Confessional Booth

I have been mentally composing but have failed to deliver at least a dozen reflections over the past few weeks.  A few days grace that I granted myself have, indeed, become a few weeks.  The title, Confessional Booth, reflects the guilt attack triggered yesterday by Allistair’s collegial visit to my favorite class yesterday afternoon.

The deferred blog entries, which may remain so for eternity, are easily defended.  I have been industrious and working on needed projects.  I don’t need to list or categorize the things that kept me up till late and arising early; simply, I was meeting valid obligations that blocked blogging.

The probably eternal absence of those blogs, as insights never to be shared with any other reader, is not a problem for me.  I accept that.

This morning, however, the vague, festering self-accusation brought on by Allistair’s observance of the final 15 minutes of class has blossomed well-formed into a prosecutable charge. 

By neglecting clear reflection on day to day practice, I had lapsed into unilateral preparation and delivery of stuff, and lost the magic. 

Worse, I was trampling it.

Late last night I did manage to read several pieces that have apparently coalesced overnight into this opportunity to confess, repent, and repair.  My grasp of dogme and the dialectic around it has firmed up.

Allistair and I sit near each other in our faculty room.  We have been sharing bursts of “I’m tried this” and “this seemed to work” as we come and go.  Our talk of the last several days has been growing a focal point, “you just need to love them”, with mental notes to follow up on dogme for added strength of conviction.

Our classrooms were given glass walls along the hallway this winter past.  Allistair noticed something in my best class sessions and asked if he could sit in sometime.

Yesterday he silently entered, begged my pardon and took a seat in the back.  He’d caught me in the middle of a rant.  May I call it a short sermon?  It was intended to motivate a few who haven’t done an assignment critical to our upcoming mid-term exam.  This unplanned sermonette was a leaky affair, unfortunately; a fair bit of exhortation simmering for my freshmen seeped in, unneeded by my highly motivated Seniors.

Yet, the problem was not the rant.

The rant remained cohesive enough and I kept to the warm tone of a favorite uncle.  Allistair offered nothing critical, made few facial comments, assented a few times, and left moments before the bell.  His true contribution was his presence as a mirror for me.

Beyond the rant and Allistair’s observation, I took in the notes all over the board.  I saw the teacherly production and delivery.  I mentally looked back at my most recent sessions in all of my classes to see lots of teacherly production and delivery, and my growing insistence on covering academic ground.

Pleading pressures though I might, I have slipped into the mucky crevasse of measuring the delivery of content.  I’ve been focused on measuring my performance and theirs.  And I am forced to say, to my double damnation, that I have simultaneously been talking the good talk of learning language only by engaged communication.  That is to say, learning useable language as opposed to learning facts about a language.

With all obligations out of the way last night, and this uncomfortable feeling playing out, I was digging into material on dogme, feeling around for a foothold, a fingerhold to halt the slide into perdition.  Oh, and along the path, I was grabbing some classroom activities with potential, umm, yes, for soaking up some time, and making them open their mouths.  How can I be so conflicted?

The mid-term exams are exerting undue pressure.  Correction, I am allowing them to exert undue pressure.

The looming mid-term exams are on everyone’s mind.  I surmise that it is oppressing professors more than students.  I disappointed Allistair when he asked for a few moments to quiz me on “exams at GyeongJu University”.  Since our 75 English speaking professors include a mere handful who taught here last year, most of us have no model for a G.U. exam beyond the shape and bounds of the grade curve acceptable to the Academic Affairs office. 

The standard course syllabuses that we submitted were deliberately shaped to be open to amendment according to personal pedagogical style and philosophy, and to provide the flexibility needed in Conversation courses that center on vocational themes but don’t really demand successful delivery of content save perhaps special vocabulary.  The central concern is clear:  deliver an enabling and enjoyable experience hearing and trying out English as it may be encountered in work situations.

Nevertheless, it seems that everyone assumes a need for conversation course exams that are part written and part oral.  While creating our syllabuses we talked about motivating engagement by weighting attendance and participation as much as we dare.  Actually Academic Affairs requires exactly 20% of the grade to be attendance.  We went for 50% exam weight.

I think we all hope to make exams that will suitably reward the good students and defensibly push the, hmm, other students down far enough to make it possible to reward the good ones within the bounds of Academic Affairs’ grade curve.  I sometimes hear an evil vindictive judgmental uncharitable voice calling for the duds who text or sleep through every session to get an F.

I don’t know why that would improve anything in the world save Daddy’s budget.

I don’t know why they come to class.  The outcome seems so obvious.  Even if I grade the texting and sleeping as acceptable, I am fairly sure that the heavily weighted exams will do the uncharitable deed for me.

Wikipedia has an article about dogme that served me well last night.  It tightened up my constructs, and gave me two voices that helped shape up a few tentative conclusions.

The first article that helped me marshal thoughts was the pleasant, thoughtful, cautionary voice of Simon Gill saying “AGAINST DOGMA: A PLEA FOR MODERATION” at  Simon lent his piece of dissension to Scott Thornbury’s dogme website after he added some softening words.

The second influential article, “DOGME IN ACTION” was written by Ruth Hamilton in 2004 and posted to the Humanistic Language Teaching website here,

On Dogme Chastity

Simon said that the dogme call to chastity caused him to pull back from dogme because he felt “a sense of not just deliberately cutting oneself off from a source of great pleasure but also going on to stigmatize and devalue this source for others.”

I had read the chastity word a few weeks ago, and understood it to be a flag waving for purity of commitment.  Simon’s words made it a big, flaming red flag. 

For my part this morning, however, one of my rising conclusions was to say, “Yes, exactly.  A vow of chastity might have protected me this past couple of weeks.” 

I can identify with and imagine why Scott Thornsbury cast his early writing on dogme as a manifesto modeled after the vows taken by the original filmmakers of dogme ‘95.

On Dogme Emergence

My concept of this word “Emergent” is slowly gaining some body and outlines that are less hazy.  Ruth Hamilton helped much in this regard.  I am hoping that other people’s definitions of emergent remain consistent with my early outlines because I think that the concept of emergence of language may inform my gut feel that Krashen’s “acquisition” does not go deep enough. 

I have been thinking that the concept of second language acquisition may be closer to reality, because it sensibly moves away from teacher centered language teaching and language learning, but that the real work is not done ultimately with the student at the center, but with the center inside the student.

Thinking about this has not been working out very well for me.  Helpful words for talking about my foggy gut feeling are all co-opted.  I’m thankful to get the word “emergent”, hoping that it will continue to serve.

On Moving Forward

Ruth Hamilton writes a scholarly paper that lays out this basis borrowed as metaphor from dogme ‘95, it seems (I need to read more), and then having quoted and interpreted the tenets she has found from Thornbury, Meddings, Woodward, and others, she relates tenets to her experiences applying them in United Arab Emirates.  

Ruth relates six dogme-tic lessons, chosen from many, reporting her setup and rationale, the experience, student feedback, and her reflections.   She then offers her conclusion that “the lessons seemed to take on a life of their own, with the students carrying us along with their flow of ideas, contributions and enthusiasm.” 

She gives several aspects of the classroom experience that demonstrate for her that “dogme combines both learner-centred and humanistic techniques”.

Ruth’s accounts of the lessons are inspiring.  I want to be able to write some stories just like hers.  They are confirmations for me that more Terrific Talks are possible for me.

An added benefit from getting Ruth’s paper is to encounter the Pilgrim group, their website for Humanistic Language Teaching, and a new word “humanistic techniques”, even if the word “techniques” in combination with “humanistic” sounds a bit of an oxymoron. 

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