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Sunday, January 8, 2017

What Do I Mean by Materials Light?

If you watched the video on my last post, you might be wondering about my reference to dogme.

I have not gone through extensive training nor have I immersed myself enough in the forums to be able to say that I know what dogme in English Language Teaching truly means. I can't claim ever to have fully implemented dogme in a classroom. I do own the book Teaching Unplugged by Thornbury and Meddings, and my copy is covered in coloured stickies and is has suffered the indignities felt the love of my yellow and pink highlighters. The idea is very appealing to me; as someone who has studied over ten languages and has reached fluency in one or two, I can say that I believe I would enjoy being a student in a dogme classroom.

I did stick my toe in the waters of dogme when I had a conversation class that met for one hour four times per week. There came a point when my informal 'lunch and learn' session was whittled down to about three keeners, and we felt free to be spontaneous, not text-driven. (This was a period of time when the Russian, the Ukrainian, and the Chinese student really sprang to life and thanked me profusely for focusing on the exact English they needed for what was happening in their lives that day.

Other than that, I have not felt free to take a so called vow of chastity for an entire term. Or perhaps I had the freedom but was too lazy to try it. In any case, not ever having fully implemented a dogme approach doesn't mean I don't believe in stretching a teachable moment into an impromptu lesson. I do! Those often turn out to be more effective than what I conscientiously took two hours at home to plan. Might not hardcore dogme proponents insist they always do?

The week before winter break in my morning class, a multilevel group of seniors, a 'materials light' lesson presented itself.  I had come in grumbling about two business property owners who had not yet--even after six days and TWO snowfalls--shovelled the sidewalks adjacent to their buildings / plazas. Students and I got to griping, fervently nodding, and asking one another what we should do about it.

This authentic topic pertinent to our lives in the immediate real world took precedence over what I had planned when I saw that students were also upset and grumbling about the sidewalks. So what did we do on the spot? I reminded them of the city's 311 service. We agreed we wanted to report the delinquent businesses. We brainstormed, we talked about salutations, introductions, body details, conclusions, contact information, and the format of emails and letters. We then wrote letters to the City of Windsor by-law enforcement office via 311. I collected them and put about seven of the students' sentences on the board. Two had no errors, five had errors. I gave the students the task of figuring out if there were problems with any of the grammar. The most fascinating opportunity to arise came from the sentence. "Nobody cleaned it until 12:00." I knew the student meant, "When I passed by there at 12:00, nobody had yet cleaned it." She had no idea that the sentence implied someone did come by at 12:00 and shovel. A wonderful lesson on the difference between simple past and present perfect emerged, complete with a lot of peer scaffolding.

Anyway, this did not even take us off track for our quota of portfolio artefacts, as I am able to count the letters as writing artefacts. I will be using the new rubric templates uploaded to Tutela by Conestoga College.

The best part? I emailed their concerns, and the sidewalks were cleaned within 24 hours.

How do you feel about dogme, Back to the Well, and other approaches that either reduce the need for texts and copy machines or do away with them altogether?

If you would like a copy of the controlled activity that I threw together for them at the break, you can download the MS Word document from my website, Settlement Themes - Government and Community Services.


  1. HI Kelly, I just read this blog! How cool! I am using this lesson next week. Thanks for posting it. I do disagree with one thing you said though...YOU ARE NOT LAZY!!! EVER! ; )

    1. Ha, ha, ha. Thanks, Maria! So pre-benchmark and CLB 1L students are going to report snowy sidewalks? That is awesome! K