A is for Approach

22 01 2012

A copious amount of blog ink (blink?) has been expended in the last week or so, arguing the toss as to whether – among other things – Dogme is an approach. In Neil McMahon’s blog, for example, he asks the question:

What is Dogme?  No one, even among the Dogme-gicians, seem to be able to agree on whether it’s an approach, a method, a technique, a tool, an attitude, a lesson type or an irrelevance.  And does it matter?  I think it matters if people are passing it off as something it’s not (e.g. an approach), at least to me.

At the risk of inducing another bout of blogorrhea, I thought I might try and rise to Neil’s challenge, and to do this by appealing to the literature on methods and approaches. I.e.

Approach refers to theories about the nature of language and language learning that serve as the source of practices and principles in language teaching.

(Richards and Rodgers 2001, p. 20).

In this sense, then, it seems to me that Dogme does qualify as a coherent approach, in that it is grounded in theories both of language and of learning – theories, what’s more, that have been widely broadcast and endlessly discussed.

In terms of its theory of language,  it takes the view, very simply, that language is functional, situated, and realised primarily as text, “hence, the capacity to understand and produce isolated sentences is of limited applicability to real-life language use” (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009, p. 9).

Its theory of learning is an experiential and holistic one, viewing language learning as an emergent, jointly-constructed and socially-constituted process, motivated both by communal and communicative imperatives (op.cit p. 18). Or, as Lantolf and Thorne (2006, p. 17) put it:

… learning an additional language is about enhancing one’s repertoire of fragments and patterns that enables participation in a wider array of communicative activities. It is not about building up a complete and perfect grammar in order to produce well-formed sentences.

Of course, these theories of language and of learning are not original: they are shared by other approaches, notably task-based and whole language learning. So Dogme’s claim to be an approach in its own right is justified only if there are in fact distinguishable (and even distinctive) practices that are derived from these theories (check the Richards & Rodgers definition again). Anyone, after all, can dream up a couple of theories, but if no one actually puts them to work, they are dead in the water.

Putting the theories to work means that (Richards & Rodgers again) “it is necessary to develop a design for an instructional system” (p. 24).

It was the lack of a ‘design’ as such, and even of ‘an instructional system’, that prompted me, a few years ago, to suggest that another self-styled approach, the Lexical Approach, was an approach in name only. In this sense, Neil McMahon’s critique of Dogme (and its ‘evangelists’) echoes my own critique of Lewis (and his acolytes). You can read it here.

My argument went like this: while it is clear that Lewis does have a well elaborated theory about the nature of language (“Language consists of grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar” [Lewis, 1993, p.vi]) it is less clear that he has a coherent theory of how languages are learned. Nor is it clear how the learning process, in a Lexical Approach, would be actualised, e.g. in terms of a syllabus and materials.

So, while Lewis insists that he is offering “a principled approach, much more than a random collection of ideas that work” (Lewis 1997, p. 205), it’s never been very clear to me how this would work in practice, or how it would not look like any other approach that just happens to have a few collocation activities grafted on.

Is Dogme any less squishy? Is there a Dogme praxis? I don’t know, but I do know that – in the last year or so – there has been a veritable eruption of blogs (too many to list here), workshops, YouTube videos, conference presentations – and even a dedicated conference – that claim allegiance to the founding Dogme principles. There are descriptions of single lessons, sequences of lessons, one-to-one lessons, computer-mediated lessons, and even whole courses. What’s more, these descriptions of Dogme practice emanate from a wide range of geographical contexts – Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Korea, Turkey, the US and the UK, to name but a few.

Of course, if you were to subject these descriptions to close scrutiny, you may find that there are as many differences between them as there are similarities. But that shouldn’t surprise you: the way that any approach is implemented –  whether task-based learning or CLIL or whole language learning   —  is likely to exhibit a similar diversity across different contexts. On the other hand, if there were no common core of praxis, then Dogme’s claim for ‘approach’ status would, I think, be seriously jeopardised.

I believe that there is a common core of Dogme practices, but I also suspect that it is still somewhat in flux. This fuzziness (that many deplore) is both a strength and a weakness. A strength because it invites continuous experimentation; a weakness because it discourages widespread adoption.  But the more that Dogme praxis is described, debated, and even debunked, the more likely it is that its soft centre will coalesce, amalgamate, stablise and – however diverse its outward appearance  – solidify into an approach.


Lantolf, J., & Thorne, S. (eds.) (2006). Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of Second Language Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, M. (1993). The Lexical Approach. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Lewis, M. (1997). Implementing the Lexical Approach. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Meddings, L., & Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.

Richards, J., &  Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



44 responses

22 01 2012
Adam Simpson

Nice to see a post that focuses on Dogme for a change 😉

22 01 2012
Jason Renshaw

Of course it is (amongst other things) an approach.

One of the things that really struck me about ‘Teaching Unplugged’ (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009) was how comprehensively and elegantly it addressed almost everything R&R listed as being essential criteria for approach, method and technique (and in that order basically, as a look at the three sections of TU will show). One thing that wasn’t all that well addressed was the notion of syllabus, perhaps because most Dogmeists may believe the syllabus is fully emergent and in constant flux?

Since the publication of the book, it is really quite astonishing (and encouraging) to see how many techniques have been (and continue to be) added to the central core principles – especially through the blogosphere. In that sense (in my opinion), the growth and recognition of Dogme ELT is really without parallel in comparison to other approaches/methods.

22 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thank you for the comment, Jason. Given your energetic promotion of ‘teaching unplugged’, I am ashamed to have left Australia out of my list of countries that have generated Dogme lessons! On video, too. 🙂

22 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Oh, and I meant to comment on your mention of the lack of syllabus specifications. I think this is where Dogme can usefully look at the ‘process syllabus’ (or ‘negotiated syllabus’) tradition, as expounded by Michael Breen, for example: “This type of syllabus identified negotiation about the purposes, contents and ways of working as a meaningful part of the content of lessons or series of lessons. A process syllabus therefore represents an orientation to how learning is done which deliberately locates the selection and organisation of the actual syllabus of the classroom group within the collaborative decision-making process undertaken by teacher and learners in the language class” (Breen, M., 2001, ‘Syllabus design’, in Carter, R.& Nunan, D. (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, CUP, p. 154).

