T is for Teacher development

27 05 2012

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.

Yeditepe University

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!

Some of the dogme blogs

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



57 responses

27 05 2012

I think you said not so long ago Scott that it is something different to every person. The idea of Dogme being an alternative to the prescribed constraining methods of the CELTA is definitely alluring. For many trainees at the start, middle or later in the careers who just get fed up with following a syllabus/book/course which doesn’t focus on the learners, well Dogme is their salvation. It gives them a chance to feel part of a group of similar thinking people. They can comment on blogs, join the Yahoo group and start or join in discussions and all these helps them to question their own teaching and construct new ideas with other people. Unlike most believe, there is little complete agreement about Dogme, everyone is different and that’s what is good. You have to be critical of yourself and reconstruct your own teaching. That has to be a good thing and leads to constant and continual development.

Dogme could be seen as the rebel gang in high school who shirk the norms or the gang of punks who push away society’s norms. Well, that’s what critics seem to say anyway. But for anyone who was or is a member of those groups they’ll probably know that the people just think differently.They reject the norm because it doesn’t work for them and may actually be more critical and have a bigger picture than those just following the rules. Thus, they are perceived as ‘trouble makers’ and ‘upsetting the status quo’ but isn’t that the only way to improve things. After all, there are people who don’t know problems exist, there are those who know but are scared to voice their opinions, there are those who voice them and are ostracised and then there are those who say what’s wrong, try to change it and eventually, just maybe are successful. At that moment everyone says “wow, I can’t believe we used to…”.This seems to be the point where many people are now thanks to the Dogme support network. Long may it go on!!!

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Phil, for beating Adam to first place in the comment stream 😉

Yes, Dogme advocates are people who ‘think differently’ (but maybe don’t teach that differently – discuss!).

People who don’t go along with the current orthodoxy – i.e. mavericks – are, of course, considered negatively (a) by the people or institutions who are invested in the current orthodoxy, (b) by those who might be sympathetic to their point of view, but are suspicious of their motives, or dislike their style etc. Hence ‘dogme’ is belittled as being ‘Scott Thornbury’s ‘Big Idea’, i.e. an exercise in self-branding. Or its proponents are condemned for being ‘strident’ or ‘doctrinaire’. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which of these reasons, i.e. (a) and (b) above, motivates particular critics.

Interestingly, synonyms for ‘maverick’ group nicely into those that have positive (or at least neutral) and those that have negative connotations.



lone gunman

(source: http://www.wordnik.com/words/maverick)

31 05 2012

Just a note on individualist, Scott… I think it is almost an insult in France and , although in the English first language cultures it tends to be a good thing. And there are a lot of people that put the tech evangelist label on proudly.

There is also not as much fear with one maverick as with a group of them, as individuals act differently than groups, and have more power, either to expand or make changes in the status quo, or, from a different point of view, accumulate enough flakes for an avalanche.

From the outside, passionate defence of beliefs from two people looks like an argument, whereas when more people get involved, it can seem like a war or even bullying. As dogme is a non prescriptive platform, I don’t understand all the people trying to bury it. What it wants to bury are the obstacles that get between the learners and the learning for those teachers and students bothered by thorns, thorns that others don’t seem to mind. (by the way “Thorn burying” would be much better self branding.)

27 05 2012

Well, I am so glad that you have just writen this post about Dogme ELT and teacher development. I know Scott Thornbury most widely for his Dogme”approach” to ELT,and I have read most of your articles on this unplugged approach to language teaching.

It’s so sad for me, however, to say that only yesterday I was present in a conference of a regional association of ELTeachers in Morocco,and one of the presentations was about the approaches to teaching grammar, and the presenters made it clear from the beginning of the presentation that their ideas are derived from one of your books on teaching grammar. They were dealing in their presentation with the famous approaches to teaching grammar (inductive/deductive….) and so on. Their presentation took 20 minutes, and no one of them has ever mentioned any thing as to what I have read about you in so many places, and what I have watched in your videos concerning your advocation of Dogme/unplugged teaching.

None of the term the unplugged movement uses was mentioned in that presentation…I really got puzzled as to wether the presentation was about the Scott I know here, on twitter and on our beloved iTDi sites.

I had to intervene in the end and I asked about the date of the publication of the reference book, yet the presenters don’t know it. I thought that the book might reflect your ideas at a time when you were still “form focused”.

What made me so depressing is that when I mentioned the Dogme/unplugged terms, no one in that room seems to have already heared about this approach, or it seemed to me that way. There was in the room Bradley Horn, the Regional Language Officer. He nodded his head,seeming to have agreed with me! I hope you will reply to me as soon as you can, making the approach you advocate crystal clear so that I can refer the presenters to your answer.

Thanks for your posts.

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Brahim, for your interesting comment, which raises some important questions.

I imagine that the book of mine that the presenters based their presentations on, and kindly referred to, was How to Teach Grammar, published in 1999. That book was intended to present a range of teaching options for teachers who — for one reason or another — choose to teach grammar in their classes. It doesn’t necessarily endorse the teaching of grammar or the use of grammar syllabuses, and in fact in the opening chapter the pros and cons of teaching grammar are weighed up. But I’m very well aware that many teachers have little choice in this matter, or at least in terms of the syllabus or coursebook they use, so the book aimed at presenting them with a variety of methodological options In order to make the teaching of grammar more effective and more varied than it might otherwise be.

The dogme movement started life a year after the publication of How to Teach Grammar. It didn’t represent a change of heart with regards to grammar teaching at all — rather it represented a consolidation of the position I have always adopted, i.e. that teaching language is more than the delivery of grammar McNuggets. Even earlier (1997) I had written an article critiquing the use of grammar as a tool for maintaining power structures both within the classroom and outside. (You can read it here).

So, in that sense, my thinking has been fairly consistent. However, I do think a new edition of How to Teach Grammar is long overdue, and if that were to happen, I would certainly mention ‘teaching unplugged’ as a viable option. In fact, even in the 1999 book, there is a section suggesting ways of teaching grammar through using student language (pages 79 — 82) and another section on using teacher — student conversation as a basis for practising grammar items (pages 108 — 111), in which I said that “nothing is easier (nor is anything more difficult if you are not used to it) than simply talking to students. It requires no preparation, no technology… and it is feasible even with classes of 20 students or more”.

This suggests to me that, even then, I had ‘dogme on my mind’!

