D is for Dogme

28 02 2010

Hey David, Richard, Luke – I did it! We now have our own discussion group!
Let me know if you have any trouble getting in. Invite other members on board.


Scott Thornbury
For a pedagogy of bare essentials

The above message was posted  ten years ago next week (March 9th, 2000),  thereby inaugurating the Dogme ELT discussion list, and, by extension, the Dogme ELT “movement”. Prior to that date, an article I’d written for the IATEFL newsletter (which you can read here) attracted the attention of a handul of like-minded teachers (of whom Luke Meddings was one) and we started exchanging e-mails. It was David French’s idea to start up an online discussion group. The rest, as they say, is history. In ten years, the list has never been dormant for more than a few days, clocking up over 15,000 postings from  several hundred members (although the number of regular posters is considerably fewer),  all more or less dedicated to the topic of “materials-light” teaching. In the words of the discussion list masthead:

We are a mix of teachers, trainers and writers working in a wide range of contexts, who are committed to a belief that language learning is both socially motivated and socially constructed, and to this end we are seeking alternatives to models of instruction that are mediated primarily through materials and whose objective is the delivery of “grammar mcnuggets”. We are looking for ways of exploiting the learning opportunities offered by the raw material of the classroom, that is the language that emerges from the needs, interests, concerns and desires of the people in the room.

As evidence of the way that “dogme” has pervaded current thinking about ELT methodology, you only have to see how the term itself is used without, apparently, the need for any explanation or definition. As an example, I was at a conference presentation recently, in which the speaker made constant reference to dogme without any of the 30 or so participants at any time asking what he was talking about! And in a recent blog post, Nick Jaworski, a teacher in Turkey, describes how he has introduced dogme principles into his school, as if they were a valid curricular option. Dogme now has a wikipedia entry, an archive of early postings, and, of course, a book.

All of which suggests that now might be as good a time as any to draw a line in the sand, and put the discussion list to rest. Apart from anything, the exponential growth in educational technologies since 2000 represents a challenge to dogme that might be best met in new venues and with a different audience. And, in line with developments in technology, the dogme community itself has begun to migrate away from its original ‘home’, and its concerns are now more actively debated elsewhere, on other discussion forums and websites, and on a number of institutional and personal blogs (such as this recent posting by Mark Andrews), as well as in the more conventional print media.  As dogme disperses, the home site has become a platform for agendas that sit uncomfortably with the core dogme principles, and the sense of a collaborative project has been side-lined.  As one disaffected member recently commented before unsubscribing: “I just don’t feel like the discussions are leading anywhere these days.”

Accordingly, I have posted a message on the Dogme discussion group website, announcing its imminent demise as a discussion, although it will continue to remain available as an archive.  The fact that the site is closing as a discussion group does not, of course, betoken the end of dogme. Rather, the fact that it no longer needs a home  is testimony to its vigour. Nevertheless, this hasn’t been an easy decision,  and I am grateful to Luke Meddings and Rob Haines for their support. The dogme site for a long time was one of the most lively forums for teacher development on offer, and I am enormously grateful to all who contributed so generously to helping make it so. But it’s time to move on.



25 responses

28 02 2010
Luke Meddings

More than a tinge of nostalgia in reading that opening posting from ten years ago, Scott. The great thing for me is that dogme hasn’t gone away, has as you say become part of a wider teaching vocabulary, and will I believe continue to intrigue and inspire. The long conversation, which I’m very proud to have been part of, hasn’t stopped.

28 02 2010

One of the things I’ve always been curious about is the way that WordPress automatically generates possibly related posts. So obviously I was overjoyed to see that the first possibly related post is to a blog which picked up and embedded my tribute film Any Given Dogme. Brilliant!

RIP Dogme list. I lurked a couple of times, and have to recognise that for some time it was, with the Webheads, the only really vibrant online group for teacher development going. Agree or disagree with the principles and/or ideas, the fact that so many teachers were thinking and discussing so much relating to their professional work can only be a good thing IMHO.

