CAT in the Dogme

So here goes.  My first post revisiting IATEFL 2013.  The first week back after IATEFL and the first thing to be relevant is this session I went to by Ken Lackman called CAT: a Framework for Dogme.  He presented something useful, a ‘Monday’ session–you know the really practical session you go to where instead of loads of theoretical, idealized teaching scenarios, you get a ready-made lesson you can walk straight into class with on Monday morning with no prep (love those sessions!).  So of course, after a week away in Liverpool, that is exactly what I did on Monday morning.

I have to admit I’m quite late getting into Dogme.  When I first heard about it, I thought, “Yeah, that’s what I do already.  Really?  Someone thought it was worth naming and writing about?  Please.”  As well as, “Isn’t that what we all actually do anyways, especially when we’re feeling a bit too lazy to plan our lessons?  It’s just we’re not supposed to admit it.”

I thought it was a bit like modern art and this display I saw when I couldn’t get into a session and went to the TATE instead.

toilet

For those of you who don’t know about Dogme here’s a brief overview based on Teaching Unplugged by Thornbury and Meddings.

Teaching should be:

  1. conversation-driven
  2. materials-light
  3. focused on emergent language

Ken’s idea is that that is all very nice but sometimes teachers and students need a bit of structure–hence he developed his CAT, Conversation Activated Teaching, framework.   (This will be published in July in ELT Magazine.)

CAT Basic Lesson Plan:

Stage 1: Warmer

  • Students brainstorm a list of topics they want to have a conversation about.  (groups of 4, time limit, compete to get more than other groups)
  • Teacher boards up the longest list, asks if anything significant is missing from other groups.
  • Students vote (as many times as they want) for whichever topic interests them.  Topic with the most votes is chosen.

Stage 2:  Pair Conversations:

  • Pair Conversations.   In pairs, students ask questions about the chosen topic.  Student A has 3 minutes to ask Student B questions and then change.

Stage 3:  Conversation with Teacher

  • One student comes to the front of the room.  The teacher asks him/her questions and takes notes, not on mistakes, just ideas.
  • During this conversation, all the other students listen and try to write down as many questions as they can.  (another group competition)
  • Then the teacher repeats what the student says, using his/her notes, reformulating as needed to give the learners more complex language.
  • Student reproduces what the teacher says, affirming the teacher’s understanding.
  • Students listen and write down any useful expressions that they might want to use to talk about their own experiences.  (again group competition–check who won)

Stage 4:  Language Focus

  • Teacher boards up the questions and useful phrases, eliciting and asking about the language.
  • Repeat Pair Conversations (new partner) or cycle through any of the stages.

I did it with my low intermediate students and it worked really well.  I’d definitely do it again because it allowed them to speak about a topic they enjoy but also get meaningful feedback on their language.

The thing that surprised me most was that they weren’t very good at noticing. I didn’t really realize just how difficult it is to notice language and pick it out of context.  I just took for granted that they noticed new things, when actually, when they do understand something they often gloss over the details.  This was evident in the reproduction phase of the Conversation with Teacher.   The student had difficulty repeating what I said and just wanted to nod that I had it correct.  The weaker students listening couldn’t quite pull out what was useful.  I guess they need more practice.  In looking over my notes, I see that Ken recommends motioning ‘write’ with your hands when you want them to write.  I’ll definitely do that next time.

I also realized that I’m not very good at reformulating language quickly, something I would like to get better at.  (again practice, practice, practice)

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