27 05 2012
Martin Sketchley (@ELTExperiences)

It is an interesting post Scott. One criticism that I have received about Dogme ELT (which wasn’t included) is that it is considered ‘lazy teaching’. I suppose that this is one of the misconceptions that Dogme is unprepared teaching, walking in the classroom without any form of materials. However, one thing that I consider ‘lazy teaching’ is teaching the same coursebook, going through the motions or deciding not to develop professionally.

27 05 2012
Adam Simpson

Anyone who thinks the way you teach is lazy, Martin, is crazy. As we know, there’s a difference between walking into class utterly unprepared and walking in ready to work with learners in a materials light manner.

27 05 2012
J.J. Almagro

Have you been able to characterize the unplugged L2 learner across skills compared to their ‘plugged’ counterparts?

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

I assume that, by ‘characterize’, you mean ’empirically test’? No: it would be hard (for all the same reasons that comparing methods is hard: too many variables, small sample size, length of treatment, control groups etc). But some work has been done on tracking and comparing fluency development within the task-based paradigm.

27 05 2012
Simon Greenall

Hi Scott, while you were giving this plenary in Turkey, I was doing my own plenary to the International House Teaching Online Conference. In ‘The decline and fall of coursebooks?’ I also referrred to Chia Suan Chong’s Teach Off. As you say, ‘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.’

A quick note from the coursebook/materials point of view: I too learned a great deal from the Teach off, even though the conclusions were less, um, conclusive either for or against Dogme and coursebooks than you might have hoped? (historically, I’m used to writing coursebooks as the second best way of learning a language, so I’m used to this kind of ‘inconclusion’.)

Although the waystages my talk went through were different from yours, since they first looked at a historical view of criticisms against coursebooks, my conlcusion was roughly siimilar to yours. Dogme does raise a challenge to teachers, and can act, as it does for me, as a facilitator for teacher development.

Maybe I’m looking for common ground, but a final thought was that maybe coursebooks and all the methodology you question are a catalyst for change by representing the status quo against which innovation in ELT can react.

Can’t live with you, can’t live without you 🙂


28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Simon, And, yes, I was aware that you were talking about coursebooks this weekend, and was frustrated that I couldn’t participate. I’m hoping that the talk has been archived.

Common ground there is a-plenty, I’m sure. As I said to a group of student teachers in Istanbul on Friday, in the context of a workshop on low-materials teaching, this is not about abandoning the coursebook (you may never have that choice) — it’s about not feeling guilty when ‘authentic’ language emerges out of the cracks in the (coursebook-driven) lesson, and it’s about knowing how best to deal with it.

27 05 2012

Dogme invited me to question the assumptions above and also this one: that materials providers and curriculum developers know more than I do about the needs of this group of people sitting here in the room with me. I haven’t rejected materials, lesson plans or curriculum completely — they have their place. But it’s a much less exalted place than it was when I started.

As a new teacher, I used them (and “method”) to support me as I stepped into the unknown. After a year or so, I found myself focused on strengthening my supports. I had a growing pile of leson plans, textbooks, grammar books, handouts, worksheets and props. But it seemed the learners were always needing something else. I now believe they were needing me to step out from behind all that stuff and be there with them, taking risks too. Dogme invited me to view materials, etc. more as scaffolding … something that can fall away as my *skills* strengthen. It encourages me to continually ask myself why I’m making the decisions I do. This is indeed teacher development!

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Kathy. Beautifully put. I like the image of you stepping out from behind your barricade of materials! I can see you in my mind’s eye — waving a white flag! 😉

28 05 2012


27 05 2012
Paraskevi Andreopoul (@pandreop)

Trying to put Dogme into classrrom practice, I’d dare to admit that it be implemented with well-read, well-prepared teachers who have a complete image of their students’ strenghts and weaknesses inside their minds and attempt to adapt and /or centre the teaching procedure around their students’ goals and personalities; this is how I’ve seen it to work in real action, otherwise, it’s a waste of time for both the instructor and the learner, in that the latter feels “neglected ,perplexed, lost in space” , in a sense, and soon or later ,in subsequent future lessons they announce lesson termination.

Drawing upon personal experience, beginners /young learners need focus at the outset and a PPP lesson plan would probably do for them -to provide some time for the instructor and the learner to get to know one another better; but, as time progresses and their language input evolves/ develops ,we’d turn to a more learner-centred processes, such as Dogme or TBL- these classroom approaches may be more effective with learners and teachers that “feel at home” in class…..

Thanks for allowing me the time and the space to reflect upon the complex teaching procedure..

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Hello Paraskevi … thanks for the comment. The point that you made, that “these classroom approaches may be more effective with learners and teachers that “feel at home” in class…..” is very true. Creating the sense of ‘feeling at home’, i.e. creating a dynamic whereby students feel unthreatened and at ease with one another and with you, is one of the most important things that a teacher can do. It’s also one of the most elusive and no two classes are going to ‘gel’ in quite the same way, or at quite the same pace.

Dogme works best when learners feel at home, but also it can help create and sustain that feeling.

31 05 2012

Yes indeed. Working in a residential environment where our students leave everything they know and come to a place where everything from the food to the weathe to the language is foreign and potentially threatening, it behoves me absoltely to encourage and foster a feeling in the student of being at home and somewhere safe. From the time they start (Sunday evenings at 7.30) until they leave (Fridays at 5.30) the “unplugged, dogmetic” approach is the only one that fosters and encourages self-esteem and facilitates the sense of belonging. Don’t ask me why, but it does – and I ain’t changin’ nothin’. The client comes first and with clients, dogme works.

27 05 2012
Adam Simpson

The best defense is offense, as they say.

What I loved most about this presentation was that in deciding not to refute the rejections of Dogme explicitly, you did a fantastic job of doing so implicitly in quoting the examples of all the the teachers who are blogging about their unplugged experiences, and in this way highlighting the spirit of experimentation, reflection and self-questioning that Dogme espouses*. The likes of Jemma Gardner, Adam Beale and Chia Suan Chong (among many others) are in their own way inspiring a generation to look at what they are doing and wonder, quite simply, if they can do it better.

I don’t know about you, but I felt that this weekend represented a healthy look at the role that technology can play and how it can, if used in a considered manner, be incorporated into an unplugged teaching philosophy.

Thanks again for your part in this conference. It was well worth sacrificing my ‘first to comment here’ status, for one week at least!

