Recently, Dogme as an approach to teaching has been criticised for giving status to teachers who have high language awareness and confidence in working with emergent language. There are many teachers out there, the critics point out, who do not fall into this group, and many of them are non-natice speakers who, because they are NNSs, lack the requisite language competence and confidence to work “unplugged”. Critics have suggested that this is tantamount to native-speakerism and is therefore discriminatory and exclusive.
We do not understand this criticism because it seems to suggest that (a) most non-native speakers are unable to develop a level of language awareness and confidence sufficient to work in this way, and (b) that most native speakers already (presumably by dint of their being native speakers) possess this competence and confidence. In our experience, neither of these premises is true.
We accept a high percentage of non-native speakers onto our courses (around 50%) and in terms of grades achieved see little difference between the achievements of native and non-native speaker beginning teachers. Since adopting more Dogme-like principles into our initial training course design, we have noticed an increase in higher grade (Pass B or Pass A) awards, without an increase in fail/withdrawals – the shift has been in moving more candidates from the Pass bracket into the higher brackets. This suggests that encouraging beginning teachers to work in a more Dogme-like fashion may enable stronger candidates to excel without placing average or weaker candidates under measurably increased strain. This encourages us that our changes are not disenfranchising anyone.
However, we do agree that to work in a classroom substantially free from published materials and focusing on emergent language is to ask a great deal of the teacher (not to mention the learners). So, whether native or non-native speaker, we do believe that a teacher does need to possess strong language awareness. Insofar as short training courses place more strain on the participant than longer training courses, we suspect that candidates on short initial training courses actually need to be qualitatively better than their counterparts on longer initial training courses in terms of their initial language awareness.
For us, this justifies our decision to encourage our beginning teachers to work on emergent language from day one. As there seems to be agreement that this is a challenging way of working, and as we believe it is the most effective way of working, it seems essential to start working on developing this skill as early as possible.
Yes, that’s an interesting point – what do the learners make of the materials-free classroom?
They like it as far as we can tell. For example, after the first unplugged lesson we did for TP (using “how I got my name” from Teaching Unplugged), a TP student who had been around for a long time and had done a lot of “old” TP, came up in the middle of the lesson and said “Great idea for a lesson! This is really good!”
To be clear,though, the lessons are not always (or, as time goes on, even mainly) materials free in an absolute sense. But it is fair to say that there is much less paper being taken in to lessons, what material there is gets used more thoroughly, and pages of course books don’t get photocopied and worked through any more.