One of the sessions I attended was Nick Robinson's Dogme presentation, where we got a succinct outline/brainstorm of how dogme teaching might work. Among the various terms mentioned, the one that most of us were a bit fuzzy about was affordances.
So with that in mind, here is my take on exploiting affordances from student-generated text, from a recent class of four pre-intermediate adults.
We started with an exercise called the Magnificent Seven, which I've blogged about elsewhere. The exercise finishes with pairs of students writing a mini-story from a list of words. Here are the two stories in their original form:
While I drove to the beach my car broken down its wheel. I stopped and saw a whale so I put on my jacket of wool and down to the sea for taking a photo. When I return at home I will hang it on my wall. I feel well when look to the picture.
While we went to see the whales, we had an accident, we crashed into a wall and the wheels were broken. Finally we got well and tomorrow we will go shopping and we will buy wool clothes for going to a birthday.
What affordances are there for scaffolding?
Well first off, the two pairs swopped stories and peer-corrected with a little help from me. That cleared up a lot of careless errors in tense and collocation.
It also affords an insight into learners' correction strategies. What kind of errors do they pick up on, and what kind are harder to catch? I think self-correnction is a vital skill, and one that learners can develop with experience and feedback. Do you make a habit of peer-reading and correcting in class? Does it work for your learners?
Then we had 20 minutes left: I focussed on what seem to me like two frequent structures:
We down to the sea.
...ignoring for the moment the final prepositional phrase 'to the beach.'
Verbs with adverbials [VP went [AVP down]] often express how (the verb) + where (the adverbial).
My students had correctly put in the big idea first, down - the where, but forgotten that it's not itself a verb, so we needed to add one to express how the movement happened. Which one? Well, choose whichever is appropriate. How did you get down to the beach? Did you walk down, skip down, sprint down, drive down or what? We generated a few common versions.
For Romance L1 speakers, this structure is totally alien. In Spanish you might say:
bajamos corriendo [we descended running]
...where the verb says where and the -ing form says how. I took the chance to spell out explicitly how the words deliver the ideas, and we drilled and generated a few more.
we will buy wool clothes for going to a birthday.
or, how we express the reason for doing something. In English we have three common alternatives:
I went to get batteries.
[VP went to get batteries]
I went for batteries.
[VP went [PP for batteries]]
I went because I needed batteries.
[CON because [S I needed batteries]]
I had noticed they had been a bit wooly about this. So again we discusses and generated.
In what way is this dogme? Is it not just grammar teaching? Is it not just the same as me bringing in the corresponding exercise from Murphy or Swan at the start of the lesson, and saying "Today we're going to look at two features of predicates"?
I think there's one vital difference - the stories are theirs. At least I hope it's a vital, rather than trivial experience. No individual teacher can hope to test this kind of thing objectively.