*Dare we say that ‘Dogme reaches the parts that other methodologies cannot reach’?

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Adam, and thanks for blogging about the session, in your role as roving reporter for the conference. You can see Adam’s summary here.

28 05 2012
Gareth Knight

Dogme is good for me, but that’s not the point. It’s also good for the learners. That is, until assessment rears its ugly head. If I am fortunate and have control over any assessment of my learners, all is good. On the other hand, I have made the mistake of helping my learners develop use of English in positive ways they couldn’t imagine and then find they fail the exam. How do we get across the non-computational wonders of language use to the Megod language assessors?

28 05 2012

None of your seven ‘received wisdoms’ have been received or are seen as wise in my context Scott. Where did you get them from?

28 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Yes, it’s always dangerous to generalise ‘orthodoxy’ across contexts. But my reading of many of the educational contexts that I’ve had some kind of access to — either indirectly through their materials and curriculum documents, or directly, through classroom observation – suggest that the top-down teaching of grammar McNuggets with an emphasis on accuracy, and with technology enlisted in order to make the process both more efficient and more cost-effective (e.g. through the widespread use of grammar presentation and practice software mediated by IWBs) is fairly universal.

Would anyone else disagree?

28 05 2012

“Because the conference theme focuses on teacher development (TD), in both its ‘plugged’ and ‘unplugged’ manifestations…”

What might a manifestation of unplugged (dogme) teacher development look like, Scott?

I imagine Anthony could provide some answers over at http://teachertrainingunplugged.wordpress.com/ and I should try to follow up on how he and others are getting on.

Wouldn’t such a course question the unofficial mandate ‘Train first, develop later’?

“Here, do it like this.
“Now, go let your freak flag fly.”

The adage that pre-services teachers need to learn to walk before they run rings paternalistic in my ears; like every learner, every teacher (who is also a learner within the context of teacher development) has something unique to contribute to our profession.

If we are not willing to allow pre-service teachers to unfurl (develop) their personal talents and perspectives from the get go, do we not risk feeding the hegemon its pound of flesh?

Whatever do I mean? Those who followed the Cambridge route might remember that ‘experimental lesson’ they were allowed to do on the DELTA. What about starting with that lesson, for example, on the CELTA?

Input sessions become examinations of TBL, CLL, and other relevant methods, techniques, etc. rather than ‘This is how to do a listening/reading/speaking/writing/grammar/pronunciation lesson’.

Or, and I’m really reaching now, we use a copy of Teaching Unplugged to guide the coursework. Who would accredit the school?

I’ve already chosen a text for the banner over the entrance:

“You must be true to yourself. Strong enough to be true to yourself. Brave enough to be strong enough to be true to yourself. Wise enough to be brave enough to be strong enough to shape yourself from what you actually are.” – Sylvia Ashton Warner

28 05 2012
David Avram

Thanks for all your hard work, Scott.

I still recall asking one of my CELTA tutors which books would be good to plough into post-CELTA for teaching ideas. Well, he kindly listed a number of titles (book x by so and so…) and then simply encouraged me to read anything by Scott Thornbury.

Advice that I still trust in to this day!

A Dogme framework has assisted tremendously in helping me be a reflective teacher.

Thanks again 🙂

29 05 2012
Elka Todeva

Greetings, all:
Like mcneilmahon (05:20:11), I also question the bulleted items below as received wisdoms (uk.answers.yahoo.com › … › Words & Wordplay Received wisdom means that it is the “wisdom” that everyone has come to accept).

Dogme 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

There has been quite a lot of buzz in recent years around the emergentist nature of language acquisition and more and more teachers & teacher trainers embrace Complexity Theory, which among other things, rejects linear thinking and the conceptualization of language development as a linear process. Second, for over 15 years now, there has been “a social turn in SLA”; socio-cultural theories are thriving and we have even changed the metaphors we live by – from language acquisition to language participation & being in the language (the former suggesting mastery of someone else’s language, the latter indicating much more intricate linguistic and cultural border crossings and norms negotiations). Grammaring and other ways of balanced teaching emphasize both “imported materials” and learner-generated ones. No self-respecting teacher-training program advocates dogmatic lesson planning. Good teachers are always on the lookout for powerful unplanned teachable moments as their lessons unfold. Ideally, we work on both learners’ accuracy and fluency. Subtle preventative teaching works better than just remedial teaching. Unlearning things takes more neural energy than learning them correctly in the first place through engaging meaningful explorations that are both form and content interesting. As a field, we have for the most part moved away from the old structural syllabi with their focus on formS. Still some sort of a language syllabus can be quite helpful for expediting one’s learning. Otherwise, too much is left to chance with Focus on Form only as the need arises and one often witnesses missed opportunities to offer students a chance to arrive at cognitive shortcuts and also opportunities to spare students some negative experiences as they transition into their various TL communities.

Dogme offers a lot of interesting ideas and good food for thought. I believe that collectively we will be all better off if our conversations start from all the good we have achieved as a field rather than wasting our energy around straw men of various sorts. Looking forward to further discussions around where we would like to go as a field with insights from different contexts. Thank you Scott for always offering a nudge for interesting exchanges,


29 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Elka, for that articulate comment. Yes, you’re absolutely right that both sociocultural theory and complexity theory are influencing thinking about SLA and challenging the ‘computational mind’ metaphor that has dominated for a generation. These influences have been at the forefront of the dogme discussions from the outset. As evidence, here is the ‘mission statement’ on the discussion list, which has remained more or less unchanged since the group’s inception in 2000:

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.[emphasis added]

As I said, in my post, Dogme is by no means the first articulation of these beliefs. In fact, a good deal of the discussion on the dogme list has centred on drawing connections between dogme and its antecedents in progressive education, experiential learning (including task-based learning), humanistic approaches (especially CLL) and critical pedagogy. And, as you rightly say, ‘Good teachers are always on the lookout for powerful unplanned teachable moments as their lessons unfold’.

I think the point of dogme is that, until such a style of teaching was ‘labelled’ and thereby, in a sense, validated, many teachers felt that such ‘teachable moments’ were accidental, marginal, and minimally exploitable. All that dogme has done for these teachers is to say, ‘No, it’s OK. Run with it’.

