It’s ten years now, since Scott Thornbury wrote his brilliant, funny, and provocative ‘Dogma’ piece in IATEFL Issues, as it then was. And it WAS a brilliant piece, only one page long, capturing a little slice of the zeitgeist and encapsulating, at the same time, an issue about a depressing over-reliance on materials and grammar teaching.
I have it here in front of me. In case you haven’t actually read it, Scott describes how the Dogme film makers in Scandinavia have signed a ‘vow of chastity’ in which they eschew the use of special effects, lighting, music – indeed anything which constitutes the ‘artifice’ (= technologically-mediated pretence) of filmaking. Everything has to take place in natural light, in natural time. Along the way they (the filmmakers) also take time off to rail against genre films – westerns, thrillers etc.
Who then, Scott asks, will join me and sign a similar Vow of ‘EFL chastity’?
Lots of people as it turned out.
But not me. Count me out. Not my style at all! And here in my own little short blog post is why not.
First, be careful who you choose to use for your analogies! The Scandivanian filmmakers kept their vows for, oh, well about two or three films. And then they suddenly realised (duh) that music, lighting, tricksy editing, precisely all the artifice of film-making REALLY WORKS. Think of the immaculate and moving scene in one of my most favourite recent films (El Secreto de sus ojos) where the train pulls out of the station leaving the heartbroken woman behind on the platform; it is tear-jerking and genuinely artistic and relies on different cameras, re-takes, lighting, music, editing and re-editing. What about the amazing single-tracking shot in Atonement where all the artifice of film-making (and an incredible score) makes the scenes at Dunkirk beach totally and horrifyingly compelling. I could on forever, but this is just to say that for every Avatar (which turns even me a bit Dogme) there is a Death In Venice, City of God or Slumdog Millionaire!
(And don’t start me on the apparent restrictive malignity of genres – follow that route and out goes the sonnet…see my earlier post)
One of Scott’s claims in his article is that ‘learning takes place in the here-and-now’. And the thing is that I am not sure this is true. Learning takes place in a learner’s brain and there is no guarantee that this happens ‘here and now’, and that it happens because of and during dialogic interaction. Not all students’ brains process what they are doing in the same way. Some of them take time to process things, and that time might be then, not now! Dialogue – and the relentless pressure on students to speak RIGHT NOW when the teacher asks them to (a basic pillar of communicative methodology) – disadvantages some students enormously, it seems to me, and he idea that all learning comes through interaction just doesn’t stack up in my mind. Some of us are thinkers, some of us are doers, in other words. Most of us, of course, are a bit of each. But (and this is my point) for every student whose language emerges through relevant and meaningful dialogue there is at least one other who benefits from an internal struggle when lectured to or when reading prescribed texts.
To suggest that unplugged teaching is necessarily superior in some way is to claim a direct understanding of (and route into) all students’ brains – and none of us have that. Let’s go further; of course I get a lot of my knowledge and understanding through conversation and contact with others in true dogme style. My life and my learning would be barren without it. But I also get a lot of my knowledge from reading books, listening to things, watching movies, going to lectures, finding things on the internet, playing with apps and artifice-driven software and doing it all on my own! The dialogue (probably not a very elevated one I will admit) is with myself and happens in my own brain!
It is of course easy to make fun of coursebooks and ‘grammar mcnuggets’ (another of Scott’s fantastic and thought-provoking analogies), but I think it is also possible to view them in a more benign light. Something like this: if we believe in equal opportunity then we might argue (the emphasis there is on might!!) that offering pre-digested grammar actually meets that claim far better than a methodology which advantages the more extrovert, communicative and emotionally intelligent of our students. With grammar mcnuggets everyone at least has equal access. Can we be sure that that this is the case in some more student-driven pedagogy? Which students in a group are we talking about, by the way? In a class of 60? Hmm.
So I’m not going to throw away my coursebooks or my technology. I am not going to throw away the artifice of teaching. Not unless I am a lot more confident of my own wisdom than, in fact, I am.
