British Council Nov 11 Scott Sherrif on Luke Meddings | English As A Second Or Foreign Language | Psychology & Cognitive Science

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    Teaching English | Seminars© BBC | British Council 2012   Live and Unplugged - a Dogme Lesson and Discussion’Report by Scott Sherriff  Luke Meddings is co-author of the book ‘Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in EnglishLanguage Teaching’ which won a 2010 British Council award for Innovation. Earlier thisyear he delivered a seminar entitled‘20 Steps to Teaching Unplugged’. Returning toSpring Gardens, he sought to demonstrate how the principles of Dogme and TeachingUnplugged that he had presented back in April can be put into practice. With the graciousassistance of thirteen students from the Wimbledon School of English, the evening wouldsee Meddings deliver a ‘live’ Dogme session in front of over a hundred ‘observers’.Meddings began by outlining what he hoped to achieve during the seminar. He wanted theaudience to take part in a shared experience that would help demystify not only teachingunplugged and Dogme but also the process of watching fellow professionals teach.Meddings described the dichotomy in how people learn to teach and how that processtakes place both publically and privately. Observed teaching sessions have becomeexclusively associated with feelings of anxiety and strain, in which a successful outcomemight well determine the securing of employment or the extension of an existing contract.Meddings advocated a new approach to observations that attempts to wrestle it from theclutches of apprehension and fear toward one which sees teachers opening their classroom doors to colleagues wherever and whenever possible, engendering anenvironment where tutors feel at ease sitting in on one another.So, to the live session. The ‘classroom’ was very small, the stage space just managing toaccommodate Meddings, a small flip-chart and his group of learners, who were seated intwo rows.He began by giving each of his students a Post-it note on which he invited them to writethe answer to the following question - “How do you feel right now”. The laughter that thisgenerated helped dissipate the palpable tension emanating from the stage! Studentsbegan writing their responses before returning their Post-it-note to Meddings, whoattached them to the board and then determined the most popular responses. ‘Nervous’was the clear winner!Meddings explored the replies in more detail, looking at the exact nature of how they wereexpressed - “I’m sooo nervous”, “A little bit nervous”, “I’m a little bit nervous but I think itwill be interesting”. One very positive student exclaimed “good, beautiful, nice, super,wonderful”.Meddings expanded on this by forming two columns on the board…I’m feeling embarraI’m feeling excitI’m feeling interest    Teaching English | Seminars© BBC | British Council 2012   …and eliciting from learners the correct ending to each of the words.Students were then invited to talk to the person next to them and find out other times intheir life when they had also encountered these feelings. The learners threw themselvesinto the activity wholeheartedly, having clearly engaged with the topic. Meddingsmonitored throughout. At times this would be discreet; on other occasions he wouldcontribute to the discussions and pose further questions to the pairs. This process lastedfor about five minutes, before more Post-it-notes were issued and students asked to writedown the situations mentioned.Writing the question “I get nervous when…..” on the flip-chart, Meddings again collectedand displayed the Post-it-notes and extrapolated the information. Circumstances included job interviews, taking exams, speaking English, starting a first job, playing in a match,playing in a concert, when facing a problem, singing in public and meeting a boyfriend’sfamily for the first time.Based on the ideas that had emerged and drawing on the vocabulary that had beenpresented, Meddings attempted to refine students’ understanding of these scenarios. Itwas established, for instance, that a ‘match’ is generally considered to be more importantthan a ‘game’ and that singing in public will provoke different emotions than when singingat home in front of family and friends. Meddings was responding here to the language thathad been supplied by his learners, evidencing the fluidity of a Dogme approach tolanguage learning.The class was then split into two groups. Meddings drew a five-pointed star on the boardand invited learners to do the same in their notebooks. They were asked to reachagreement within their groups on the five occasions that make them feel most nervous,logging each one beside a point of the star. Again, Meddings monitored this activityadroitly, responding to questions as they were asked and facilitating discussions whenneeded.Once agreement over their list was reached, Meddings invited the learners, individually, togo out into the crowd, speak to a member of the audience and ascertain which they wouldpersonally choose as the situation most likely to induce nerves from the list of five that theywere shown.Having mingled very confidently, students were called to return to their seats and presenttheir findings. Group 1 had chosen a top five that consisted of ‘talking in front of people’,‘taking an exam’, ‘a job interview’, ‘making a big, big mistake’ and ‘making/taking adecision’. Group 2 concluded that ‘playing in a concert’, ‘taking an exam’, ‘speakingEnglish with a native speaker’, ‘anything in public’ and ‘a job interview’ were incidents mostlikely to prompt nerves.Learners then recounted the discussions they had with members of the audience, theselections the questioned individuals had made and the according reasons they gave for that choice.The lesson was then brought to a close.    