I would love to think that, as you suggest, this IS the existing paradigm. But, as I said to Neil, I’m not so sure that it is. And the enthusiam with which dogme has been embraced by some teachers (even teachers working in what might be considered privileged contexts, with fewer institutional constraints) suggests it was an idea whose time had come!

29 05 2012
Elka Todeva

Good morning, Scott:

Thank you for your instant response. There is still a lot to be desired in our teaching practices indeed, but as a whole the field has been moving in positive directions. I just finished working with a group of 30 teachers. We have a new generation out there – interested, socially engaged, well-informed, multimedia savvy. The point I was trying to make in my previous posting was that we will be all better off if we try to capitalize on this new talent and everything else we have achieved as a profession the last couple of decades rather than continually going back to ideas and practices that have been already shown to be counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, reminders of what we have outgrown (or are in the process of outgrowing) are healthy and useful. I believe at the same time that our progress will be faster and our professional development conversations even more exciting if we start focusing more on the good we have achieved and on the current new ideas that are moving us forward.

To take your quote from Dogme’s mission statement “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.” I would like to hear a discussion around what type of teacher education and prep it takes for teachers to be in a position to make the best of emerging conversations in the classroom so that they both facilitate and expedite learning. How do teachers remain engaged in genuine communication and yet manage to trigger “system” as opposed to just “item learning”? Do we have to fall yet again in the trap of dichotomies or is there a way to create a space for both emerging language and some pre-planning and guidance. In my grammaring TESOL virtual webinar on April 11, 2012 I tried to make the case that we can be very sensitive to students’ interests, passions, and needs and stay attuned to the energy of the class and yet, with a good awareness of the way the TL works (i.e. with a solid declarative knowledge that should be part of one’s professional preparation) we can do some engaging quite focused grammaring explorations aimed at capturing important patterns in the language that expedite one’s learning and lead to empowerment – through giving one more communicative mileage for the buck and also through making people aware of the power and consequences of one’s grammar choices.

29 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks once again, Elka, for keeping the conversation going. I have to confess, I’m not quite sure what it is we disagree on. Everything you say about staying attuned to the energy of the class while doing ‘some quite focused grammaring explorations’ is consistent with the three ‘pillars’ of dogme (as outlined in Teaching Unplugged, Delta Publishing, 2009), i.e.

dogme is about teaching that is conversation-driven
dogme is about teaching that is materials-light
dogme is about teaching that is focused on emergent language

As for ‘accentuating the positive’, my talk at the IATEFL Joint-SIG conference in Istanbul was indeed primarily about ‘focusing more on the good we have achieved and on the current new ideas that are moving us forward’, especially in the way dogme has contributed to teacher development, evidence for which I quoted profusely from the dogme discussion list and various blogs.

Perhaps the only thing we disagree on is whether or not the ‘received wisdoms’ that I enumerated are indeed representative of the current paradigm. I woud love to be perusaded that they are not, but every time I open a coursebook my heart sinks.

29 05 2012

Hi Scott,
First of all, thank you for the shout-out both at the conference plenary, and now here on your blog.
And I must thank Simon too for the other plenary shout-out at the IH Online Conference.

The Teach-Off started off as a tongue-in-cheek challenge, and through blogging and reflecting upon the lessons, and furthered by the amazing comments and debates that followed in the comment section of many of the blogposts on the Teach-Off, many discussions were sparked off about the nature of SLA, about what we should be teaching in an age where English is the lingua franca amongst non-native speakers, about how coursebook writers expect their books to be used (versus how it is really used in some contexts), about the influence of governements, and in turn, testing and examination boards, and education policy makers, on syllabus design and on language teaching methodologies, and how this matches (or rather, doesn’t match) the prevalent knowledge we have about how languages are learnt.

In the end, to me, it was less about whether we use coursebooks or not, but how to make each lesson in the classroom beneficial to the students, and how to provide the best conditions for langauge learning to take place.

And for me, Dogme forces the teacher to be ‘stripped bare’, so to speak, of any gimmicks whatsoever, and to focus on the actual language acquisition process of the learner.

This is why Dogme to me isn’t a methodology as such.
I know many who have said the same.

Dogme is an attitude towards teaching where the learners are put in the forefront, and the teacher tries to implement whatever methods (whether it be TBL or drilling or some Total Physical Response) or techniques or even, dare I say, materials, to suit the learners’ needs, wants and interests.

Dogme is NOT about displaying the methods (whether it be TBL, drilling, or TPR), or showing off the impressive range of teaching techniques, or using the materials as a crutch.

It is about using teaching methods, techniques and materials only when they are appropriate to the students.

This could be why it is always hard to video a Dogme class…
I don’t think it would make very interesting viewing…because nothing is on display in a Dogme class.
What is important is the language acquisition process happening within the students (when they are doing the tasks, or drilling, or some TPR).
And it is amazing when, as a teacher, I am able to focus on this process, and not on the display of my techniques as a teacher.

Thanks once again, Scott. Really appreciate it.


31 05 2012

Yes, it’s an attitude! Having recently finished reading (and learned a lot from) “The Courage to Teach” by Parker J. Palmer, I’m referring to it a lot online these days and about to do so again, because I think it’s relevant:

“Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods. … Like teaching itself, creating educational community can never be reduced to technique. It emerges from a principle that can express itself in endless varieties, depending on the identity and integrity of the teacher.”

The principles that support an “unplugged” attitude appeal deeply to MY identity and I believe this is helping me to teach with integrity. As Palmer notes, this doesn’t invalidate the integrity of others who take different approaches in order to be true to their own talents and skills.

29 05 2012
Elka Todeva


I believe Kathy’s earlier posting can be one good lead to a fruitful discussion that is more forward than backward looking and focusing predominantly on reductionist ways of teaching language and theorizing about language development. Kathy wrote “Dogme invited me to view materials, etc. more as scaffolding … something that can fall away as my *skills* strengthen. It encourages me to continually ask myself why I’m making the decisions I do”. What do these “skills” (new type of awareness) look like; what do they involve? What are some of the things that help them evolve? What other important more recent developments in our thinking about language pedagogy are shaping our decision making? How do they complement or challenge what Dogme stands for?