So what do I believe in? I believe in the richness of techniques, approaches, materials and artefacts available to the modern teacher. I believe that an over-reliance on any of these to the exclusion of others is unattractive and unlikely to be in the best interests of all. I believe that everything – in a classroom – has to be grounded in the expertise of a teacher being able to find the best way of doing things for the benefit of (and with the help and guidance of) the greatest number of students. And often that may be unplugged, but there is no guarantee (or moral reason) why it should be. And sometimes that might be coursebook-mediated but there is no guarantee (or moral reason) why it should be.
In his article Scott writes “The point is to restore teaching to its pre-method “state of grace” – where all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest and most prototypical of situations”
He has got to be kidding!
But then, of course, he was!
Joanne, you say, “We do use textbooks, but we dogme them to death sometimes.” That line really struck a chord with me, and I think that hits on the crucial point that for many teachers the important question is not whether or not to use textbooks, but HOW to use them. For me textbooks are wonderful things if they provide useful language, ideas, stories, topics etc to work with, without dictating exactly what the teacher and students will do during the lesson, and in what order. There are many books out there that do that very well. For example, with my first-year medical students I use a video-based textbook on “Natural Remedies” by a mainstream publisher. It gets them thinking about a range of relevant topics, and is a catalyst for no end of debates, presentations, compositions, etc. That’s very, very different from a grammar-based coursebook that dictates what students are to say, when they are to say it, and how they are to say it. That, unfortunately, is what most of the bestselling textbooks out there seem to do, and is why I generally avoid them.
Thank you James for making clear a point that I, personally have been making for years. It’s not what you’ve got that is crucial, it’s how you use them.
But I’m a little taken aback by the concept (not yours) of ‘dogme-ing’ a book to death. What on earth does that mean? Why is that so special? (By the way, as I said above, I really like the kind of lesson Joanne. describes above) Trainers have ALWAYS talked about the best way to use coursebook, treating them as artefacts, finding ways of helping students to engage with them in a myriad of ways. That’s not ‘dogme-ing’ a coursebook. It’s just USING a coursebook. Nothing to do with Dogme at all!!! If you go back years and years and look at the literature you will find all the methodology writers I admire talking about how to use materials in a creative and adaptive way, just like that.
One other claim has to be moderated. YES, many coursebooks (most coursebooks) are grammatically organised. But look at them. Look beyond that. I mean just LOOK at the best ones. They have so much more to offer. Many of them DO offer decent writing, funs speaking activities, interesting texts, and a whole wealth of artefactal material which teachers and stduents can exploit in whatever way they want. If tyou want to call any such exploitation ‘dogmeing’ then everything is dogmeing, and that makes the term fairly meaningless, I think!!
Sorry, I’ve gone on a bit, and am answering more than just your comments. The fact is that books like you “natural remedies” are extremely useful, and teachers like you will exploit them in a variety of different ways. Yet Dogme and the whole ‘unplugged’ discussion is all about ‘materials light’ – the fewer materials the better. I have real problems with that and wonder how lite ‘natural remedies’ is!!
When I learnt to walk my mother held my hands, this was not authentic walking, it was practice. After that I slowly, occasionally with help from other people, began to walk on my own. But at first I needed that practice.
Sometimes, often, learners need help from whichever resources and activities, in order to help them understand, then practice, and finally to become independent and produce the authentic, emergent language that most satisfies us and them and is a sign of them having learnt.
Sometimes those initial activities or resources may seem somewhat artificial or contrived. So be it. Doesn’t bother me when my hardest to reach learner walks out of the class spontaneously announcing “Education is better here than in my country,” after thirty minutes practising the comparative.
“First you imitate, then you innovate.” – Miles Davis
thanks for those metaphors (especially the difference between practice and improvisation).
They are not necessarily comfortable with a view of pure emergence, I think.
Oh, and by the way, there is a huge value in controlled music (an orchestra playing written down music) just as there is in wild folk and jazz improvisation.
I have had to spend years trying to get even slightly good at viola playing. This has involved hours and hours of me-constructed knowledge, and some hours of co-constructed (but VERY materials-heavy) orchestral playing.
Learning an instrument is not quite like learning a language, but it is a little bit like learning a language. And solo practice, an engagement with the text, ON YOUR OWN, is the basic key to becoming any good.
I think that has something to say about this discussion.
I’ve read about half of the comments made so far and have noticed that little has been said about the way culture seems to affect the degree to which coursebooks facilitate learning.
