This is a summary of the keynote talk I gave yesterday at the IATEFL Learning Technologies and Teacher Development Joint SIG Conference, titled With or Without Technology, held at Yeditepe University, Istanbul this weekend.
Why Dogme is good for you.
Because the conference theme focuses on teacher development (TD), in both its ‘plugged’ and ‘unplugged’ manifestations, it’s perhaps timely to review the case for ‘teaching unplugged’, otherwise known as Dogme ELT (hereafter just Dogme), and try to situate it in relation to teacher development generally.
In its relatively long life (12 years and still counting) Dogme has generated a fair amount of heat – more, indeed, than its co-founders bargained for, and indicative, perhaps, of how surprisingly subversive it is. Formerly, this heat was confined mainly to the Dogme discussion list itself, but it has now migrated into the blogosphere at large, where, far from having been diffused, it seems to be burning more fiercely than ever. (I’m not the first to point out that you can increase the traffic to your blog exponentially by cocking a snook at Dogme!)
Among the criticisms that have been levelled at it these are some of the most frequent:
- it doesn’t work for beginners
- it doesn’t work with large groups
- it doesn’t work with young learners
- it doesn’t work with non-native speaker teachers
- it’s not new
- it doesn’t work because there’s no input
- it doesn’t work because there’s no syllabus
- it doesn’t work because there’s no attention to form
- it doesn’t work in [insert name of the country where you work]
- it doesn’t work with [insert any nationality] learners
- it just doesn’t work, period.
Far from attempting to refute any of these claims, I would argue that they are in fact irrefutable. Method comparison, as a science, is dead in the water. There’s no controlling for all the variables, and sample sizes are usually too small to generalise from. And so on. So, for argument’s sake, I will simply accept that for some teachers these claims are plausible (just as for others the claims made for Dogme are equally plausible), and I will move on. (At the same time, whether or not the above claims are true, I don’t think Dogme has done anyone any harm. It’s not like HIV-denial or the anti-vaccine lobby. I don’t know of many students who have died because their teachers didn’t use coursebooks. But I may be wrong).
There is, however, one thing to be said about Dogme which is incontrovertibly true. And that is that – for a great number of teachers – Dogme has provided a framework for highly productive self-directed teacher development, involving cycles of experimentation and reflection, essential components for any developmental program. It has done this principally because it invites teachers to question some of the received wisdoms about language teaching, such as
- that language learning is an incremental and linear process
- that language learning is a purely cognitive process
- that a grammar syllabus represents the best ‘route’ for language learning
- that imported materials are better than learner-generated ones
- that lessons have to be meticulously planned
- that accuracy is a pre-condition for fluency
- that teaching is better with technology
Dogme is by no means the first platform from which these claims have been challenged, but for reasons I still don’t entirely fathom, it seems to have been very successful at articulating its critique and broadcasting it to practising teachers. (The concurrent boom in online communication may have had something to do with it – an irony not lost on Dogme’s critics).
A glance through the quantity of postings on the list demonstrates the fact that many teachers have used one or more of the tenets of Dogme, either to initiate change in their own teaching, or to explain changes that they had already initiated – and often with spectacularly positive results, as this early post suggests:
…I’m buzzing at the moment ‘cos I’ve been lucky enough to hit on a couple of new groups who seem to have invented dogme themselves, and the things we’re coming up with together are stunning me into a state of ‘I’ve never loved teaching so much before – but is this really teaching?!’.
Well, it certainly seems to be learning – enthusiastically and really joyfully – for all of us.
And thanks to everyone in the group for helping me better appreciate what’s happening!
Like the Dogme critics, the Dogme enthusiasts have also turned to blogging to get their teacher development message across. One notable instance of grassroots, collaborative Dogme-inspired teacher development was the ‘teach off’ that Chia Suan Chong initiated last month. Whatever doubts you might have about its scientific rigour, the buzz that it generated was truly remarkable.
Finally, and in advance of the conference, I did a little exercise in crowdsourcing, by tweeting the following question: ‘How has Dogme helped you develop as a teacher?’ Here is a small selection of the many replies I got:
@michaelegriffin: #Dogme helped me c that I wasn’t crazy to think that books weren’t a curriculum and that the people in the room are the key
@AnthonyGaughan: it encourages confidence in exploring my teaching self #DogmeTD
@dalecoulter: playing with variables in the lesson and reflecting on the results #DogmeTD
@kevchanwow: watching lively exchange within Dogme community makes me more comfortable trying new approaches in my own way & own classes
@kenwilsonlondon: #DogmeELT I couldn’t understand why my best lessons were when the class more/less forced me to abandon the plan. Now I know!
@esolamin; Haven’t followed Dogme as such, but ‘unplugged’/improvised activities produced more ss participation & interest, I found.
@englishraven It marked my progression into actually being a teacher- the whole deal, real thing. Not an instructional attendant #DogmeELT
@sx200i how has Dogme helped me. Pure enjoyment in my lessons. Confidence. Never bored! #DogmeTD