which all artifice is frankly,
      cheerfully, exposed (the only genuine moment in an actor's performance
      is when he bows at the end). Graham's latest, as well as the main topic
      of this my "regular long posting which goes well outside language
      teaching", is Dick Allwright's recent suggestion of "exploratory
      Graham--Allwright was here in Korea last Saturday, giving his
      exploratory practice talk. To recapitulate, and for Jesse's sake, his
      argument boiled down to this.
      Teaching is a public activity BUT
      Learning is a private activity.
      The two spheres do not visibly intersect; that is, there is no
      direct way to link the learning in the private sphere with the teaching
      in the public sphere. (This is clearly an extension into the classroom
      of the agnosticism about learning Prabhu first raised...)
      This does matter, because this false attempt to directly link them
      is what "methods" and also administrators are constantly trying to do.
      It is the underlying goal in reflective practice, it is what we mean
      when we put the ACTION in action research, and it is the reason why
      professional development programs put emphasis on trying to make people
      better teachers. Plus teachers are made to feel guilty when they go on
      doing what comes naturally instead of buying into the latest crazes.
      Allwright argues instead that we need to abandon the desire to make
      teachers better and instead concentrate on keeping them interested, or
      at least keeping them from burning out. We also need to abandon the
      desire to make learners learn better and instead concentrate on making
      classes productive and active and visibly (that is publically) buzzing.
      (Yes, you can see the dogme applications of this coming out!!!)
      So: instead of research, he wants reflective activities that are an
      integral part of the lesson. The example he gave was groupwork in
      Brazil, where learners had a hard time staying in English on task or
      staying on task in English. He asked if teachers ever had the students
      discuss precisely this learning problem (instead of discussing
      hypothetical prizes to non-existent worthy causes, or which of five
      people should jump out of a balloon gondola). As an incentive, they
      could be allowed to do so in Portuguese. When this experiment was tried,
      however, the learners spontaneously (???) did so in English!
      I attended Allwright's talk in the company of two Korean middle
      school teachers I have been working with every since I arrived in Korea.
      When I first got off the plane in Korea, I walked into a classroom,
      looked at the size of the classroom and decided that the whole problem
      was that learners had no time to speak, and teachers had no time to
      teach, because the whole lesson boiled down to a gradually failing
      attempt by teachers to ensure teacher-fronted teacher control. I
      therefore decided that pairwork was the solution, and we developed a
      whole book and a whole program around the concept (including, I am
      embarrassed to say, an CD ROM with a movie).
      At several times along the way, my Korean colleague, Seong
      Seong-deong remonstrated with me. For example, he demanded (and I
      agreed) that Korean synopses of each story in our materials should be
      provided FIRST, because he pointed out that the story is only motivating
      when you can get into it, and most of our learners just let it go by as
      irrelevant, because, after all, if it were relevant it would be in
      Korean. He also argued that my closed pairwork goals were too ambitious,
      and that we should settle for the idea that the goal of each class was
      to maximize activities that were in some way related with learning and
      minimize those which were irrelevant (Allwright would deny that
      distinguishing these is consistently possible).
      Allwright points out that for most learners, and particularly for
      children, the classroom is not primarily a place where learning takes
      place. It is a place where they see friends and interact with them. Thus
      he argues that learners often systematically mislead teachers and
      under-report their competence; nobody wants to be the clever boy who
      always gets it right, if only for fear of being displaced by someone
      even cleverer. Better to be the clever boy's best friend. In one
      classroom observation, the observer discovered that the central activity
      for most of the learners prior to lunch was the reorganization of their
      lunch-boxes, through trading the foods they did not want with other
      children. From the learner's point of view (and this is why Holliday
      refuses to use the term learner), learning is quite simply the least
      important thing going on.
      Thinking over this, I realize that my obsession with pairwork was
      wrong; I should have listened to Seong and allowed much more scope for
      small groups and even teacher fronted groups. In practice, of course,
      this is what happened anyway. Now, could we have made the process of
      coming to this realization an integral part of the lesson, instead of
      making it a by-product of our classroom research (and hence a secret to
      the learners to this very day)?
      I don't know. Allwright is a brave man. I think it takes a kind of
      bravery to despair, particularly at the end of a very long and
      apparently successful career. It is all a bit like poor Bertrand
      Russell, who wrote umpteen volumes of Principia Mathematica, then
      thought of Russell's paradox, and had to write the umpteen and oneth
      which wrote off all the previous ones. Allwright's schtick has been
      founded on the assumption that we can learn something from our learners
      by interacting with them; we can know their level better by talking to
      them and looking at their interactions than by giving them tests and
      running them through rat mazes. Now he says that the information
      elicited through classroom interaction is not always reliable either,
      and he appears to deny the possibility, upon which his whole career is
      predicated, of generalization.All I can say is that he is a braver man
      than I am, or maybe just nearer retirement age.
      At first, I was inclined to reject "exploratory practice" as
      sub-reformist complacency; why think about teaching if you are not going
      to change it? On thinking it over, it clearly IS relevant, because it is
      about understanding things first, and then maybe decided NOT to change.
      This in fact fits very much into the classroom-staffroom level at which
      DF and Graham approach dogme.
      The problem for me (and I think also for Scott) is the "vertical"
      dimension of the classroom, that is, the adminstrators, the school, the
      community, the nation: in other words, the connections that the school
      has with broader issues SOCIALLY and POLITICALLY. Allwright appears to
      be virtually denying the possibility that we can generalize from learner
      to learner, much less from classroom to classroom. But the vertical
      structure of our education systems requires us to do this; if we don't
      do it, then we find adminsitrators, parents, and vicious right-wing
      know-nothing bigots like the Hayakawa and the US English movement ready
      to do it for us. George W. Bush's comment, "The key question is, 'Is our
      children learning?'" is in fact even more ignorant than it appears. And
      yet we must somehow make answer.