Or, more simply, a process syllabus is “a syllabus that specifies the learning experiences and processes students will encounter during the course, rather than the learning outcomes” (Richards, J.& Schmidt, R. 2002 Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching And Applied Linguistics (3rd edition) Longman, p.422.

22 01 2012
Luke Meddings

Hi Scott – I’m very happy to read this. Again you articulate a question that’s been shaping itself in my mind – namely, since dogme exists as a community of practice, how can people be doing broadly the same thing if it isn’t pragmatically coherent on some level?

This coherence is apparent when someone who has been reading the literature about dogme describes their current practice (as in many of the new blogs you mention), but it is also apparent when someone who has not been reading it, or has only just discovered that there are other people doing it, describes their practice (as often happens during workshops).

This reinforces my view that dogme is ‘shaped and shaping’ – shaped by theory and practice, but also shaping both; shaped by a community of teachers, and shaping that community. It’s both new and not new, authored and unauthored.

So it hasn’t after all become ‘just another method’, and can’t be viewed as another alternative, authored (trademarked?) approach. Dogme practice exists in a kind of harmony with the notion of language learning as an ’emergent, jointly-constructed and socially-constituted process.’

22 01 2012

As a fan of the dogme approach, as you describe it here and as Luke did in his IHDOS talk, and as someone who uses this approach or one very similar in my work, I have always been frustrated by Dogme’s reluctance to pin itself down a bit more. This post helps to clarify it as an approach.

I think it is very important that practitioners have an understanding of the theories underpinning the approach. And, in developing or implementing a “design for an instructional system” to put these theories to work, it is also important not to lose sight of these theories, otherwise there is the risk of going from the fairly positive evaluation of “just good teaching” to the also heard one of “poor or inadequate teaching”.

I agree that a strength of the fuzziness is that there is a flexibility and room for experimentation to find better ways of working with particular groups of learners, dealing with different language needs etc.

I also think you’re right when you say that the fuzziness around Dogme could prevent widespread adoption. For me, there needs to be a bit more clarity about what implementing a Dogme approach means. Relating what happens in the classroom back to the theories could help. Questioning and being able to rationalise the use of particular activies or actions in the classroom is also important.

If you were to subject the descriptions and examples of Dogme that have appeared from around the world to scrutiny, would you consider them all Dogme? Would you consider them examples of good practice? If not, and assuming that the Dogme approach is good practice, how do you distinguish this approach based on the theories of the nature of language and language learning outlined above and in Teaching Unplugged, from others? Can you? Is it enough for teachers to declare that they’re ‘doing dogme’ for it to be so, or is there indeed a common core of Dogme practices that have to be in evidence before it is Dogme?

22 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Carol – insightful comment, and lots of food for thought. I just want to pick up on your final question (before I return to address the others), i.e.

Is it enough for teachers to declare that they’re ‘doing dogme’ for it to be so, or is there indeed a common core of Dogme practices that have to be in evidence before it is Dogme?

I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘enough’, but on the other hand what people think Dogme is is, I think, significant, and worth taking on board, even if it doesn’t match the original conception (whatever that was!). That is to say, praxis is driven by the practitioners, and rules are made to be broken. In a sense, an approach is really just a ‘discourse’ (in the sense of ‘discourse as social practice’) and discourses are constantly re-shaped and re-constituted as they are performed.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?


13 05 2012

Hi Scott, Just wanna ask favor, will you please answer this question:
1. Enumerate and discuss (3) integrated approaches and methodologies in ELT which are time tested theories and models.
Thanks in advance

13 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

By ‘integrated’ I assume is meant integration of a theoretical model (both of learning and of language) with a prescription for classroom procedures. By ‘time tested’ I assume anything that has been around for a while, and still is. Grammar-translation would qualify for the latter criterion (‘time tested’) but not for the former (integrated etc). Audiolingualism would qualify for the former but hardly the latter. The communicative approach seeems to be the only approach that is widely practised that meets both criteria.

Is/was this an exam question? Did I pass? 😉

22 01 2012

Nice post Scott.

I think the notion of flux is because Dogme teaching is very personal to the teacher and students and so it is always developing even in an ongoing course. In this way it is ‘improving’ as the student/teacher relationship deepens so do the lessons. What I mean is that students open up more and teachers respond and are able to mould the class to help the students and work on areas/topics they are really interested in and need. I guess this is why at the end of a course I feel that the right classroom structure/environment/relationship has evolved.

26 01 2012
Emi Slater

Absolutely spot on. Isn’t Dogme personalized teaching of the very deepest nature – personal for both teacher and student? If so then it cannot be an approach because everyone’s approach to life is different. It could be a path though – can we start having teaching paths rather than approaches?

22 01 2012

Did anybody have the chance of trying out Dogme with beginners? It is difficult for me to visualize how language is going to emerge with first year students, and the size and scope of syllabus negotiation. Would Dogme need to redefine in this case what ‘language’ is, and what ’emergence’ is? If so, it would be an approach. (far-fetched here?)

I see Dogme as a classroom culture proposal, probably of a higher-order category -in the same way as ecology might be a ‘higher’ concept than wild life- prior to adopting an approach, method, or set of techniques.

Maybe this is what we’re calling ‘fuzziness’…

22 01 2012

Sorry, I meant “If so, it would not be an approach” when talking about the occasional need to redefine language and emergence.

22 01 2012

It seems more than ideal for beginners/elementary to me Almagro but I guess it depends on how you define ’emergent language’. If you think of it as a needs analysis then in a couple of minutes you will pinpoint the level, ability and be able to match that with what the students need to move on. That’s where you come in. For instance, a simple ‘introduce yourself’ activity can show that elementary/beginner students may not be able to even do that so there is your first port of call. Insist that everyone makes notes and work on language together and personalise everything. Sounds a bit like Dogme to me and perhaps better than some of the stretched out units in coursebooks.