28 02 2010
Darren Elliott

I am subscribed to a lot of email lists, and I absolutely agree with Lindsay. In fact, the webheads and dogme groups are the two listservs I recommended in a presentation I did last week… oh well, scratch that!

I am actually glad you are closing it down, though. As you say, the format has been superseded by newer technologies, and the movement (?) is too big for such a space.

Can I just say cheers? I’ve rarely added comment of my own, but I think Dennis and Diarmuid deserve pats on backs for such thought-provoking and stylish writing over the years.

28 02 2010

The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is may yet come again to pass as the winds of change sweep across the land. In the Wheel of Time there are no beginnings and endings. But this is a beginning…

28 02 2010
mark andrews

yes Nick and the long conversation will never stop, as Luke put it….and will always return in different places and in different guises but dogme ELT has been a fabulous addition to mainstream ELT, it is on the methodology map now, thanks to all those who have contributed over the years and the book teaching unplugged is an important milestone in its history.

” riverun past Eve and Adam’s from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs”!

Thanks to you all for an approach which values process as much as product, the how as much as the what, is rooted in the here and now and is shaped by the participants of classroom events.

1 03 2010

I’d be interested for all commenting here to give me three things that they consider give dogme the edge of more tangible methodologies. Please note that I’m not approaching this thread as an anti-dogmatist, nor am I suggesting that it is a formal methodological approach. I’m just interested in reading the ideas of those who consider themselves practitioners.

1 03 2010

In reply to Adam, from what I have read (not, unfortunately what I have been able to do, given the circumstances in which I teach) I would venture to suggest the following:

1. Classes are conversation-led.
2. Emergent language is the language which is given attention.
3. The lives and concerns of the students form the subject matter of the class.

Not sure I have expressed those ideas as elegantly as I might have, but those three stand out for me.

2 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Glennie, for that neat summation of dogme principles. I might add by quoting from a recent posting on the dogme site, comparing dogme with the communicative approach:

I think dogme is more successful because of the effect it can have on motivation. To me, the communicative approach is about giving students a reason to speak and listen. In that sense, dogme is just an extension of this in that it makes students WANT to speak and listen as opposed to HAVING to speak and listen in order to complete a crossword, for example. (peter 28-12.09)

2 03 2010

elegant enough for me. Please keep ’em coming.

2 03 2010

Hi Scott – I remember it was 1999 that I first saw you, you gave a workshop in Adelaide Australia entitled “Teaching without materials” It was wonderful. At the time I’d been teaching for 4 years and I took the principles from that workshop (which I now recognise as Dogme) and in one way or another they’ve been central to my teaching ever since.

Recently I did my DELTA. Although Dogme was listed on the experimental practice list – in fact my first observed “normal” lesson was something taken and tweaked straight from teaching unplugged. It wasn’t labelled as Dogme – just done in that style, using some of the ideas for language generation and that is what the tutors seemed to be looking for (without calling it Dogme)

The EFL world has shifted and changed so much since 1993 when I did the CTEFLA – and the Dogme movement has probably contributed enormously to that.

Some people say that Dogme is something that’s always been there – probably it has. But what the “Dogme movement” did was draw our attention to, validate, and contextualise what many teachers may have felt intuitively.

My view is that the closing of the dedicated discussion group is timely insofar as as you mentioned Dogme is out there – most regions will have teachers who are interested enough and have an idea about Dogme.

The school where I did my DELTA held a Dogme workshop led by a teacher who really embodied it. We refer to your book – keep the principles and the feeling. I’m attempting to do a little workshop in my school in a few weeks on Dogme, I think there are probably quite a few teachers out there who are starting to do that.

Perhaps the relationships built up between the active members of the discussion group over the years would be reason to keep it going – but more independently – perhaps with a different name, so those relationships and exchanges can continue but more as a teacher support group??

2 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Steph – for your ‘long view’ of the dogme phenomenon. Normally I’d hesitate to use the word phenomenon, but the outpouring of nostalgia, hurt and indignation that its threatened closure has provoked has been – well – awesome!

