In theory? Yes… possibly
The main points I’ve picked up from reading about dogme/teaching unplugged is that it should be student-centred, materials light and focused on emergent language. A student-centred approach is certainly something I advocate with kids. All too often I have seen classes of young kids sat silently in rows listening to the teacher, copying from the board and doing workbook exercises. No wonder they go crazy in the break times or when the ‘fun’ English teacher turns up! Once they realise that student-centred does not mean play time, they really value it. They appreciate being given choices and freedom as well as feeling involved in the learning process. This leads to increased motivation and willingness to learn. Kids also learn well from each other. They often zone out when the teacher is rattling on but listen more closely when their friends are contributing so a learning environment which is student-centred is desirable, whether it’s full-on dogme or not.
I’ve met many teachers who swear they would be lost without their course book. However, I’ve met just as many teachers who work with kids without ever using one! There is so much that can be done with kids that doesn’t rely on a load of materials – songs, chants, games, poster projects – these are all activities that really get students involved, working together and using the language and all can be done with a minimum of materials. A good collection of songs, some card and scissors and glue is all that’s needed (sounds a bit Blue Peter, doesn’t it?). Kids often enjoy these lessons away from the book much more than those centred around it.
Kids also love talking about themselves. Their favourite part of a unit is usually when they are given the chance to relate it to something personal like a collection, a hobby, family photos, summer holidays etc. They love bringing those things in for ‘show and tell’ style lessons. This could be exploited as an opportunity for focusing on emergent language. I have fed my classes some past simple chunks to talk about holidays for example. I’ve also moved into countries and nationalities to help them describe items from collections in more detail or professions so they can tell us more about their relatives. One problem with coursebooks in these cases is that they try to limit the language used to what the kids already know so when talking about a collection they are directed to say ‘This is my favourite doll. It’s from Japan.’ but not ‘I got it on holiday last summer’ or ‘It was a gift from my gran’ or anything like that.
However, despite the limitations of coursebooks, I have to say that kids (much more than the adults I’ve worked with) love them! I feel something would be lost if we didn’t have our recurring stories with cartoon aliens visiting earth or time-travelling kids visiting different historical and futuristic ages. What can be taken from those who push for a more materials light approach though is less-reliance on the book. It becomes all to easy to rely on the lessons provided and follow the units page by page. We can always make lessons more engaging by trying something different, stepping away from the book and seeing where the lesson goes.
In reality? No…. at least, not yet
There is another way to look at the debate, however. Those language teachers who work with kids most likely do so in a regular school setting and that brings with it syllabi, standardised testing, grading, report cards, progress checks, government targets etc all of which have an effect on what goes on in class. In my school, it works like this: the number of hours per week for each grade are set, publishers are invited to present their coursebooks, the syllabus is written based around the chosen book and the exams are set based on the syllabus. This where the problem lies: the exams are written based on where we should be in the book. Too much student-centred learning based on emergent language and the students may know lots of English but not necessarily what is relevant to the test. The exams often include specific vocabulary items from the book or references to materials from the book. So, for dogme to work, it would need much more than the individual teacher making some changes. The whole English department would have to be on board as would the school directors and parents. Such a major change would need a lot of time, debate and patience to bring about.
But it wouldn't end there. Although I work in a private college, it is still under the jurisdiction of the Turkish Ministry of Education and we have annual inspections. For those, a clear syllabus with a specific timeline and learning goals based around an approved coursebook is required. I very much doubt that an emergent curriculum would be accepted, meaning that persuading people to accept the changes would have to go well beyond the school itself. That would take more time.