22 01 2012

This post frightened me, Scott. Before falling asleep last night, I had been pondering this very question of Dogme as approach, wondering what techniques it incorporated as such. To wake up, finish the last twenty pages of my Simenon novel – jolting enough in its own right – then open up my laptop and find this… synchronicity strikes again?

I couldn’t have put my ideas down as succinctly as you’ve done here, however, and I might not have done. At any rate, I’ve nothing to add beyond more practice shaped by, and shaping, the theory.


22 01 2012

Hi Scott,
Many thanks for such a measured and thoughtful rise to the challenge, which really helps me to move closer to my own understanding of what Dogme is and how it can help us to keep improving as ELT teachers. (Although I wish you’d linked back to one of my ‘real posts’ such as ‘Who Needs Dogme?’ rather than my post-run ramblings like ‘Plodding and Pondering’ :)).

On first reading, your post almost convinced me that perhaps Dogme was, in fact, an Approach, but closer reading, especially of your Richards and Rogers quote, leads me, personally, closer to a conclusion that Dogme is, if anything, a Method. But certainly not ‘just another’ Method, Luke, don’t worry!

In order to be an Approach, Dogme would have to ‘refer to theories about language learning…’. I take this to mean that it suggests theories, or expounds theories, or borrows theories from other areas of academic research and applies them innovatively within the language learning field. As you admit later in your post ‘these theories are not original’, Dogme doesn’t do this.

On the other hand, if we read on and examine Richard’s and Rodgers understanding of Method, we find it…
“…is theoretically related to an approach, is organizationally determined by a design, and is practically realized in procedure” Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T (2001:20).

For example, a behaviourist approach to learning theory helped to pave the way for the Audiolingual method, which then gave rise to such practical techniques as drilling being used in the classroom.

Within this framework, I now feel Dogme is closest to a Method. It is theoretically related to socio-linguistic approaches to learning, communicative approaches to learning and, perhaps it could be argued, emerges from an eclectic approach to language learning.

It is organisationally determined by a design, since it reacts to the ‘overdesign’ of course book dominance of course content and syllabus design and seeks to place the responsibility for design firmly in the laps of the students, perhaps scaffolded by the teacher. Your further comment about Dogme utilising process syllabi is another very helpful suggestion, although it also adds to the feeling that Dogme’s not the most original of methods.

And it is practically realized in procedure, which can be evidenced by all of the mind-opening and technique-honing descriptions of Dogme practice that you so deservedly praise.

Indeed, Bartolomé’s definition of “effective methods” in a given “socio-cultural context” (2003, p. 411) seems particularly close to how I understand Dogme’s raison d’être:

‘‘The informed way in which a teacher implements a method can serve to offset potentially unequal relations and discriminating structures and practices in the classroom and, in doing so, improve the quality of the instructional process for both student and teacher.’’ (2003, p. 412)
And Larsen-Freeman’s assertion that:

‘’As teachers gain experience, they come to understand a particular method differently ‘’ (Larsen-Freeman, 2005b, p.11).

also fits in with your point about the similarities and differences between how teachers implement their understanding of Dogme in the classroom.

Perhaps it’s in the distinction between whether or not Dogme relates to learning theories in an original way, or combines by now ‘unoriginal’ theories into an original method, or does neither, that our views differ (I don’t share Jason’s view that looking at it as all three is very helpful).

But whether Dogme ends up being an approach or a method or something else, and whether it actually matters, as you hint it’s time to move on. Even if we disagree on where Dogme is coming from, we share a vision of where it should be going. As you say, only through continuous experimentation, description, debate and a little bit of debunking (mostly by sheep in wolves clothing such as meself :)), will it mature into either an approach or a method. And this is where it provides excitement and where we all need to continue experimenting along with our students and trainees in their classrooms and where I’ll get amusing myself on my blog once I’ve had another run…

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bartolomé, L. (2003). Beyond the methods fetish: Toward a humanizing pedagogy. In A. Darder, M. Baltodano, & R. D. Torres (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (pp. 408-439). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Larson-Freeman, D. (2005). On the appropriateness of language teaching methods in language and development. ILI Language Teaching Journal, 1 (2), 1-14.

22 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Neil, for coming on board, and in such a measured and well-informed manner.

Thanks also for raising the ‘method’ issue. You may have noted that I carefully avoided the term in my original post, mainly because the term now seems to have out-lived its sell-by date (see my video blog M is for Method for a brief overview). This is because (pace R & R) there seems to me to be no stable, identifiable and autononmous entity on the trajectory from ‘approach’, on the one hand, and the way that that approach is actualised in particuar contexts, on the other. In most contexts, if there is a construct that mediates between an approach and its practitioners, it is not a method as such (i.e. a set of practices that is prescribed by some higher authority) but the coursebook. But, of course, Dogme has no coursebook. It doesn’t even have a syllabus. It is simply an idea that has accreted practices, and out of these practices something recognisably distinctive seems to be emerging. But it’s not a method, any more than CLIL is a method, or task-based language instruction.

As for Dogme’s lack of originality, I wish i could count the times that I’ve said that there is nothing new about Dogme. Except the label. Just as there was nothing new about America. Until Columbus named it that way. 😉

23 10 2013
David Warr

I agree, and think you’ve put this very well. Luke recently (I’m replying almost 2 years later) said that he sees the third pillar of dogme becoming the most prominent in directing its future, namely how to encourage and deal with emergent language. Some of the activities in Teaching Unplugged can be found in other humanistic activity books, notably by Maley and Duff, and Rinvolucri. Dogme practice must, I believe, by its very nature, pre-date coursebooks, since what did people do before publishers came along? To me, the relevance of dogme now, in this day and age, is that it brings to people’s attention (certainly mine, at least) how unnecessary it truly is to feel the need to rely on pre-made materials. Everything we need is within us already.