Teaching English | Seminars© BBC | British Council 2012   Providing an immediate self-evaluation of the session, Meddings described how the veryopen question that began the lesson served as a positive springboard. In asking hisstudents how they felt at that moment, it was predicted that ‘nervous’ would feature as aresponse. Consequently, Meddings could confidently embark on further exercises, certainthat he would be able to link this emotion to a number of other contexts. Meddingsreasoned that it was important to choose a question you expect students to be able torespond to, one that everyone can engage with and that is also relevant to that particular day; central tenets of Teaching Unplugged.However, Meddings also advised having a ‘back-pocket’ question in the event of thesrcinal not generating what was hoped. He averred that teachers should be open to whatmight be useable on a given day but not to enter the classroom with nothing planned as analternative.Meddings then fielded questions, both from the floor and via Twitter. What did you feel or hope the students would get out of the session? Meddings wanted to ensure learners received feedback based on their language and thatthey felt the classroom granted them freedom to communicate, safe in the knowledge thatthey had a tutor who would be attentive to their needs. Can you comment on the fact that there was reformation of answers but no specificerror correction? Meddings stated that he has faith in patterns and believes that if they are repeated over anumber of days they do become ‘noticed’. Yet he was also keen to stress that he is notagainst explicit grammar correction. How do you get students with different learning styles to be with you in your approach? Meddings referenced the work of Madeline Elizabeth Ehrman and her research thatestablished two different types of learners. The first is a ‘Synoptic’ learner who is ‘happy togo with the flow’ during classroom discussion and general learning. The second is an‘Ectenic’ learner who is more preoccupied with the form and construction of a language,for instance relying heavily on a dictionary. One audience member described this asencapsulating the debate on fluency versus accuracy in language learning.There is a dynamic inherent in Teaching Unplugged, Meddings attested, that enables it tocater to both of these learning styles. Indeed, another audience member noted that in thecourse of the lesson there was paired and larger group work where learners had to listento each other, periods where they had to think on their own and a final exercise that sawthem going out into the audience, forming questions and gathering responses. This wastestament of Teaching Unplugged’s inclusive approach.    Teaching English | Seminars© BBC | British Council 2012   Furthermore, Dogme can be effectively deployed at all levels of learning due to theintrinsic emphasis in its methodology on the building of language alongside thecommunicative needs of learners. How would you envisage this working as a course? This would depend, Meddings replied, on how you frame the course you are teaching.Dogme ‘course design’ is informed by the fact that most students already arrive at classwith some English. Once this existing knowledge/ language is recorded, the Dogmeteacher can start to work with it. This gives the tutor space to proceed organically in amore student responsive and learner-centred way.Broadening discussions to accommodate debates over the efficacy of Dogme practice,Meddings drew the audiences’ attention to two prominent names in the ELT blogosphere. Anthony Gaughan is a trainer and a Cambridge appointed ESOL assessor for the CELTAaward, currently working in Germany. He posts self-reflective accounts of his experiencesof unplugged teaching at writing of Dale Coulter can be found at ‘Language Moments - Reflections onLanguage and Teaching In his first ELTappointment, Coulter was given two classes. He taught one group exclusively unpluggedand the other in a more conventional style. His blog documents the findings of thisintriguing experiment. Additionally, ESOL teachers Mike Harrison and Sue Lyon-Jones both use TeachingUnplugged methodology. Harrison’s musings can be found at and aselection of Lyon-Jones’ articles can be found at www.esolcourses.comThis is just a small sample of the action research projects that practitioners areundertaking in relation to Dogme and Teaching Unplugged. What is the definition of Dogme and why do you feel this was a Dogme lesson? Dogme, Meddings described, is based on the lives and language of the learners in itsclass. It is a teaching style that is mediated by fewer materials than alternativemethodologies and characterised, therefore, as materials light and conversation driven. Itstarts with ‘real’ emotions and focuses on emergent language. One contributor from theaudience mourned how, within ESOL, the quality of teaching and learning is often judgedby the number of handouts distributed in a given session. Meddings stated that if you tookthe modest output from the class we had just witnessed, a handout/worksheet could beproduced for the next morning/session or form the basis of homework tasks. Some of themental time and space that the Dogme teacher saves before a class can be used for therecording of achievements and output after the class. Indeed, there is a responsibility,Meddings asserted, to record that output.
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