31 05 2012

Elka, thanks for the questions to consider! One “skill”, as I noted in my comment to Nick, is noticing. I’ve been interested in mindfulness practice for about 10 years and at its core is the same kind of noticing. It’s simple, but not easy because we adults have decades of practice at “not noticing” (getting caught up in internal ideas, missing what’s happening now, filling in the blanks with more ideas … repeat!) Teachers could benefit from explicit training in how to develop such self-awareness and how to help their students develop it. In Ellen J. Langer’s book, The Power of Mindful Learning”, she proposes that even textbooks can be written in a mindful way (a way that acknowledges varying conditions and helps learners stay open to using the knowledge offered flexibly and creatively).

30 05 2012

Hi Scott,

I have been curious about Dogme since I heard you mention it last summer in NYC. I have always felt a need to adapt any of the materials I’ve had to use in class and make them relevant to the students’ lives. I’ve always wanted to find ways to work with topics that the students have come up with or are intellectually/emotionally invested on. I cringe at the gap-fill activities and lesson plans using materials that I do not find interesting yet ‘have to’ use in order to meet a learning objective. I like to think that the reason why I love teaching languages is because I love creating and learning about myself, others, and the world through our shared thoughts. Well, Dogme sounds appealing to me because even if I haven’t experienced it, it seems to allow more room for creativity and reflection.

Now, in a Dogme-infused teaching philosophy, how does one approach curriculum development? I am currently teaching EAP, 4 hrs every day (5 days a week) to the same group of students. It sounds crazy to think of abandoning the textbooks or not having a well-designed curriculum before the term begins. How do I make sure I will work towards the larger program goals? Am I completely misunderstanding Dogme here?


30 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Hi, Laura, and welcome to the ‘long conversation’ (more of which you will find on they dogme discussion list), and a distillation of which is available in Luke Meddings and my book Teaching Unplugged (Delta Publishing, 2009 — available in the US through Cengage).

No one is suggesting you should abandon coursebooks altogether, especially in a high-stakes situation like teaching EAP as preparation for academic study. Nevertheless, where there are ways and means of negotiating at least some of the structure and content of the course with the learners, in response to their perceived and evolving needs (and whether it or not you call this ‘dogme’ is totally irrelevant) you will probably be making the course more relevent to them and more pleasurable for yourself. For an interesting — and much more ‘dogmetic’ — approach to EAP, use the search program in the dogme list and look for references to the Talkbase project that was run with EAP students in Thailand in the 1980’s by David Hall and his colleagues. To give you a flavor:

“No detailed timetable or content is specified. Only a general syllabus outline is given, based on a repeated pattern of Plan, Do, Report Back, Evaluate, and Plan Again. Students carry out a major piece of independent work during the course, using all the resources of the immeidate environment including teachers and other students” [“All the resources of the immediate environment” – see Dogme’s first law]. “Work proceeds through a series of report-back sessions in various modes – poster sessions, presentations, individual consultations, interveiws, and
so on.”

(from his chapter in Hall and Hewings (eds) Innovation in ELT, Routledge 2001).

30 05 2012

I’m kind of wary of getting sucked into going over the same old ground in many ways, especially as I am of course guilty both of being a coursebook writer and also of having a blog which has – allegedly – generated extra hits by daring to diss Dogme (www.hughdellar.wordpress.com, in case you were wondering :-)) but are you really making the following claims, Scott?

(1) Dogme has generated ‘heat’. Therefore, this is proof of Dogme’s ‘subversive’ nature.
(2) Dogme is good for you because it doesn’t lead directly to death.

As you know, I share your interest in many areas, but I do also feel that actually maybe the real reason Dogme continues to generate heat is simply because it doesn’t mean anything more than whatever folk want it to. Much as Dogme 95, the Danish film movement, has been reduced to film makers simply self-certifying online if they believe they meet the criteria, so Dogme in ELT has simply become an opt-in cool kids club if you feel you’re vaguely unhappy with a coursebook or like doing lessons using your own materials or do loads of talking and some reformulation or have read a bit of Bakhtin and Vygotsky and think they’re the be-all and end-all etc.

In the end, it persists because – rather than in spite of the fact that – it LACKS any coherent approach to classroom practice. It’s simply a series of negatives thus allowing space for people to add whatever positives they see fit to add.

I’m not denying the fact that lots of interesting ideas have come out of it or that it has provoked considerable debate, but I also think it’s not hard to start listing the harm it has done to the profession: the materials / coursebooks illiteracy it helps feed; the influx of authentic materials simply on the grounds that hey are ‘student generated’, the over-reliance on the TBL agenda, etc. I’ve ranted long and hard about all of this already on my blog, so no point going over it again here.

One thing I am reminded of, though, from reading the quotes and comments above is that old misattributed GK Chesterton quote about the problem when people stop believing in God is not that they don’t believe in anything , but they believe any old nonsense , however ridiculous. For God, substitute coursebooks! Now, I’m all for a bit of rebellion a la punk rock, but to me, it has all become all a bit hippyish in its anti-society and ‘industry’ posturing – ie big bad publishers selling evil coursebooks. It’s all a bit ‘Good Life’,- reject the supermarkets’ bland mass produced food (coursebooks) and grow your own ( in Surbiton), which is fine . . . but one carrot does not an allotment make.

30 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Hugh. Nice to have you ‘over here’ in my blog, where I feel more immured againt your ‘ranting’ (your word for it 😉 )

A couple of things (well, three actually):

1. Yes, dogme started with a list of negatives, but Teaching Unplugged is based on three affirmative claims (see earlier response to Elka). You may not go along with the claims, but at least they’re not negative, and not, necessarily, anti-coursebook.

2. It’s not coursebooks – or the big business that produces and promotes them – that is the core problem (although it IS a problem for many of those who subscribe to the dogme p.o.v.) – it is the view of learning and of language that these coursebooks instantiate. I’ve written so much about that, that there’s no point in banging on about it again here. Check out any of the blog posts that link to ‘coursebooks’ in the word-cloud, above right. ‘Grammar syllabus’ might be a useful starter.

3. It’s easy, but cheap, to characterise a dissenting point of view as ‘posturing’. Twelve years of online discussion constituting several million words of text, a book, a pride of blogs, several derived MAs, scores of ‘experimental practice’ lessons, even some referencing in academic journals – that’s a lot of mileage from a ‘posture’. Ok, so ‘creationists’ and ‘global warming deniers’ have generated more, but, at the very least, you have to persuade me that your own stance is not also posturing. A handful of blog rants does not a coherent argument make. 😉


30 05 2012

Ha ha. Touche sir.
I still stand by my basic feeling about teaching Unplugged, which is that it is essentially Frederike Klippel’s KEEP TALKING with added Che Guevara T-shirt and reformulation optional. “-) In the end, it’s a bunch of activities designed to keep students talking, and as such feeds into the frenzy and hunger for recipes and ‘things I can do on Monday morning’ that still blights British ELT. The unitntentional irony here is that whilst many Dogme teachers may rely on less material, in many ways photocopied cut-ups and the like (and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re dying, if they actually are!) have merely been replaced by ‘activities’ or ‘tasks’. It’s the same drug.