22 01 2012

I really should be doing other things, Scott, but had to respond to this bit:

‘In most contexts, if there is a construct that mediates between an approach and its practitioners, it is not a method as such (i.e. a set of practices that is prescribed by some higher authority) but the coursebook’

…because in the contexts I’ve worked in over the last 15 years, there has always been a range of methods for teachers to choose from depending on which learning theories they believe in and which approach they therefore take. As I’ve said elsewhere (Who Needs Dogme?) perhaps this is because I’m one of the lucky ones. Encouraged to take an Eclectic Approach, I explore different methods (including Dogme and even a bit of Al or GT when the context suggests it), and practice a range of techniques that have evolved from and outlived those methods.

But I do find the idea of method helpful and persuasive, even if, as Seyyed Mohammad Reza Hashemi puts it in his conclusion to a fascinating article on post-method language teaching:

”Method is a strange concept, old and new, meaningless and meaningful.”

And he goes on to conclude benefits of methods that I imagine all Dogme-gicians would find heart-warming?

”With all systematicity it bears and the order it creates, method swings back and forth from meaninglessness to meaningfulness. At times, it deals with and leads to well-defined patterns as realizations of coherent thoughts and informed practice. There are also times when method equals chaos, especially when in the hands of unimaginative users, unreasonably insisting on sticking to their dogmatic principles. Methodic patterns as they emerge, though, are the quintessence of excellent harmony. However, when dictated and followed blindly, patterns would lose their context-sensitive meaning. Prescription of contextually isolated patterns would, then, impose limitation and this limitation will result in fossilization of practice. Teachers with dynamic minds would never let that happen, struggling to create coherence and meaning as they discover, perceive, interpret, implement and modify methods.”
(Reza Hashemi, ‘(Post)-Methodism: Possibility of the Impossible?’, Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 137-145, January 2011

By the way, just in case anyone isn’t sure, I see slavishly sticking to a course book as ‘unimaginative use’ and most Dogme-gicians I know as ‘teachers with dynamic minds’.

And this is why I see Dogme as a method, but not ‘Just another Method’. Because most other methods that are fondly remembered on in-service training courses such as the IH CAM or DELTA, have been outlived by the techniques within it that have been shown to work, while the method itself has been shown to be flawed. Dogme is different in as much as it is alive and vibrant and is showing us at the moment that it can work. The real question is whether or not after a lot more debate and description and debunking it stands the test of time in the way most other methods don’t – it would be very exciting for all of us and our language learners if it does.

Time, as always, will tell, and it’s high time I was doing something else…

22 01 2012

An interesting exchange. I wonder is this article helps us reach an understanding of Dogme as approach and/or method: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/XVII/2/63.full.pdf

The article maintains an approach is axiomatic, while a method is procedural, and a technique, implementational. That might seem obvious to us, but it leads me to think… well, decide for yourselves. I’m still sorting it out really.


23 01 2012

Sorted now…

We have E. Anthony’s hierarchical definitions of approach, method and technique (URL to pdf above), which, according to Brown just over a decade ago, had “withstood the test of time” (2000, p. 169).

Then we have the Richards and Rodgers reformulation: approach, design, procedure, respectively, cited by Scott and Neil.

And, finally, Hashemi’s post-methodism article, which Neil also cited, the conclusion of which includes this gem: ”Method is a strange concept, old and new, meaningless and meaningful.”

Neil maintains that, as what Brown might call “an ‘enlightened eclectic’ teacher” (p. 200), he “explore[s] different methods (including Dogme and even a bit of Al or GT when the context suggests it), and practice a range of techniques that have evolved from and outlived those methods.”

My pre-service CELTA, as I remember it, went very light on approach and heavy on technique with only a smattering of method as such. I recall the DELTA I completed, again neglected approach in favor of technique and a slightly more overt examination of method.

Scott’s argument, as I understand it, is that the ‘design’, or curriculum (US)/syllabus (UK), is commonly mediated by the coursebook, so that Dogme “…is simply an idea that has accreted practices, and out of these practices something recognisably distinctive seems to be emerging.”

Scott’s argument seems in line with Luke’s “view that dogme is ‘shaped and shaping’ – shaped by theory and practice, but also shaping both; shaped by a community of teachers, and shaping that community. It’s both new and not new, authored and unauthored.”

Neil, if I’ve got it right, claims that many an effective technique has outlived the method(s) that produced them, and it remains to be seen whether Dogme shall suffer a similar fate.

But I see a chink in this, from Neil, which could well be due to my skewed perspective:

“In order to be an Approach, Dogme would have to ‘refer to theories about language learning…’. I take this to mean that it suggests theories, or expounds theories, or borrows theories from other areas of academic research and applies them innovatively within the language learning field. As you admit later in your post ‘these theories are not original’, Dogme doesn’t do this.”

Must the theories to which Dogme refers be original, or is ‘innovative’ application of these theories the litmus test for whether Dogme qualifies as an approach?

Is Carol asking the reverse here?

“Is it enough for teachers to declare that they’re ‘doing dogme’ for it to be so, or is there indeed a common core of Dogme practices that have to be in evidence before it is Dogme?”

Finally, I’d like to add a relevant quote from Nunan:

“It has been realized that there never was and probably never will be a method for all, and the focus in recent years has been on the development of classroom activities and activities which are consonant with what we know about second language acquisition, and which are also in keeping with the dynamics of the classroom itself.” (1991, p. 228)

Has much changed in this regard since 1991?

Anthony, Edward M. (1963). Approach, method and technique. English Language Teaching 17: 63 – 67.

(Reza Hashemi, ‘(Post)-Methodism: Possibility of the Impossible?’, Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 137-145, January 2011

Nunan, D. (1991) Language Teaching Methodology: A Textbook for Teachers.
Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

23 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Rob, for that concise, well-argued summary. And for the Anthony article (which Richards and Rodgers refer to a lot, and on which they construct their Approach-Design-Procedure edifice).