      David (Kellogg)

      PS: Just read Scott's reply to Rinvolucri and Arnold in the Teacher
      Trainer SIG newsletter. He makes two points: his first one about
      "plausibility", I half disagree with; Scott seems more concerned about
      plausibility between colleagues than with plausibility with the
      learners. The real problem is that these practices do NOT have
      plausibility with learners; they often accept them for other reasons
      (they paid for the course, they respect the teacher, they do not want to
      make a public scene....) The second, though, about therapy, is spot on.
      Scott is one of the very few writers around who has the guts to stand up
      and say that the classroom emperor is practicing emperorship without a
      licence, and with only the scantiest of clothes.
    • Neil Forrest - IH Barcelona
      Subject: Brazil Rain Forest Brazilian congress is now voting on a project that will reduce the amazon forest to 50% of its size. The area to be deforested is
      Message 2 of 2 , Oct 5, 2000
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        Subject: Brazil Rain Forest
        Brazilian congress is now voting on a project that
        will reduce the amazon forest to 50% of its size. The area to be
        is 4 times the size of Portugal and would be mainly used for agriculture
        and pastures for live stock...
        All the wood is to be sold to international markets in the form of wood
        chips, by multinational companies...
        The truth is that the soil in the amazon forest is useless without the
        forest itself. Its quality is very acidic and the
        region is prone to constant floods. At this time more than 160.000
        square kilometers deforested with the same purpose are abandoned and in
        the process of becoming deserts.
        We cannot let this happen. Copy the text into a new email, put your
        complete name in the list below, and send to everyone you
        know. (Don't just forward it cos then it will end up with rows of >>>'s
        If you are the 100th person to sign please send a copy to:

        Thank you.

        1. Oscar Cabodevila Pillado - Tarragona, Catalunya
        2. Cristina Comabella Xucla - Barcelona, Catalunya
        3. Lluisa Campos Brull - Barcelona, Catalunya
        4. Elena Llobet Campos - Barcelona, Catalunya
        5. Albert Llobet Campos - Barcelona, Catalunya
        6. Oriol Llobet Campos - Barcelona, Catalunya
        7. Pilar Guardia Rocamora - Barcelona, Catalunya
        8. Pilar Jara Velencoso - Barcelona, Catalunya
        9. Joana Caldés Tapias - Barcelona, Catalunya
        10. Esperanza Sanz Marin - Barcelona, Catalunya
        11. Joan Miquel Pellejà Pellejà - Barcelona, Catalunya
        12. Núria Vilanova Karlsson - Castelldefels, Catalunya
        13. África Lorente Castillo - Castelldefels, Catalunya, España
        14. Enric Riverola Castelldefels, Catalunya
        15. Jesus Vidal Barcelona ,Catalunya.
        16. Joan Antoni Afonso i Buch, Catalunya, España
        17. David Clark - Barcelona, Spain
        18. Neil Forrest - Barcelona Spain
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