If all this does help some teachers to then listen to their students and help them try to say what they wanted to say in better English that’s fine and is a good thing. It doesn’t seem to have much to say about HOW to do that: should be it be on the spot correction? or implicit correction through oral reformulation? Or errors on the board which the group corrects? or rephrased sentences on the board? With gaps or not? if so, which gaps? Or does it not matter? Again, I’ve always found the lack of specifics a bit irksome.

What bugs me most though is the claim that by teachers bringing these kinds of activities into class, the class then somehow becomes DRIVEN by conversation. Isn’t it simply that some talking then happens? I’ve written at greater length about what I see as the myth of ‘conversation-driven’ teaching over here – http://hughdellar.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/dissing-dogme-part-five-conversation-driven-or-teacher-driven/ – so won’t repeat myself on that.

I personally think being able to focus on emergent language is a good thing – and obviously does do certain things like screw the grammar syllabus becuase if you’re talking to elementary students and they try to say something they don’t yet have the grammar for, you obviously then just give them that sentence and they learn it as a chunk. As someone steeped in the lexical approach, I’d be mad not to do this or recognise this as valid. Another beef I have with Dogme, though, is the elevation of this above all else. It’s just plain wrong to believe that students can’t / don’t learn language in all manner of other ways, whether that be through rote-learning, translation, vocab exercises in coursebooks, etc. I believe it’s much more down to what teachers DO when they tackle new language than it is to do with whether that language may happen to be seen as ’emergent’ at a particular moment.

To close, perhaps POSTURE was the wrong word and does you all a disservice, but as I said in my final post on the matter elsewhere, why is is that the smart, young, motivated teachers who use Dogme as part of their calling card still cling to the badge? There’s a kind of collective madness inherent in jumping to the defence of a tag or a label that’s out of your control and that others will take to mean whatever they want it to mean. The need to wear team colours and badges seems weird to me, especially among a bunch who like to see themselves as outsiders. It’s that clique-like insiders element to things that I now many many folk out there find tiresome.

Though of course I’m sure those on the inside are sick of being told how tiresome their click is as well, of course. 🙂

If one believes that classrooms would be better off if we all stopped using any published materials and all just had loads of conversations and then reformulated, why not just pitch those ideas as exactly that? If you’re interested in critiquing published materials whilst using them, then great: write a paper or conference talk or a blog post about that: recognise these ideas were around before Dogme and have a life outside of their appropriation.

30 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

PS. “I’ve always found the lack of specifics a bit irksome”.

Send me a postal address and I will rush you a job lot of ‘Teaching Unplugged’.

30 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

“If one believes that classrooms would be better off if we all stopped using any published materials and all just had loads of conversations and then reformulated, why not just pitch those ideas as exactly that?”

I did, and still do, Hugh. See, for example, these articles, written well in advance of the Dogma for ELT (2000) one: Paying lip-service to ELT (1996); Reformulation and reconstruction (1998), Grammar, power and bottled water (1998) – and those are only the ones I have links to.

The original dogme article was not attempting to propose anything new, by way of a methodology, but was simply a cry of frustration at having seen so many potentially good lessons strangled at birth by a plethora of materials. As such, it was consistent with what I had been writing, and speaking about, previously. The (currently in vogue) Dogme 1995 film movement provided a useful analogy. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the term ‘dogme’ pursues me over hill and down dale. But the basic frustration – at seeing the founding principles of CLT traduced by the likes of Headway – has never left me.

30 05 2012

Well, I’ll spare everyone by leaving it here Scott, but if all you wanted to do was vent spleen at Headway, why the hell didn’t you just say so! We’d never have got into this mess in the first place then.

I hear you loud and clear on the damage done the behemoth that headway became and agree that it essentially sold out whatever CLT had initially promised and simply reduced it to a few basic activity types like pair work and so on. I’ve spent my whole career as a writer trying to work out other ways of doing things, as I’m sure you know. Maybe this is why the anti-coursebook rhetoric that emanates from some corners of the Dogme diaspora annoys so much! I’m astounded to see things coming out with the big publishers now that STILL basically regurgitate the Headway syllabus as if there have never been any other ways of putting coursebooks together. I guess that my conclusion was simply that coursebooks can – and should – be better and different, rather than abandoned altogether: coursebooks as agents of change.

I enjoyed the Frankenstein analogy, but if memory serves, that tale didn’t end prettily for either creator or monster! 🙂

30 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Hugh. I’m sure there is more that unites than divides us. Your critique of Dogme has been useful, and it’s always good to be challenged. That, after all, is what dogme does, and what you – in your own way – have done to the cookie-cutter coursebook mentality.

31 05 2012

To my mind, the single greatest contribution that “Teaching Unplugged” has made to my teaching has been its reassurance that I don’t have to DO so much in class for learning to occur. So much of the stress I used to experience was due to trying to DO my job. I would prepare things so that I could cover all the things I needed to cover to be a “good” teacher, all the while creating passive students. When talking with other teachers at my school, I now tell them to trust the class situation more.

Basically, by BEING in the classroom 100%, rather than PREPARING the class 100%, I have better been able to assist the students in THEIR process of doing. I now see my job in class more in terms of the role I play, and therefore my preparation is more about expanding my own linguistic awareness and finding a number of versatile activities to highlight and practice language that comes up. My “class mind” is more focused on keeping the dialog going and interacting with my students people first, and language learners (by choice) second.

“Teaching Unplugged” isn’t only about the change in mindset. It also give enough techniques that I feel comfortable “going out on a limb”, which was not the case before I read it. It was easy to say that a teacher shouldn’t do too much class, but I really needed to have confidence that I’ll be able to act effectively when the time comes. Trust in class comes from being comfortable with uncertainty, and that’s hard to do without some guidance. Thank you for giving me that.

— From a teacher slowly in training.