Don’t you think, though, that all this descriptive ‘architecture’ is a little bit ‘technicist’, trying to knock the square peg of education into the round hole of science? One outcome of all the various (and frantic) attempts to compare methods that flourished during the method-obessesed 1960s and 1970s was that, when you actually observed classroom life, teachers who notionally subscribed to the same method were teaching in widely different ways, while teachers who subscribed to different methods were sometimes quite similar. This is one reason why disenchantment with ‘the method concept’ set in.

A more ecological view of classroom life sees ‘approach’ (i.e. the thinking that guides the choice of materials, techniques, syllabus etc) and actual teaching as co-adaptive and mutually constitutive, and not mediated by a concept of ‘method’ at all. That is to say, they occupy interdependent nodes on an experiential-reflective cycle of doing and thinking.

What many teachers and trainers refer to as ‘eclecticism’ (and Neil describes himself as capital-E eclectic) is – in ecological terms – simply exploiting affordances. What Dogme prioritises (and this is where it assumes a character of its own, perhaps) are the affordances provided by the people in the room.

23 01 2012

Yes, Scott, I do think our attempts to construct technical descriptions that will stand and deliver can create a cultural state of mind that assumes new ‘teaching technologies’ are always positive and of value – an ELT Technopoly if you will. 😉

After reading articles like that of Anthony, I often get the feeling the author could have gotten just as much satisfaction tidying up a room or meticulously piecing together a model airplane, though I’m sure it wouldn’t completely provide the same sort of satisfaction. 🙂

What you rightly say about the rise and fall of “designer” methods due to the disparity between the design construct and actual classroom life is why I chose the Nunan quote. Nunan mentions the importances of tasks and activities (Sorry, my misquote above has ‘activities’ in place of ‘tasks’) that fit in with classroom dynamics. To me, Nunan is endorsing an eclectic approach that exploits affordances.

I suppose if everyone has a coursebook, for whatever reason, the teacher might construe the book to be full of affordances (though is that accurate?) to be exploited. To me, that’s a circuitous route to the people in the room. Instead of a vocabulary exercise, why not start with the (inter)language of the learners? Rather than an audio clip about an accident on the ring road, why not find out how everyone’s commute to class was? As opposed to following the book’s instructions to get to know everyone in the room, on the first day of class, could we just do it because it feels like a natural way to start? Imagine that we write a paragraph about the class before leaving for home, recalling the language we were exposed to, and used, to communicate with and understand each other.

For what it’s worth, I find science is square and education round, but growing increasingly squarer.


23 01 2012
Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

At least now whenever I mention Dogme in a post or in conversation, I will no longer need to pause at whether I should call it an approach or not. Thank God.

23 01 2012
Adam Simpson

I’ve only ever thought of it as an approach. It’s always nice to have a Thornbury quote to sling into the conversation, though. I find that people have much more faith in Scott than they do in me :-0

23 01 2012

“Does dogme have a praxis?”

That’s the question I find myself thinking about the most regarding dogme, and the one that I’ve somewhat struggled with when giving development sessions on the topic. I suppose throughout my time practising it (or my idea of it anyway), I’ve come to conceptualise a dogme praxis in terms of three very broad but distinct lesson stages, based on everything Scott, Luke, and others have written about dogme so far:

A) targeting the students’ present areas of interest/current needs, and then engaging them in meaningful conversation

B) capturing the language that emerges from stage A, whether in the students’ notebooks, on the whiteboard, or recorded on a mobile device etc.

C) focusing on the captured input i.e. getting students to really notice the language, hypothesize about it, explore its range of meanings/uses, and so on, then finally putting this to work – improving it, rehearsing it etc.

The stages need be broad given the nature of the dogme philosophy; but is this really a fair reflection of a dogme praxis I wonder? Does anyone else interpret a dogme praxis differently?

23 01 2012

If I may step in here, I do think you’ve got your Dogme ABC’s down, but I don’t think the practice stages, if we want to call them that, have to be chronological. The three elements cited by Scott and Luke (conversation-driven, emergent language, needs and interest of people in the room) work in tandem, I find, so that no one ever takes precedence over another even if we are having a conversation, focused on an emergent language pattern, or listening to someone tell us how she missed the bus. In all three cases, and any others I imagine, the three elements are omnipresent and co-operative.

Hope that seems relevant, and I don’t mean to answer for Scott on his blog. 🙂


25 01 2012
David Avram

That’s a nice summary, Wez. But as much as I believe in the value of this kind of framework, I’ve noticed that in only some cases can it be maintained throughout a language course.

When trying to characterize learners’ needs (characterize = always an approximation) it often becomes clear that third-party texts, images, videos, music and so on need to be utilized to some degree.


(1) Real world language use usually entails having to deal to some extent with various kinds of media. It is all around us and any learner who wants or needs to connect with media in their daily lives may have to be exposed to it in the classroom. We don’t live in the forest anymore 🙂

(2) I’m just guessing, but perhaps language acquisition may be aided by teachers trying a diversity of materials and approaches with their learners. Encountering language in different contexts could be useful for understanding and mastering it.
One of the first things my learners understand is that I would like them to try a range of activities throughout the course (even if the focus of topic etc is specialized). This is of course the norm in groups, but also I think important perhaps in one-to-one. Scott made a comment once about having something for everybody, well, I believe we perhaps should also try to have something for every part of the learner’s brain (metaphorically speaking’ of course).

Just a few thoughts. A reply would be very much appreciated.

Cheers, Mr D

26 01 2012

Hi Rob and David. When I outlined my conception of a (very loose) dogme praxis above, I may have inadvertently given the impression that the stages ought to be chronological and that they represent a fixed lesson sequence similar to the PPP approach for instance (With insight, my phrasing of them being “lesson stages” was a poor choice of wording). I should clarify that I don’t believe this and that to insist on it being so would probably go against the basic principles of dome, in fact (or would it?). I guess I only wanted to highlight three salient features that I thought might be considered to represent a dogme practice of sorts. The three practical elements I referred to could occur – or emerge – simultaneously, rather than one after the other. For example, it may well be that language is focused on and “put to work” during conversation i.e. in real operating conditions, depending on the local circumstances.

