Dogme & TBLT – What do you do in the classroom?

This is a response to a post by Andrew Walkley of Lexical Lab on his about how teachers can use coursebooks in a principled way.

I am not actually getting into the back and forth about how evil/good they are as I have done so several times before.

Andrew has a couple of questions that seem genuine as opposed to discursive window dressing.

It seems to me, for example, that in choosing a task, TBLT practitioners must have some ideas of level and potential language in mind before the class.

Yes. Very much planned. There is a ton of planning, or at least gathering background information. There’s a needs analysis (NA) and a discourse analysis (DA) in the kind I do, based on Long (2014). I don’t have an applied linguist do my DA for me, though. I try to make a small corpus or at least gather some authentic texts (including videos or audio) to check how the tasks in the needs analysis would normally be done in the real world.

If I can’t access real-world examples then it comes down to reliance upon intuition. I dislike this but I feel that this gives me the chance to say that I have an idea about tasks ought to be performed but they should be co-constructed with learners’ knowledge of it. I certainly feel that writers rely on instincts at times, too.

The tasks to complete should be comparable to real-world tasks. Such tasks in my classroom may be (and I know that I diverge from orthodoxy from time to time) to engage in small talk in reception prior to a meeting in order to build rapport with a customer/client all the way to negotiating timescales with builders for renovation work so you can move into your house. It’s often (but not always) appropriate for learners to plan and repeat tasks. Focus on Form comes in as required. I know some people use Murphy (2012) for this. I don’t but that’s my preference. I use the board or have learners search for examples in SkELL and report findings or even just clean up a bit of lexis and grammar. It could be worksheets printed on the fly in higher tech classrooms. I like learners’ transcription of and reflection on parts of their own recorded tasks and reflection after focus on form and/or feedback in the lesson as a bit of homework.

Andrew also asks:

my questioning of TBLT/Dogme centres on how lessons actually work. I understand that a material-free classroom can work in principle, but I think we need to question the practice. What exactly are the tasks? How are those tasks chosen?

As for Dogme, I doubt I’m canonical here but knowing as much about the learners first helps the teacher pick tasks/topics that will pique interest as part of a negotiated syllabus. Then the syllabus gets negotiated and remains a work in progress. Tasks may even be chosen by learners seeing as they have an idea what they know/don’t know. It’s not an negation of the teacher’s role but information to support it. You negotiate a syllabus, rather than blindly accept “We want to talk about the philosophical underpinnings of the contemporary Russian state” with A2 learners. But who’s to say that talking about Russia or philosophy aren’t nice prerequisite steps towards this?

My Dogme lessons tend to start with a gathering of collective knowledge about the topic or reacting to a story or artefact. This output is then used to synthesise something else (even if it is merely a more crystallised opinion), taking the conversation to wherever it heads, focusing on form as and when needed. This requires neither coursebook pages nor the aforementioned Murphy (2012). Again, boardwork, negotiation of meaning in greater detail and work on nuance pay dividends. Grammar work could even involve a sentence jigsaw made from index cards or Post Its.

I hope this demystifies TBLT or Dogme classroom practices. Any questions, hit me up in the comments. Any comments, er, in the comments.

References

Long, M. (2014) Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching. New York. Wiley.

Murphy, R. (2012) English Grammar In Use (4th Ed.). Cambridge. CUP.

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“This is gold!”

I’ve been using Saboteur with an adapted Kotoba Rollers framework by James York with my university classes. I want talking with authentic tasks, which games provide. There is also transcription of language used. It isn’t all fun and games though.

In the game, players are either good, hardworking miners or saboteurs. None of the players know the roles of the others but they hardworking miners need to work together to get the gold. The saboteurs need to ensure the pack of cards is exhausted before the treasure cards are reached. There are also action cards such as breaking tools, fixing tools, causing rock falls and checking maps for gold, which may lead to cooperation or subterfuge.

The published rules are a bit tricky to understand. I had set the reading for homework, figuring that if there were a lot of difficulties the students would use dictionaries or Google Translate. This means my students skim read them superficially and did not bother to understand the rules fully before game play. Dictionaries and Google barely got looked at.

However, the rules needed a bit of clarification. This led to some good negotiation of meaning (Long, 1983). There are cards used to destroy the mine path above or break other players’ tools but they weren’t always easily understood.

The transcription is the main part I changed. I ask students to write three parts.

What did your partner say? Did they say it differently to how you would say it? How would you say it?

This has been done pretty well and is usually the best part of my RPG-based classes’ sheets, too.

What communication problems did you have? Why?

This sometimes ends up being a wishy-washy “I need to speak more fluently” but a lot of my students have gone a bit deeper.

If you spoke Japanese, what did you say? How can you say it in English?

This has an obvious function but students do sometimes half-arse it and just use Google Translate one way without checking the translation in a (monolingual) dictionary or Skell.

Still the work got done and there was another game of Saboteur in the following lesson to review. I was satisfied with this little Kotoba Rollers cycle, and so were my students, though I needed to buy 4 lots of the game for my big class.

References

Long, M. (1983) Native speaker/non-native speaker conversation and the negotiation of comprehensible input1. Applied Linguistics, 4 (2) pp. 126–141.

Rod Ellis: Moving task-based language teaching forward

Regular readers know that I am a big advocate of Task-Based Language Teaching. In this video Dr. Rod Ellis discusses some of the problems/issues/misconceptions in TBLT. One of my favourite parts is task complexity, another is teacher education, though the latter is rushed through much more than it ought to be.

If you like this video, or just don’t have an hour to spend on it (which is a shame), you can have a look at my previous post on how to actually do task-based teaching, which is a rough and dirty guide.

