Once Upon a Time Dictation, Now Dictogloss
Sedef Fenik and Koray Haki Akyazi, Turkey
Sedef Fenik and Koray Haki Akyazi are both English Instructors and members of the academic and professional development centre in the Foreign Language Preparatory school at Gediz University, Turkey. They are trainee teacher trainers who are eager to develop themselves in language teaching and teacher training.
Benefits provided by dictogloss
Steps in a dictogloss activity
Dictation is a technique which has been used for a long time. In a typical dictation, the teacher reads a text slowly and the learners try to write word for word exactly what is heard. It has been considered as an old-fashioned and a relic of the grammar-translation method. Many people have been critical about the fact that dictation promotes unnatural and uncommunicative lessons where the focus is on the form and accuracy of the language, and centred around the teacher.
In todays’ learner centred classrooms, teachers are more aware about integrating skills into language teaching. So a new technique is now more commonly used called ‘Dictogloss’. Dictogloss is a technique in which the teacher reads a short text and the learners make brief notes and then try to reconstruct the text in groups. Unlike traditional dictation, there is a gap between the listening and writing phases, giving learners time to think and discuss how best to express the ideas. The aim is not to reproduce the text word for word, but to convey the meaning and style of the text as closely as possible.
Doing a Dictogloss in class allows opportunities for learners to practise not only listening and writing, but also speaking and reading as subsidiary-skills. It can also be used to teach language including vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and grammar as well.
- Cooperative Learning
Even though dictation was an individual activity, Dictogloss as a whole encourages cooperative learning while keeping individualism only in the listening and note-taking parts.
Learners work together in groups and have the chance to discuss what to add or take out in the text and give feedback during reconstruction.
As opposed to traditional dictation, Dictogloss facilitates learners to reconstruct the text in pairs or groups after they have listened to the teacher. Who dictates the text and who decides the type of text? Traditionally it was the teacher, but why not the learners? If we get the learners decide and read the text, we can engage them in language learning by giving responsibilities of their own learning. This also helps to promote the use of English in class like in an ideal world as teachers are not and will not be always with the learners. Swain (1999) highlights that learners gain more insights in their own linguistic shortcomings and develop strategies to solve these by working together with their partners. (pp.145)
- Critical thinking
Learners should be able to think critically about the text they read and how to reframe it accurately and meaningfully. Dictogloss provides opportunities for the learners to use higher order thinking skills as they encounter some challenges and elaborate on ideas during the reconstruction collaboratively. Rather than simply copying word for word what the teacher has said, learners have the opportunity to think about what is being said and create their own version of the text.
- Focus on meaning
In traditional language education, the focus was mainly on form which includes grammar and spelling. However in recent methods, there has been a shift to the meaning of language, as without meaning one cannot succeed in language learning entirely. Considering this fact, Dictogloss seeks to combine a focus on meaning with a focus on form. (Brown, 2001)
Skills: Integration of four skills
Level: Applicable with any level
- The teacher starts with some pictures related to the context of the text he/she is going to read. The aim here is to activate the schemata of the learners before the listening. Doing this, the teacher aims to engage the learners with some discussion on the topic while eliciting new vocabulary as well, the extent to how much language should be elicited depends on the learners.
- The teacher then goes on to read the text aloud at a natural speed while students only listen. The text can be provided by the teacher or the learners from a newspaper, a magazine etc. The text should at or below the level of their language proficiency’ and be of interest to the class.
- The teacher reads the text once again at normal speed, however this time the learners take notes. The purpose here is not to write down every word, but the words they can catch during listening.
- The learners work in pairs to reconstruct the text using their notes. The reconstruction has the purpose of forming an accurate and meaningful text similar to the original text. The teacher does not expect a word by word copy. The learners come up together to form a cohesive text accurately by generating new ideas, discussing on the shortcomings they make.
- The learners form groups of four where they can find the chance to compare the different texts the each pair has formed. In this step they can reconstruct their texts again after thinking deep on the ideas, meaning and accuracy of the text.
- The learners at the end can compare their final drafts with the original text. In their last groups of four they can discuss on the similarities and differences in terms of meaning and form. They can evaluate their text by negotiating on the weaknesses and strengths of their text. This will help them to reflect on their outcome to become better in the next activity.
- The text can be used as a model for learners to create their own texts, or as a way for learners to learn a grammar structure and use implicitly before the focusing on form.
In summary, there are many traditional methods from the past that can be adapted to good effect for today’s language learners. Just a little tweak here and there can make a huge difference when the learning outcome is clearly thought about. A dictogloss can be used to integrate all four skills, can be used to increase learner autonomy, and increase higher order thinking skills. It can be used as a tool to introduce new vocabulary or grammar, and gives learners the chance to notice and induce and socially co-construct knowledge, as opposed to being taught explicitly. The notion of working together collaboratively is one of the main interpersonal skills that many learners need and it is the role of the teacher to allow as many possibilities as possible for this in the classroom learning environment.
Brown, P.C. (2001). Interactive dictation. Paper presentation at the annual conference of Japan Association for Language Teaching, Kokura.
Swain, M. (1999). Integrating language and content teaching through collaborative tasks. In W. A. Renandya & C. S. Ward (eds.) Language teaching: New insights for the language teacher (pp. 125-147). Singapore : Regional Language Centre.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology & Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.