Ultimately, however, perhaps the attempt to pin dogme down to any kind of recognised practice is self-defeating in that it would then cease to be dogme at all.

Leaving us back with the original question in the article: “Does dogme have a praxis?”

What do others think?

24 01 2012

Hi All,

While I haven’t been contributing to the Dogme discussions, I’ve been following them for some time. By and large I tend to agree with Scott that Dogme does qualify as a coherent approach, yet I say this with an unclear idea in my mind as to what the qualifiers *emergent* and *emerging* are referring to. Actually, to be clearer, I have seen forms of the verb *emerge* refer to a number of areas – some to processes, such as *this language need emerged during the activity*, or, *language will emerge during an activity*; and others to concepts, such as *emergent language* or *the emergent language learning process*. I’ve seen recounts of lessons list *emergent language*, with the list comprising either structures or forms that were the focus of some kind of teaching during the lesson. The third precept in Meddings and Thornbury (2009) is *Focus on emergent language*, which uses the *emergent* theme as a metaphor for language learning, juxtaposed with *acquisition*.

This reminds me in some way of how the term *scaffolding* has been used to refer to different things by different teachers, often devoid of the original kernel of meaning that it carried from the early work of Bruner and colleagues. But if you look at the literature where scaffolding is used, you can indeed makes sense (usually) of how the author is using the term. I’m finding it difficult to do that with the term, or let’s call it metaphor for now, *emergent*. But as it’s used in key discussions of the theoretical platforms upon which Dogme stands tall, I think it needs to be scrutinised. I’m asking myself such questions as: “Where does the language emerge from?”, “Where does the learning process emerge from?”. If Dogme is an approach, then, as Scott and others here and elsewhere argue convincingly that it is well supported by particular theories of language, and theories of language learning. But if we’re using the same metaphor to refer to both theoretical platforms, then I think there’s room for clarity.

So I ask the questions:

1) Where does the language emerge from?
2) Where does the learning process emerge from?

I’m also curious as to whether anyone is aware of Hopper’s *emergent grammar*, which Lantolf and colleagues find is in synergy with a sociocultural approach to language learning (and teaching). Some key points here http://www.stanford.edu/~tylers/notes/misc/Hopper_emergent.pdf

Phil Chappell

24 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Phil, for your insightful comment. On the subject of emergence, let me cut-and-paste from a recent article I wrote:

In effect, Dogme attempts to accommodate two kinds of emergence: at the social, or macro-level, where language emerges out of collaborative activity, and at the individual, or micro-level, where each learner’s developing linguistic system evolves out of the need to satisfy their social and communicative needs. At the social level the language that emerges is a shared product, reminiscent of Breen’s (1985) assertion that ‘the language I learn in the classroom is a communal product derived through a jointly constructed process.’ At the individual level, the linguistic system that emerges is opportunistic, self-organising, adaptive and idiosyncratic, because (as Lantolf and Thorne 2006, p. 17) phrase it, ‘learning an additional language is about enhancing one’s repertoire of fragments and patterns that enables participation in a wider array of communicative activities. It is not about building up a complete and perfect grammar in order to produce well-formed sentences’.

(‘Resisting Coursebooks’ [forthcoming] in Gray, J. [ed.] Critical Perspectives on Language Teaching Materials. Palgrave Macmillan).

As for Hopper, yes, this has been an important influence on my understanding of ’emergence’, although Hopper seems to be describing the way languages emerge over historical time (‘phylogenesis’), rather than the way a language emerges in the life of a speaker (ontogenesis). With regard to the latter, in Teaching Unplugged we refer to Michael Hoey’s (2004) corpus-informed view of emergence, i.e that ‘what we think of as grammar is the product of the accumulation of all the lexical primings of an individual’s lifetime’. (Hoey, M. 2004. Lexical Priming. London: Routledge.)

Had it been published in time, we might also have included this eloquent statement of how grammar (i.e. patterning) emerges:

Cognition, consciousness, experience, embodiment, brain, self, and human interaction, society, culture, and history are all inextricably intertwined in rich, complex, and dynamic ways. Despite this complexity and despite this lack of overt government, instead of anarchy and chaos, patterning pervades the complex system of language. The patterns are not preordained by God, by genes, by school curriculum, or by other human policy, but instead they are emergent from the interactions of the agents involved…

Ellis, N. 2011. The emergence of language as a complex adaptive system. In Simpson, J.(Ed) The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge.

(Along with ‘school curriculum’ he might have added ‘or by courseboooks’!)

24 01 2012

Thanks for clarifying the theme of emergence, Scott. It is very helpful for me. So if I can attempt a pithy summary for the language classroom:

1) Where does language emerge from?
Language reveals itself simultaneously in the discourse activity that takes place in the classroom between the students, both with and without the teacher’s participation, and the social needs of the learners to fulfil their communicative goals.

2) Where does the learning process emerge from?
Language learning episodes have their beginnings in these (above) social interactions where there is a perceived or noticed need to develop the repertoire of a learner’s functional linguistic system.

I’m sure this is more eloquently expressed by you and others, but I’m a firm believer in writing to develop my own understandings!

From your response, I really like the idea, no matter what timescale we’re talking about, of language and the grammar of language, coming out of discourse. Part of my curiosity is reconciling Dogme with a text/genre-based approach to language teaching (often referred to as GBT – genre-based teaching), which is built on the theoretical platform of a theory of language and grammar that is very much in synergy with what we’re talking about here: language as discourse/text that comes out of and also shapes the social context. It also has a model of grammar (systemic functional grammar) that accommodates different levels of language, from the level of text, through clause level and all the way down to morphemes etc. It is also quite explicit in its approach to learning and teaching, being based on well-known social constructivist theories, especially the idea of the expert-novice relations.