31 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

“Teaching Unplugged” isn’t only about the change in mindset. It also give enough techniques that I feel comfortable “going out on a limb”, which was not the case before I read it.

Thanks for that endorsement. A common criticism of ‘dogme/teaching unplugged’ is that there is no practical guidance by which its lofty (?) principles can be realised. In fact, there are hundreds of descriptions of dogme-type lessons on the discussion list, as well as in the individual blogs of dogme aficionados. Not to mention, of course, that Teaching Unplugged (the book) is 75% classroom applications.

Of course none of this ‘thick description’ will satisfy sceptics who are looking for a method. But, because it does not conform to a narrowly prescribed set of procedures, pegged to specifically tailored materials, dogme is not a method.

31 05 2012

Dogme isn’t a method – it’s a means of liberating the teacher from being an intermediary between the coursebook and the student. Why teachers want to be the “tour guide” through the pages of a coursebook, defeats me. But I guess that’s what some people want…..

2 06 2012

‘Tour guide’. Very apt and I’m gonna use it!

31 05 2012

Realistically, though, skeptics aren’t necessarily looking to be satisfied, are they? Still, you always seem gracious in taking the criticism in good faith.

For me, the “proof” of the validity of Dogme comes from my own experiences with it. My classes “breathe” more than they used to. I am more comfortable responding to my students because I’m not looking at the clock anymore worrying about whether or not I’ll check all the boxes on my checklist. I am more aware of my students’ abilities, needs and interests because I’m now listening more deeply. And I am able to do that because I have tools at my disposal to help them refine their language as needs be. I’m no longer afraid of tangents, because even tangents utilize high-frequency language that can function as a text for language learning. And my students remember so much more between lessons than they did when I was working to the course-book. And they enjoy themselves more for the fact that I’m relaxed and attentive.

I guess what I mean to say is that if your aim with “Teaching Unplugged” was to empower teachers and learners, I can attest to your success. The evidence is only ever going to be anecdotal because in is impossible to quantify “empowerment”, and so it’s going to be difficult finding a study empirical enough to silence skeptical critics. Particularly, no offense intended, if they are generating hits on their blogs through their criticism. On the other hand, it may well be that Dogme, like other phenomena generated through internet interactions rather than academia or the industry, will continue to become more sophisticated through the “long conversation”. Perhaps there will be a day when a sufficiently empirical study demonstrates the validity of some claims enough to render criticisms moot. Who knows?


31 05 2012

Empowerment of both learner and teacher, yes. Relaxed and attentive, yes again (for everyone in the room)! And by attention, I don’t just mean alertness. Teaching Unplugged refers to “noticing”. Teacher and learners strengthen their curiosity about the language that’s happening while it’s happening (explicitly develop metacognition skills). They also notice their actual context (as opposed to a display context) and the affordances it offers, which may not be apparent to a less attentive eye. Affordances may include (in my opinion) a textbook, but it’s approached as a tool to aid a process that’s already happening. My adults students are busy people who dont have much money for books or much time to study in the formal sense of the word. They come to class believing that learning equals having a teacher present information to them and that the necessary information is stored neatly in textbooks. If they do exercises and the teacher checks them, learning is occurring. maybe so, but it’s not the only (or even the best) option. I want to make myself redundant. I want them to recognize “language samples” while waiting for the bus, while arguing with the store clerk, while sitting in a cafe. I want them to consider signs on the wall, receipts, and brochures as texts worthy of study. I want them to see their classmates, the guy at the gas station and others as potential teachers. I want them to announce “English hour” at home and insist that family members who speak English help them practice regularly. If they do deci de to spend hard-earned money on a textbook or a paid class, I want them to ask themselves “Does this get me something I cant get elsewhere? Do I know how to get what I need from it?”

Nick, do you have a blog I can follow? Let me know! Thanks, Kathy

1 06 2012
Scott Thornbury

Yes, I agree totally, Kathy – the classroom should be a launch-pad for self-directed learning, and a stimulus for using the multiple affordances available outside the classroom. For this reason, the way that affordances are provided, used, and developed in the classroom ‘ecology’ should perhaps reflect the way they could be used and developed outside the classroom. It follows, therefore, that a reliance on the coursebook IN the classroom does not really equip learners for self-directed learning OUTSIDE the classroom, since nothing in the outside world really reflects the way that language is packaged, rationed and sanitised in the coursebook. The learners would be better off surfing the net, or simply talking to each other – of course, always with the teacher as guide, resource and ‘animateur’.

31 05 2012

Hello Scott, i would really like to read the book “Teaching unplugged”, I’ll try to find a copy , because i do fully agree with its philosophy, though I do have some reservations. The worst thing that a coursebook can do is to make up a wall between the teacher and her students. Everybody is looking at exercise 5 page 20 but their eyes never meet. Both the teacher and the student can just hide behind the book pretending they are teaching or learning something when is fact their mind is far away. When I find myself in such a situation I just feel awkward, out of place and wish I wasn’t there. I feel guilty because they are not learning but from outside I am doing my job according to the school requirements. The best, most satisfying lessons (exciting for me (selfish!) in the first place) are those when the situation gets out of control from the book because “something” finally break through the wall with a spontaneous desire to share a thought with the others in the room. And this just inspires the whole group and you are listening to them and they are listening to you and there is no opposition between the teacher and the student. This stage can be called “the art of teaching”, because any theoretical base would fail to describe why it is beneficial to the student and how the teacher can achieve it. Yet this free, live, spontaneous speech is the highest point in language development which allows the speaker instantly map the “thought” (communicative intention, or affective incentive) against the linguistic means of expressing it. (I borrowed this insight from Vygotsky). In a natural conversation these intentions overlap very quickly in all possible directions according to the flow of associations in the speaker’s mind. But what is it, that something that triggers this “ballistic” response?

Sometimes it can be the coursebook. There are good books, bad ones and even horrible ones. But in any case as long as it is not domineering the class but on the contrary helps to trigger communication, when it helps to achieve it, why not use it? As one of my teacher trainers used to preach, a coursebook is just a pretext, an excuse to start communication, it’s like walking up to somebody and asking , what’s the time? or saying “it’s a nice day today” in order to begin a chat. My strongest belief about the value of a coursebook is that you can have a lesson with a good book without a teacher, you are autonomous and independent of the teacher, it is like do-it-yourself instructions. Sometimes a lesson with a teacher is just a luxury you can’t afford. Moreover, a good book may serve as a bomb shelter from bad teaching (for example, wrong language).

