I carried out and completed my MA research in 2010 on CBI. Why? Well, I’d been trying to teach speaking classes since my very first EFL job and always failed badly. I had tried all those famous ring bound or photocopiable books but to no success. I felt that just speaking wasn’t enough and that the topics/activities in the resources were never appealing. Yet, classes that evolved into speaking from some interesting and contemporary issue actually worked better than those labelled as speaking ones or communication skills.
I had thought TBL was the answer to all my previous doubts as it set realistic reasons for communication but had grown tired of trying and failing to do language focus and of having students do unmeaningful tasks from books. CBI allowed me to teach a topic and bring in tasks.
At the time, I was the head of a debate course and had realised that CBI was the best way to run the course so over the summer I redesigned all 20 2 and 1/2 hour classes, created powerpoint slides, handouts, tests and collected multimedia resources. In the new term I began delivering this new course along with some colleagues. I had created it to teach/develop debate skills but the topics would be chosen by the students and be the real basis of the lessons. Every week there was a vote and students researched the topics.
By the end of the course I was very satisfied and my questionnaires collected positive FB from students and teachers. Many said learning by speaking was enjoyable and they really liked researching and talking about real issues. Out of 100 respondees 2 said that ‘debating is fake’ and ‘I like learning new things but don’t have time to make an opinion’. I also discovered a bit of prejudice amongst teachers about their views of their students preferring input rather than output, the students didn’t agree.
In my next job I tried delivering the same course in another country but it didn’t work at all and eventually I realised that the new students didn’t want to know how to debate properly, they just wanted to talk about issues they cared about so I got rid of the debate training and just did topics, discussion and some language. I then introduced this idea into all my courses.
At this point I started the DELTA EA in Business English Blended Learning and began reading about Dogme. Something just clicked. I suddenly realised why the debate course didn’t work and how I could solve it. Yes, I had been letting students select topics and helping with their language but was still forcing language sheets on them and had PPT, handouts and even videos. Thus, my Dogme dabbling began and my EA course developed ‘open activities’ and ‘conversation’ and ’emergent focus’. the whole course was based entirely on the student DA/NA but I knew that in reality it would not be the tightly planned version I was writing. Nevertheless, I plodded on and finished and continued to experiment with Dogme in my classes.
By now, I had gathered interest and fear from colleagues and a reputation for not doing handouts and having loud talkative classes who also showed improvement in other lessons. This convinced me that I was onto a winner and so I began deconstructing my idea of teaching and taking a much wider view.
Now I consider Dogme to be the umbrella under which TBL and CBI coexist. For instance, many of my classes are based on news articles or short videos/audios and develop into authentic discussion/debate/analysis and we tackle the actual topic (CBI), I then cement TBL opportunities. Everything is based on what the students want and need and what they produce (linguistically yes but more and more actual content).
Is it just TBL? No, there is often no achievable end product as you never know where a conversation will lead. In this way Dogme grants more freedom of choice and these opportunities in the class that I didn’t have before
Is it IPE? Well, I used to be an IPEr and would spend hours planning how to integrate all those ideas but I ended up doing 3/4 times as much time on my plans as I did teaching them.