In this kind of classroom, the source of language is texts, spoken, written, and variants across that continuum. These texts ought to be authentic and while uprooted from their origins, ought to be presented to learners within the sociocultural context in which they emerged. All classroom activity is centred on or around those texts in their source contexts.

So this goes back to your final comments about fuzziness in your blog post here. I love fuzziness if there is the potential for clarity in there somewhere! It begs the question (for me anyway): What’s the difference between Dogme and GBT? Is it simply a matter of the source of the texts from which the language emerges? Or can Dogme accommodate a text-based approach? If not, is Dogme limiting in that the source of language is the discourse activity of the classroom? Is it perhaps that GBT is more explicit in its applications of learning theory?

Thanks for this opportunity to contribute!


25 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Phil your summary is both pithy and accurate! I appreciate the use of the term ‘episodes’, too, since this chimes with Merrill Swain’s coinage ‘language-related episodes’ (LREs) that occur in the context of communicative interaction, when learners focus their joint attention, momentarily, on a feature of the language, and which she hypothesises might supply important material for language acquisition, with the corollary (consistent with Vygotsky’s socialcultural theory) that collaborative talk can mediate learning.

Interesting you should mention systemic functional linguistics (SFL) (although hardly surprising given that you’re in Australia, aren’t you?) Other writers – such as Gordon Wells – have drawn links between Vygotsky’s social-cultural view of learning and Halliday’s social-semiotic theory of language, i.e. that both learning and language are grounded in, and driven by, social and cultural imperatives. Halliday says ‘“the linguistic system is a part of the social system. Neither can be learnt without the other” – a view that Dogme practitioners wouldn’t dispute.

The problem (for me) with SFL, and the way it is implemented through genre-based teaching, is that it tends to be rather theory-heavy and product-driven: “Here is a genre A. Let’s analyse it to bits and then reproduce it.” There doesn’t seem a lot of scope for ‘at the point of need’ teaching, where the genres emerge, and are shaped, out of the raw material of the learners’ communicative needs.

But I may have missed the point. 😉

25 01 2012

Would it be fair to argue that Dogmeists understand Vigotsky’s ZPD as ZPE -Zone of Proximal Emergence?

26 01 2012

So there do certainly seem to be some close synergies between Dogme and GBT as approaches, with differences at the level of design. There are also differences at this level among GBT practitioners, with some framing the lessons close to how you, Scott, describe as being reproductive, yet others placing much greater value on looking at a range of texts within a genre, while at the same time working with the texts that the learners produce ‘at point of need’ – the language comes from both model texts and emergent learner texts. So maybe you missed half the point 😉 There are some interesting applications of it in EFL settings as well as here in Australia. I do agree with you, SFL can be heavy on theory, but knowledge of the (descriptive) grammar (SFG) can be a great tool for teachers and learners (without needing to introduce the ‘metalanguage’ to learners). I teach a unit in a TESOL course: Linguistics for Language Teaching, in which I deal with the theoretical issues of how language is related to context, and then spend most of the time looking very practically at grammar in three areas: expressing ideas, interacting with others, and creating cohesive texts (which reflects the SFL meta-functions).

My interest here has been to see how far I can go introducing Dogme into the Methodology unit (not bootcamp GBT, I might add!) that integrates with the Linguistics unit. Last semester I tried this and it was met with some early positive reactions. We have a new semester coming up in a few weeks time in which I hope to work with more ideas from Dogme. This discussion on Approach has been timely from my perspective, both for teaching and research!

Hope I haven’t hijacked the ‘A’ page for too long on this! I’d better sign off – as fascinating as this discussion is, I can’t really report tomorrow that I spent all of Australia Day blogging Dogme!



26 01 2012
James Quartley

Defining approach seems to be an issue in itself, unless Neil McMahon has a firmer idea on this. In addition to Richards and Rogers:

Anthony (1963: 63-67), already mentioned, but this edited quotation helps us further, I feel.

“An approach is a set of correlative assumptions dealing with the nature of language teaching and learning. An approach is axiomatic. It describes the nature of the subject matter to be taught … Method is the overall plan for the orderly presentation of language material, no part of which contradicts, and all of which is based upon, the selected approach. An approach is axiomatic, a method is procedural. Within one approach, there can be many methods … A technique is implementational – that which actually takes place in a classroom. It is a particular trick, stratagem, or contrivance used to accomplish an immediate objective. Techniques must be consistent with a method, and therefore in harmony with an approach as well.”

Brown (1995) “Approaches: Ways of defining what and how the students need to learn”

Dogme can be an approach and its many varying forms is supported by Anthony’s definition. However, if one used ‘elements’ of Dogme in the classroom then it could equally be described as a methodology or a technique –depending on the rigidity or looseness of the influences or the point from which it is being viewed. The ways in which words like approach, method, etc are used is far from uniform, but if we stick with R&R’s definition then Dogme can be classified as an approach. With regard to ‘referring to theories’, I think the meaning of this is simpler than the embellishments of originality that Neil MacMahon makes. If Dogme is related to or referencing, say, communicative, task-based or interactionist perspectives or notions, it is referring to theories. Brown’s definition ‘how’ fits but I’m not sure of the ‘what’ with regard to the previous comments on syllabus.

Does it really matter? The preoccupation of “pinning down” a definition of Dogme (or anything to that mind) seems to be a distraction from its point or an example of the human desire to compartmentalise ideas in to recognisable shapes -the common acceptance of R&R’s definitions on approach, method, etc a case in point and not necessarily bad. However, the search for a definition or boundaries can often lead to stifled, misinterpreted or weakened ideas or, worse, the facilitation of box-ticking in analysis or assessment. I can’t help thinking that such a limiting view perpetuates the production line training mentality of identikit teachers, rather than being an exciting point to develop practice from (think Prabhu’s “plausibility” or “pedagogic intuition”) and free teachers’ minds from the rigid confines of the structure in order to question, experiment and develop their own ideas.

