The Boat Paradox – Pondering the “DOGME Teach Off”

Photo by Iddo Epstein

I find it fascinating to follow Chia Suan Chong’s detailed descriptions of her “unplugged” lessons during this “Dogme Teach Off” challenge that she is taking. Chia describes her impressive lessons in such a way (including pictures of the white board and a sense of humor!) that it is the next best thing to being a fly on the wall in her classroom.

Now that we are up to day 6, I’ve begun wondering.

Remember “The Boat Paradox”? How many parts of a boat can be replaced and one can still call it the same boat?

If I take these lessons as a sample of how a series of Dogme lessons should unfold, which elements can I change and to which extent (still keeping a skilled teacher like Chia, of course!) while expecting a reasonable degree of success?

Chia is teaching quite a small class. I wonder, would these lessons would work as well with 18, 25 or 40 students? 40 students is not a hypothetical number, my colleagues in “regular” classes have 40 students!

Now, let’s imagine that the students were all teenagers who lived close to each other and have gone to school together for years. I have tried isolated Dogme lessons myself and found that my teenagers reacted well to them. However, it would seem to me that some elements of Chia’s lessons would be problematic (or would at least be treading on treacherous waters). Teens are sensitive and very concerned with what their peers think of them. Asking a simple question about their weekend activities could be a very hard point to expand on. Particularly when you have students from very different socio-economic levels in the class. Some students might say they slept and played on the computer. Some might relate great activities they went on with their families while others flatly refuse to cooperate with the lesson as it reminds them of the glaring difference between those lucky kids to what happens in their own homes. It seems to me that the lessons such as Chia has been teaching could work well with teens with the addition of an imaginative component such as “tell the class about a great weekend you would like to have”, but I would really like to hear from someone who has taught unplugged with teens.

Taking this further, what if Chia was teaching 8 year olds? They certainly love to talk about themselves! Obviously the topics that would come up would be different, but can you sustain a series of unplugged activities at this age?

I could go on, but the point is that I’m asking these questions because I really DO want the boat to be recognizable as the same boat!


4 thoughts on “The Boat Paradox – Pondering the “DOGME Teach Off””

  1. Thanks for writing this post, Naomi.
    I’m certainly glad that the Teach-Off and the series of blogposts are provoking thought.
    To me, Dogme is essentially about adapting to whatever your context or learners might be and dealing with what they are happy to talk about and what they might be interested in.
    To be very honest, this particular group I have at the moment (the one I’m blogging about in the Teach-Off) have been quite a challenge for me to try and suss out and finding a conversation topic that gets them going hasn’t been the easiest thing.
    But it is my belief that everyone has things that love talking about, and no matter how shy the student and how untalkative a culture, once we find the key to bringing them out of their shelll, motivation levels will soar.
    So it may be talking about football to teenage boys, or talking about boys to teenage girls, or doing TPR in a fantasy forest with 8-year-olds, to me, Dogme is improvising and finding anything that might tickle the fancy of the students and getting them going…and it would still be recognisable as the same boat!


  2. Chia!
    Thanks to taking time to reply!
    I can just imagine you talking about a fantasy forest with 8 year olds!
    You have certainly convinced me regarding Dogme and different ages. But how about the size of the group? Can you “tickle the fancy of students” in class of 40?
    Off to read your next installment!
    Thanks again!

  3. Hi Naomi, I know this idea, I’ve heard it with a pile of sand, when does a pile not become a pile, as you take a grain away one at a time. It’s a very interesting question you pose in relation to dogme, and I agree with your conclusion. How many dogme moments can you take away before it is longer called a dogme lesson?

  4. David,
    So glad you see what I mean. I lean strongly in favor of the “dogme” camp but I’m troubled by the fact that all those who write about their lessons seems to have pretty similar kinds of classes (adults, language schools, less than 20 students). Still interested in reading about “dogme” lessons in totally different contexts.
    Thanks for stopping by!

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