Learner Autonomy ought to be Awesome not Anomie

Ooh, Marc. Your classes always look like you give your students loads of freedom. 

Yes, it does look that way but sometimes I still feel like I’m spoonfeeding. So today, I ditched my plan and tried an experiment. 

To prepare for a discussion on health. I set stations that the learners would practice at.

  • Vocabulary brainstorming at the board.
  • I suspected that the learners would just pick out single words. I later elicited collocations. 

  • Discussion planning.
  • Or functional language planning. What can you say to open a discussion, control a discussion, agree, disagree politely, change the subject and end the discussion. Not amazing. 

  • Fluency practice.
  • Teacher led choral, response drills, function drills. Popular with the learners but not my bag. Useful to an extent. 

  • Reading.
  • Read the handout then discuss it. Response task on the back. Reading has a gloss and few if any ‘hard’ words. 

  • Mini-discussion practice.
  • Set a task (actually part of the exit task). The post-task was to report to me three best balances of nutrition and taste for the discussion. 

How did it go?

 

Well, I’d be lying if I said everything was amazing. The vocabulary was very successful with my morning classes, and OK with the afternoon class. The reading was basically spot on and the mini discussions went well. The discussion planning kind of sucked a bit. Some learners took over and derailed the activity and it took a while to get back on track. 

All in all, not bad, though. I’ll probably try something similar again but I definitely want to tweak the language planning, perhaps with a handout. But that takes the autonomy away. 

Travel Problems – a Dogme-ish lesson

 

In this post I’ll go over a bit of a Dogme-ish (and I say Dogme-ish because it’s kind of Task Based due to the syllabus that I knocked up based on the absolute lack of any definite needs for my university students other than ‘learn some English’). With that, I designed a bit of a travel-based task cycle, of which every lesson stands alone or links. This is the final one in the cycle and perhaps my favourite. This is a role-play lesson with a bit of a difference.

  1. Give out slips of paper. Tell students to each write one different foreign travel problem on the slips. They don’t need to worry about spelling very much because it’s not the point of the lesson. Take all slips in.
  2. Put students into groups of 4 or 5 (I’d say groups of 3 might be too much work for one person – you’ll be assigning rotating roles to the students). The rotating roles are speakers who role play each travel problem and two or three listeners who listen to all or some of the following:
    • Grammatical accuracy;
    • Lexical appropriacy;
    • Pragmatic competence;
    • Pronunciation;
    • Communication strategies;
    • Fluency;
    • What they would do the same or do differently.
  3. Give the slips out, ensuring groups have as few duplicates as possible. Set the students to plan one role play (not script writing – focus on speech acts and reactivity) as a group for students 1 & 2 in the group to perform for 6 minutes. Then have students 1 & 2 perform the role play while 3 & 4 listen and then give feedback. Teacher monitors and takes notes.
  4. Focus on Form. Probably a good idea to cover things you noticed but the student listeners didn’t.
  5. All students planning again – 4 minutes this time.  Students 2 & 3 perform, 1 & 4 listen then give feedback.
  6. Focus on Form.
  7. As previous planning and roleplaying but with 2 minutes planning. 3 & 4 perform, 1 & 2 listen.
  8. Focus on Form again.
  9. No planning. 1 & 4 perform, 2 & 3 listen and give feedback.
  10. Student groups pick the most successful role play. Teacher randomly  (or not) selects pairs from each group to perform, gives feedback.

Here Be (Dungeons and) Dragons: 7

Back to the Campaign

I’m not satisfied with the RPG courses at the moment but I can see what it is that I want. I want to be able to just put everything in place like I have five years experience of RPGs rather than feeling my way blind. 

So what would I do with all my unearned experience? Well, I think I would like to delegate some of the Dungeon Master responsibilities to the students. Learner Autonomy is a good thing. The only problem is only about a handful are capable of putting together a scenario and scoring. Because Japan is a groupist culture, this means I would run the risk of putting noses out of joint. 

Another thing that I hadn’t thought through properly is item functions. The class at UOT has won some items but LCST has had no items in the game, yet. I was considering using these items to fiddle the game and let conscientious learners get high scores but in all honesty all the students are conscientious enough to keep me happy. Still, a few things could make it more interesting. 

So what I am going to do is add items in the next few stages and have clear benefits to them. 

I will ask of anyone wants Dungeon Master homework. I might even make a tutorial video about using Google Slides, too. 

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 123456

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 6: Interlude


Interlude, or stopping the game and assessing.

Who’s assessing?

Well, funny you should say that. At Ladies College of Suburban Tokyo (LCST) I went around two classes of twenty odd, checking portfolios in progress while the students planned repeat tasks. I assigned them to re-record the most difficult task of the last 4 weeks, listen to the new one, listen to the previous one and judge which is better and how or why? Also, it gives a chance to see what still needs to be done. These students are a bit more savvy with academic skills as well as IT, and I don’t have access to a CALL room so I didn’t run a lesson on PowerPoint and OneNote or Google Apps to collate work.

The students’ work outside class has been a good mix of practice with elllo.org and dreamreader.net but also a lot of indiscriminate grammar drills from high-school textbooks, despite my urge to study grammar from graded readers, listening or something with a lot of context or cotext.

At University Outside Tokyo (UOT), I had more students than usual after a prompt of “come to class or face failing again”. Some students were savvy, others not so. I showed how to use PowerPoint to gather pictures and annotate them for vocabulary and how to drag and drop multimedia files. I was hoping this would take about 50 minutes but young people in Japan, while mobile literate are sometimes not very computer literate. They’ll redo tasks at the start of the next lesson.

At least I know now what the demands are, how much time it takes me to get around everyone to give feedback and the students know to make better use of grammar drills and such.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5