26 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, James, for further probing and teasing of the taxonomies. I agree with your analysis – and with your doubts (expressed in your last paragraph). However, I might take issue with this:

if one used ‘elements’ of Dogme in the classroom then it could equally be described as a methodology or a technique –depending on the rigidity or looseness of the influences or the point from which it is being viewed.

I’m not sure what ‘elements of Dogme’ actually consist of. Clearly, many Dogme procedures involve communication and personalization, but these are hardly novel, let alone peculiar to Dogme. That is to say, there are no defining Dogme techniques or procedures. In that sense, Dogme is eclectic. What characterizes Dogme are not the details, but the overall philosophy, for the purposes of which any number of standard techniques can be enlisted. This is why, if anything, it is an approach, not a method, nor a tecnhique.

For this reason, I’m not sure that you can ‘do Dogme’ in the context of a traditional, syllabus-and-coursebook lesson. If a ‘Dogme moment’ is simply serving as reinforcement of – or distraction from – a pre-selected grammar item, then it is not a Dogme moment. It’s just a moment.

What a lot of commentators (not just on this blog, but on others) don’t seem to quite get is that an approach that categorically rejects a syllabus of pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped grammar mcnuggets cannot be recruited to serve such a syllabus. It’s like ‘improving’ a vegetarian salad by adding chunks of bacon. It may improve it, but it’s no longer vegetarian.

26 01 2012

“For this reason, I’m not sure that you can ‘do Dogme’ in the context of a traditional, syllabus-and-coursebook lesson. If a ‘Dogme moment’ is simply serving as reinforcement of – or distraction from – a pre-selected grammar item, then it is not a Dogme moment. It’s just a moment.”

That quite disheartening in a way. Cannot the dogme philosophy be used to attempt to undermine or undercut the syllabus-and-coursebook lesson, rather simply serving as a reinforcement – or distraction from – this? I presume not from what you say here.

27 01 2012
Scott Thornbury

Hi Wez,
Yes, perhaps, in reacting so uncompromisingly to the idea that Dogme could be blended with, or applied cosmetically to, a coursebook-and-syllabus curriculum, I was being a bit too ‘fundamentalist’. In fact, if my own experience is any guide, the way that ‘dogme moments’ can subvert the reigning orthodoxy is well-attested. You start to unpick a seam in your lessons, and suddenly the whole fabric unravels.

At the same time, I am also aware of the way that task-based learning has – in a sense – been traduced by attempts to re-invent it as coursebook-friendly. Hence my resistance to the idea of a ‘dogme coursebook’. And my suspicion of the notion that a bit of personalization here and there somehow ‘dogmetizes’ an otherwise conventional grammar lesson.

26 01 2012
James Quartley

Scott, regarding the point with which you take exception, you are right of course. I wasn’t very clear. “point of view” was supposed to be alluding to the variable and sometimes interchangeable ways that terms like approach, method, etc are used. I think that for some, tacking a bit of dogme on to the lesson is doing dogme. In the same way that a grammar task in a syllabus focused lesson is mistakenly understood as task-based learning. A fundamental misunderstanding of the idea, and it goes back to the reduction of things in to easily digested pieces, albeit erroneously.

You’ve made me think of vegetarian bacon, sausages or tofu textured like meat. What is that all about? I’ve also got a picture of Brian proclaiming ” you are all individuals!” and hearing a unified chorus repeating the same to him in return.

25 06 2012

Hello Scott,

You may be aware that in the UK there are proposals from the Conservative Government to overhaul the current education system and reintroduce an older “O-level” qualification. Many on the right of the political spectrum believe that the education system in the UK has become “dumbed down” and frequently attribute these falling standards to left-wing teaching approaches. For example, here is Melanie Philips writing for the conservative Daily Mail newspaper:

“In the grip of an ideological fixation with equality of outcomes, the education world abandoned its core goal of transmission of knowledge…. Teachers stopped teaching and became instead facilitators of ‘child-centred’ learning.”

While I certainly don’t agree with Melanie Philips here, it strikes me that the pedagogical developments she attacks and wishes to eradicate (i.e. the teacher as facilitator rather than transmitter of knowledge + student-centred learning) mirror developments in EFL too. On CELTA courses at el, teachers are precisely trained to be facilitators rather than transmitters, and are encouraged to inculcate autonomous leaning strategies in their learners. Approaches such as Dogme, of course, attempt to exploit the virtues of student-centred learning to its maximum by crafting lessons exclusively around the students’ own needs and preferences as these arise.

While I know we cannot compare teaching English as a foreign language to subjects such as Maths and Science (where, for all I know, it may the case that more traditional methods of instruction work better), I am curious about the extent to which politics is bound up with contemporary thinking about ELT. I have recently given a conference on “implementing self-assessment to students in higher education” and I am aware that it is exactly this kind of thing that Melanie Philips would consider to be a symptom of left-wing dumbed-down rot. I am therefore very much interested in getting your input on this. Is contemporary thinking about EFL dominated by left-wing idealogical principles? To what extent are approaches such as dogme and task-based learning etc. reflections of left-wing agendas?

Looking forward to the return of your blog with much anticipation.


25 06 2012
Scott Thornbury

Hi Wes, in lieu of a longer reply, I have written about the way language teaching has been ‘commodified’ according to a neo-liberal and positivist educational ideology here:

Click to access arithmetic%20MET.pdf

Hope this helps.

27 06 2012

Fascinating post.
I agree that if teaching practices do not have sound based theoretical bases, they will not be widely accepted and , like others, may be regarded as “discarded”. I think as time passes,any teaching practice changes, and deviates from its theoretically formalized core. This reflects the discrepancy between theory and practice. Those who practice it ( considering the situation, learners’ needs interests, and many other implicit and explicit factors) reflect on, test, retest, revise and come up with a different version of the original form. i hope that I will be able to put dogme into practice to experience it first hand.

30 11 2016

If dogme an approach, what kind of methods that used in this approach? I really confused to decide the method. I have to teach my friends in my classroom (teaching method course) using this approach and need to find the method. Thank you for your help.

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