I will begin with the assumption that most kids in Scandinavia and Germany use coursebooks in school. I KNOW that Spanish students do.
Why is it then that so many Scandinavian and German students leave school with a reasonable (and I said, reasonable) level of English whereas so few Spaniards do? The only Spaniard with a reasonable level of English that you are likely to meet is one whose family had the money to send them (often over and over and over again) on spells in English speaking countries. On the other hand, Scandinavians and Germans are able to achieve similar levels of competence without having gone through repeated bouts of immersion.
For those of us who live in the south of Europe, this is THE issue. Why, when all students are exposed to the same grammar-based coursebooks, is there an inverse relationship between the quality of language learning and proximity to the Mediterranean?
I too teach in Spain, and taught for years in Italy. IMO the south European status quo exists because:
a) the state-school teachers are often neither competent nor confident in English themselves, so
b) they like grammar because it’s easy to teach, so
c) students come to believe that language equals grammar, so
d) you know the rest.
PS Having spent years doing summer school work in the UK, I’m convinced that is often a waste of (lots of) money too.
A good friend of mine sent me the link to this debate today, and I’ve read all the posts more or less efficiently. It seems strange that a 10 year-old article should still be the starting point of a loooong debate. A bit like asking if we think TV will catch on. Even Scott himself has passed on the Dogme baton, as far as the yahoogroup is concerned (and the yahoogroup is really the pulsating heart of Dogme).
As I think Karenne points out, and Luke develops, dogme has moved on since that article in 2000. It is an organic concept at the best of times, emerging from the ongoing debate on the yahoo list, and doesn’t bear THAT much resemblance to the original ‘down with coursebooks’ thing. Obviously, again as Karenne has said, it still refers to materials-light, conversation driven etc teaching, but it isn’t a fixed text, it’s a group of people negotiating what they think works. In certain contexts and situations. Wouldn’t it make more sense to debate dogme as it is now? A sort of blend of grassroots dogme and dogme 2.0, entirely context dependent as most approaches/methodologies should be.
On the coursebook subject, I’m a dogmeist – it works for me, particularly with ‘difficult teens’ – and I’ve been part of dogme for 9 of the 10 years…. and I’m also a materials and coursebook writer. It’s what pays the mortgage (according to the tax office, I’m an artisan or craftsperson, somewhat more pleasant than an arms dealer). I use some of the things I’ve learned in dogme classes in my books. The way teens tick, avoiding things they really don’t want to talk about, trying to make the syllabus (imposed by The Authorities) accessible and of some interest and relevance, amongst other things. Providing relevant support for writing and speaking etc etc etc I’ve also ‘been allowed’ to give dogme tips in teachers books.
In any case, as a dogmeist, my whinge isn’t with books (well, perhaps some), it’s with how they’re used. Open your books at page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4’…… The belief that students aren’t at the level of the book etc etc. So many teachers teach like this.
I reckon teachers have the moral obligation to know their materials inside out and be willing to use them to suit their students, not vice versa. As a coursebook writer, I’d rather the students enjoyed my books while learning, rather than ploughed through every exercise and got bored with the same ol’ book everyday. If they just ‘do the book’, how wide, how ‘complete’ is the teacher’s role? Where teachers argue that there isn’t time to do stuff that isn’t in the book, well, make the books shorter 😉
A coursebook should be an efficient, inspiring launchpad preferably with blank spaces in the workbook for students to write what they want and bits in the teachers book on learner-centred teaching, student-made materials etc etc. A teacher should be in charge of making the launchpad work. Providing the personalised colour scheme.
Books or no books, grammar syllabus or no grammar syllabus? Depends on your context, but how many of you have had a negative learning experience in an L2 exclusively because of the BOOK? Surely it’s more often the teacher or an inappropriate methodology? Ineffective ‘establishment’ teacher training is far more dangerous than a book (see Glennie’s query about Spain versus the Scandinavian countries…)
I’ve wandered from the point, sorry, but the debate has caused a lot of ticking in my brain, particularly regarding the relevance ‘ten years on’.
I meant to write “a bit like asking if we think digital TV will catch on”… oops.
thanks for joining in and making my points for me, I think.
