Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Can you hear me? Dogme Challenge # 5

Providing space for the learners' voice means accepting that the learners' beliefs, knowledge, experiences, concerns & desires
are valid content in the language learning classroom.
Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged
, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

Karenne Sylvester’s latest dogme challenge starts with this quote. I sometimes get the feeling when I’m teaching from a course book that I’m just going through the motions. By this I mean, that it can feel mechanical and impersonal. Even if authors include personal questions it can seem contrived. I try to avoid these moments but inevitably they occur. Often as teachers we are pushed into rushing through the course book by external pressures such the syllabus, the director of the school, the students and even the parents.  It’s really important to remember to give our students a chance to use their voice and stop and listen them. This in fact can often be harder said than done.

I find it much easier to hear the voices of my one-to-one students. and clases where I have less than 8 students. To a great extent their classes can be tailored both to their personal needs, and interests.  This of course is a luxury. Obviously the majority of language teaching throughout the world is not done like this.

I spend 26 hours in classes with between 18 and 31 students. Off the top of my head that’s around 300 students.  This is my reality and the reality of many other teachers out there. I look out at a forest. A forest of hands, faces, voice, beliefs, needs and interests. Many of those are screaming for attention, some seem indifferent and some are trying to hide!

I can honestly say that I’m two months into the school year and I haven’t even learnt their names yet. Okay I know some of the brightest, the loudest, the naughtiest but there are loads that I have absolutely no idea about. I’ve given many of them the chance to speak in class but I’ve not heard their VOICES. It takes time to get to know so many children and to learn a little bit about them and their interests.

I can listen to children in class repeat sentences and parrot phrases but I only really hear them when I know something about them. I need to know something about their family, friends and their interests. I need to get a feeling about who they are. This takes time and is not easy to do when you have a course book pressing down on you!

How can we give children a voice? And how can we teach them to listen to others?

  • ·   Personalize language learning by asking them about their likes and dislikes and by choosing material they’re intested in.

  • ·   Getting to know a bit about all of them. I like to build up a list of facts and information about them. I fill out a simple form with information such as their favourite animals, colours, sports, group, parents’ and siblings’ names, pets’ names and other info.Write kids names on piece of paper and fill in the info bit by bit each class.

  •      Once you have this list you can ask them simple questions about their family and pets and other things. I like to ask the whole class questions like : Whose dog’s name’s Rufus? and wait for the answer. Slowly they build up a picture of their classmates too.
  • Lots of group work where children have to listen and collaborate with others. It's noisey and difficult in the beginning but once children have learnt how to listen to others and work in a group it gets easier. Practice is the key and lots of patience.
  •      I remember doing show and tell at school with my dog Lassie. I was in school the other day and one of the children had brought in his pet turtle to show his classmates and to talk about. Why not get children to bring in photos of their families, houses, holidays pets and other stuff. 
  •        I like to take in photos of me when I was a child and do a bit
of  show and tell. Children love seeing their teacher as a child and it helps  to break down barriers.

How else can we foster and environment where children learn to listen to others? And find their own voices? How can we teach in a way that helps us to hear our students? Any ideas?


  1. Hi Leahn! This situation rings a bell to me. It is very difficult to get to know all our students in these crowded classrooms. However, we should try and do our bests. It helps to lower the affective filter and it will help them to feel more relaxed in the classes. Thanks for sharing these useful tips.

  2. I really like the idea of getting the students to start noticing each other by talking about whose dog's name is Rufus etc, this is a really super tip! And I think that's really lovely bringing in pictures of you when you were little!

    One of my somewhat being socrates type questions in the challenge was based on the idea that people like only talking about themselves and in fact, one of the things people really like (imho) is other people!

    Thanks so much for participating in the challenge!


  3. Hi Sabrina,

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to post a comment. I've popped over to your blog and I've added you to my google reader! Yes, It takes time to get to know the students but you're right it's well worth the effort.

    Many thanks


  4. Hi Karenne,

    Children definitely like talking about themselves but they have a natural interest in others too!

    It's not always easy to get them to listen but like everything they have to be taught to listen to others and respect other children opinions, beliefs and interests....

    If they want their classmates to listen to them they have to listen aswell.

    Thanks for setting up the challenge. It's been making me think and I've enjoyed reading all the responses on different blogs.


  5. Hi Leahn,

    I found this post and blog through the links to the Dogme Challenge and I'm glad to have come across a place so familiar! I also teach classes of about 30 children and I have over 150 students in total. Just like you, I'm still struggling with a couple of names in each class and trying to get everyone used to a more 'unplugged', personalised way of doing things is taking time and patience!

    I find kids love the personalised lessons. I did a lesson this week in which I talked about my family and showed some photos which they really enjoyed - much more than reading about "Granny Rice's Birthday" in the book. They were then very keen to tell me and each other all about their parents, siblings and pets.

    I also encourage them to collaborate as much as possible, even if it's just for a simple activity in the book. They learn from each ohter's correction so much better than from the teacher's!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Looking forward to more!

  6. Hi David,

    I've been over to your blog aswell and like you say it's nice to find kiddy bloggers out there! So much of EFL blogging seems to be about grown up teaching.

    I'm all for collaboration. It takes time to teach them how to work in groups, but it's worth it.

    Thanks for reading my thoughts.