And to think you saw a workshop on Teaching without Materials – in 1999. That proves that there was dogme before dogme. Just as – no doubt – there will be dogme after dogme.

The analogy with the eponymous film movement is interesting to pursue. The dogme 1995 collective (also) lasted precisely 10 years, and during that time shook up independent film-making in a major way (as well as precipitating the arch-self-promoter, Lars von Trier, to international fame). Those directors who made films according to the dogme 95 rules (the famous “vows of chastity”) attest to the fact that the experience restored to film-making something of its former “joy.” (For an account, see Richard Kelly’s history: The Name of this Book is Dogme 95, 2000, Faber and Faber).

But then the rules started to pall, and what had at first been liberating became yet another set of constraints. The ship sailed on. And, according to the Wikipedia entry, “The founding brothers have moved towards new experimental projects and showed themselves to be skeptical about the later frequent interpretation of the Manifesto as a brand or a genre.”

I can’t help seeing a number of parallels here (not least the shameless self-promoting!). Again and again I am reminded (as you have just reminded me) how – for many teachers – dogme restored the “joy” to their craft. That’s something to celebrate.

As to how it will evolve – well, the jury is literally still out. I’ve opened a poll on the dogme discussion list, to see which way its members want to take it. I’ll publish the results – there and here – on March 9th – the tenth anniversary of the group. Watch this space!

3 03 2010
Karenne Sylvester

So this is just a publicity thing, Scott… something to get the natives restless?

Normally I’d hesitate to use the word phenomenon, but the outpouring of nostalgia, hurt and indignation that its threatened closure has provoked has been – well – awesome!

Glad we are providing you with some entertainment.

3 03 2010
Vance Stevens

I came here as a result of @thornburyscott’s recent tweet, http://twitter.com/thornburyscott/statuses/9883114429. I assume that Scott’s thought to close the list stemmed genuinely from his intent to “draw the line” on this part of his project, but I also hope that as a result of the outpouring he’s coming around to the view that although he is nominally the owner in Yahoo’s eyes, the list which he started ten years ago is from one point of view not really ‘his’ to close. In that list itself I am arguing that it shouldn’t hurt to simply leave it up, but I know that Scott has his reasons, it’s his decision, and whatever that decision, the community will no doubt survive, though it might be forced to fragment through diaspora before settling into another space.

As Darren mentions above, the community is already into other spaces, Webheads for example, and as dogme participants inhabit other communities, they will promote the idea that language should be taught and practiced from within, wherever they happen to wind up.

3 03 2010
Karenne Sylvester

As always, Vance, thanks for your great leadership skills and sage advice both here, on the dogme list and in the webheads list.

4 03 2010

Think it’s a shame to close the Dogme discussion group.

I always use it to show teachers a great example of a technology (what used to be called e-groups) that is easy to set up and use and is great for active participation and discussion — either between teachers or between learners.

Is it partly, I can’t help wondering, that a Yahoo group is “old” technology and is thus no longer “sexy”?

4 03 2010
Darren Elliott

Not in this case Tom… I’m sure there are plenty of dogme-ists who would rather communicate via carrier pigeon to prove a point ;-P

But I quite agree with you about the effectiveness of listservs. I do feel slightly apologetic when I introduce them to others as an online teacher development tool, but the fact is a lively, archived group like dogme is a fantastic, accessible resource.

6 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

The decision to close the dogme disucssion list has generated more heat than I expected, with the happy result that many long-time ‘lurkers’ have emerged out of the woodwork, as it were, suggesting that the list had a wider readership than I realised. Perhaps this is something about the nature of online discussion lists – that the daily traffic of postings is only the tip of an iceberg, and that there are in fact as many – if not more – lurkers than active particpants.

Be that as it may, the response has been hugely affirming, and it is clear that dogme has a loyal and dedicated following. The results of the poll (as to whether to retain the list or not) will be made public in two days’ time, but I think it’s a foregone conclusion that – one way or another – the ‘long conversation’ that is dogme will continue into its second decade.