And I do use lots of role-plays, because the masque (Lozanov’s term) encourages lots of creativity and serves as a means to build up confidence. Would that be against the principles of Dogme?
Thank you!

1 06 2012
Scott Thornbury

“…a coursebook is just a pretext, an excuse to start communication…”

True, Svetlana, and some very good conversations have been started using coursebook content and coursebook tasks, without a doubt. I guess one of the messages of dogme is that the coursebook need not be the only stimulus for conversation (whoever says it was?!, I can hear Hugh bellow!) and – perhaps more importantly – that the motivation to speak shouldn’t necessarily be to produce the ‘structure of the day’, which is often the pretext for coursebook tasks – still.

31 05 2012

Autonomy! I agree (see comment to Nick above).

“Everybody is looking at exercise 5 page 20 but their eyes never meet.” Yes! And a wall between each other too. I mean, there are exercises that say “talk to your partner about your answers” or “in small groups, share your opinion about these questions”. Learners see it as another exercise. They talk briefly and then sit silently to show they’re ready to proceed to exercise D.

Svetlana, do you blog? let me know! Kathy

31 05 2012
Michael Ward @michael_mward

I hesitate to raise my head above the parapet but thought a little foray into the Dogme discussion might be worthwhile. Really just a few thoughts and questions….. The discussion above is very interesting but I do wonder whether there is a danger of becoming detached from the day to day reality of most schools and teachers. I do not have the statistics but am confident in saying that the overwhelming majority of teachers are TEFL-i (at least this hopefully!) rather than TEFL-Q. Is it possible that teaching Dogme style (I avoid ‘method’ although I note there are people who believe it is) is something that develops as teachers gain experience and find their own path, and even perhaps take a DELTA type qualification? In that sense, is it really anything that different or could this type of lesson not start from a piece of material, dare I say it, in a coursebook?

Do teacher training courses, such as CELTA, prepare teachers to go into a school where they are told ‘ go forth and Dogme’? I think not. The majority of teachers who are TEFL-i are looking for a degree of structure and support. Would it be fair to ask teachers to teach in a way they had not been trained to do? I think the result would be (and I’ve observed already to be) is inefficient teaching, with a lack of focus on student outcomes.

And what of DELTA? How would a Dogme lesson be received by a DELTA assessor? What would the lesson plan look like? So, there is a question as to whether our teacher training (and QA such as the BC and ISI) is in step with Dogme. Which side might blink first? We have ISI coming ……..

One other comment: we have just had a closed group leave after a two week stay. There biggest complaint was about materials (well, perhaps after ‘food’) – the absence of a coursebook and having ‘too many sheets’ i.e. photocopies. Many students we deal with still value a coursebook above all other materials. Are we to enllighten them? Perhaps we are, but that can be a challenge with rolling intake and students coming for on average between 3 or 4 weeks.

Tomorrow I will have to reply to an email from a company planning to send some students to the UK soon. They would like to know what they are going to study. Shall I say ‘Let’s see what happens’ – Don’t think I’m brave enough and my line manager might shoot me!!

1 06 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Michael – your questions and concerns are certainly valid, and it’s wise to address them before throwing open the doors to dogme! Let’s just summarise them:

1. Can newly trained teachers teach effectively and confidently using a dogme approach?
2. How do you deal with learners’ expectations re the coursebook?
3. Can you teach an examined lesson Dogme-style?
4. Do accreditation bodies ‘recognise’ Dogme?

They have in fact been addressed by a number of people who contribute to the dogme discussion list or who manage their own dogme-oriented blogs, many of whom work in institutions similar to yours, by the sound of it.

Rather than attempt to answer these questions myself, can I refer you to the following sources?

For Q1 – see Dale Coulter’s blog, especially this post: http://languagemoments.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/5-reasons-why-newly-qualified-teachers-can-do-a-dogme-lesson-and-5-reasons-why-they-should/

For Q2: There are a number of schools round the world who are experimenting with coursebook-free courses. See for example Adam Beale’s experiment http://fiveagainstone.wordpress.com/project-unplugged/ or, in a business context, anything by Candy van Olst: http://ydnacblog.wordpress.com/

For Q3, go to the Dogme discussion list and search for DELTA – there are quite a few descriptions of examined lessons buried in there.

For Q4: I know that ‘school inspections’ have been mentioned along the way, but I can’t remember where – anyone?

1 06 2012

“For Q4: I know that ‘school inspections’ have been mentioned along the way, but I can’t remember where – anyone?”

This presentation by Anthony Gaughan and Izzy Orde at IATEFL 2010 gives a general sense of how Teacher Training Unplugged can work, and assessment (inspections) are mentioned:



2 06 2012

Scott – thanks for your readable books and articles. I recently did DOGME for my DELTA experimental and found it very useful. But i need to work on the kind of emergent language for the focus of the lesson.

I used a tin of icy-talcum powder as ‘realia’ -the temps are creeping at close to 40 now! I wanted the students to talk about their experiences i using different powder after they had seen and felt the one I brought in. Then, they worked on preparing for a role play to a friend describing the powder and asking them to buy one.

I think the most difficult for me was monitoring the emerging language and then deciding what to work on.

This got me thinking about a discussion i had with a DTEFLA collegue many years ago “Do more with less”

2 06 2012

Hi Scott
I was observed last week and decided to use the activity from Teaching Unplugged where you ask: How do you relax? The level was elementary with a rather large gap in ability and skills in the class. I’ve used it before and it worked a treat. Something for everyone there. Observer said she enjoyed it. Most of all, the students enjoyed it. In fact, one of the best times I’ve had for a while despite missing out a couple of words when boarding learner language/my own (that seems to be a reoccurring hazard of working on emerging language in my experience – keeping up with the pace). Just thought I’d share that with you. Teaching Unplugged works!
AKA sx200i

27 06 2012
Abdessamad Elyounoussi

I think the Dogme takes some of its relevance from the fact that it rebels against the traditional, institutional framework, otherwise known as The School. The School is just an institution like any other institution, always thirsty for conformity from teachers, and to conform simply means Not To Make Mistakes, and Not Making Mistakes stiffles creativity. Even the status of being a teacher is dogmatic to some extent because it plays down the very fact that the teaching skill itself is developmental. Welcome to the Mistake Land!

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