20 09 2014

Dear Sir, I am looking for your fantastic book ” Teaching Unplugged”. Can I get its online version if available. Where from can I buy it. I have asked many bookshops in Toronto but could not find it. How can you help me to find hard/soft copy of the book.

16 10 2014
8 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

my youth i shall never forget
but there s nothing i really regret
wotthehell wotthehell
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai

(Don Marquis ‘The Song of Mehitabel’)

The poll results show overwhelming support for the idea of keeping the dogme discussion list alive, and devolving it to its members. Coming in the same week that Teaching Unplugged received an endorsement from the ELT ‘establishment’ in the form of an ELTON, this is good news indeed. Thanks to everyone for contributing to the discussion, both here and on the dogme site itself (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dogme/).

8 03 2010
Jason Renshaw

First of all, congratulations on the success and recognition for Teaching Unplugged, Scott (and Luke)!

Regarding the dogme discussion list, I have to confess to being an occasional lurker, and I did vote in the poll for the list to be “devolved” to its members.

This is just a personal (and to some degree unqualified, perhaps) opinion, but the dogme discussion list is not all that attractive. The times I visited it, I found it full of rather bristling arguments which seemed to involve the same people chasing their own tails and doing their best to burn others’. It isn’t a place to come and learn more about dogme – it’s a place to watch an “in crowd” argue and flame each other. It may have been helping those individuals in various ways, but it wasn’t a place for new teachers (or even teachers new to dogme) to come and start participating and learning – not from the times I visited it, in any case. I don’t think it was helping the wider dogme cause or its potential development, and I can understand to some degree why you wanted to finish it or at least distance yourself from it.

Personally, I also find the format and delivery of the Yahoo Discussion Groups tedious and frustrating (have done ever since I left my Yahoo mail account and stuck just with a Gmail one…). The discussion list was started in the pre-blog era, and I think various people’s blogs will now be a more vibrant (and inclusive) arena for dogme to grow and attract a richer range of participants and discussion.

Those things said, I wouldn’t deny the list’s fans the right to continue on as they have been…

10 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

On another blogsite, Jeremy Harmer takes me and Luke Meddings to task for having endorsed book-burning. He writes:

To have quoted, admiringly, Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s delight at book burning espouses, for this commentator, an image that as both a writer and a reader I have been unable to disassociate from Thornbury/Meddings, and is an image which is both internally contradictory and distasteful.

A correction and then a retraction:

Ashton-Warner never indulged in book-burning – in fact, it was books that she saved before all else. Her words:

I burnt most of my infant room material on Friday. …. I burnt all the work of my youth. Dozens of cards made of three-ply, and hand-printed and illustrated. Boxes of them. There will be only the following list in my infant room:

Chalk Books Blackboards Charts Paper Paints Pencils Clay Guitar Piano

And when a child wants to read he can pick up a book with his own hands and struggle through it.

(pp. 118.119 Teacher 1963, 1980 London: Virago)

It’s true that in an article that I wrote, in response to one of Jeremy’s, I said the following:

“What is left, then, of coursebooks, when you take away their texts, their tasks, their teachings? Not a lot. What happens if you remove them entirely? The visionary New Zealand educationalist, Sylvia Ashton Warner, burnt hers and discovered that “teaching is so much simpler and clearer as a result. There’s much more time for conversation … communication. (You should have heard the roaring in the chimney! ”

This not only misrepresents Ashton-Warner, it’s a fairly stupid thing to imply, i.e. that there is merit in burning books. Jeremy asked me to recant. I do.

11 03 2010
Jeremy Harmer

I am/was really relieved to read this, and somewhat chagrined not to know Sylvia A-W’s work well enough to have interpreted your writings appropriately. So a double recantation I think! Now we can get back to business as usual.


15 11 2012

Dear Scott
I am a new teacher and just start a master progamme so I need to understan better about the connection between Dogme and learner autonomy

6 04 2016

I like the idea of DOGME, I think it might be more motivating for students but it seems to be difficult to apply especially for inexperienced teachers and I feel that not every teacher has the skills or would be motivated in doing so.

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