I hope writing books is not ONLY for paying the mortgage. I hope there’s passion and commitment there too!
But the fact is that you DO like all the Dogme stuff (so do I) but you see a role for books too. Yes, Scott may have passed on the baton (sort of) but as Karenne points out Dogme 2.0 (what a curious metaphor) is still committed to ‘materials-lite’ lessons. Luke, above, allows readers of Teaching Unplugged to keep using coursebooks while they build up their Dogme lessons – (quoted by him from their book, above). In other words, developing for the great moment when they can throw away their materials – that IS the implication.
(And I think that is crazy – see ‘using coursebooks’ above in my replies to David)
As a writer, how do you feel about that?
Hi Glennie – not sure about the Germans but I used to live in Denmark and I think the fact that the never dub their English TV (Subtitles only) has a tremendous effect on the level of language amongst the Danes.
I’d agree with Steph here; I think the fact that they dub every foreign language film into Castillian Spanish in Spain is a big factor in the comparative lack of (English) language skills.
It might also be psychological – I recall a number of times adult students telling me during my time in Spain that the fact they weren’t very good at English was because they were Spanish.
Can the question of dubbing or not dubbing movies be so crucial? Perhaps.
Maybe, too, the average Danish teacher of English has more of an eye for Dogme moments.
Spanish secondary school teachers have very little teacher training, they know English grammar inside-out, and lots about James Joyce, Mark Twain, The Scarlet Letter and other gems they’ll never need, but they have no training (unless they’re very lucky and coincide with wonderful university teachers like Jane Arnold) in motivation, student-centred learning or actual ‘teaching’. They also tend to be terrified of questions (no training in how to cope with the unexpected or even in how to plan a class) and of ‘new ideas’. There are, of course, some truly inspired teachers in Spain, but they are in spite of the system not thanks to it.
Forgive me if this is too simplistic here:
I’m going to assume that we all (more or less) agree that we all learn in different ways (the exact how and why of this is for a different discussion, I think). I think following any one approach slavishly (whether it be teaching dogme or with coursebooks or using only postcards!) is going to mean we are missing out for some of the learners.
Approaches like dogme may be attractive for some teachers and students, not least for the way in which the teaching and learning is for the most part negotiated. Likewise if you are teaching/learning by use of a coursebook. You may disagree, but the way the grammar, vocab, etc is presented may be just the way some learners need it for them to internalise and learn from it.
The classroom may be a constructed environment, but that is ok – it may be the only place that learners can practise the language they learn. Yes it’s not totally ‘real’ to chat about your weekend’s activities with people in a classroom, but it might be the only place the learners are going to actually use the language. Think about countries where English is not a first or official language – are learners going to find many opportunities to use their English? Some don’t even make the most of it when they live in an English-speaking country! Gavin mentioned the use of technology and the internet to get the necessary practice after his grammar-focused language lessons. I know we all here more and more ‘oh we are more connected, there are more homes with internet than ever before’ – we’ve got to remember that this is not the case for EVERYONE. Low income, migrant workers, asylum seekers, other refugees are not all going to have these devices. The classroom is perhaps the only place where they are going to actually use English.
My main point I guess is that we can’t really dedicate ourselves to just one way of teaching, and knocking spots off a particular way of doing things isn’t to my mind wholey constructive. Discussion like this here, however, is of tremendous benefit to any teacher watching/reading (as long as they’ve time to navigate it all) as you can see the vast richness there is to teaching English (or any language).
Am I looking at this too simply?
In my 3rd paragraph ‘here’ should, of course read, ‘hear’.
I don’t think that is simplistic and unsurprisingly I find myself largely in agreement with what you say.
But the thing is that we are NOT all in agreement. Scott and others are quite clear in their belief that ALL learning (I am quoting from this blog) is co-constructed in a dialogic setting. That is so profoundly different from my position (not all; there are other routes) that agreement seems unlikely to be reached!!! Though as I keep saying, lots of learning is arrived at in this way.
It’s interesting to read two authors who I respect and admire highly, (Scott Thornbury and Gavin Dudeney) going at it hammer and tongs. More please!
Unlike many who have posted here, I am a full-time ESL/EFL teacher, working for IH in Almaty KZ (great place btw). We use New English File here which I personally find far too ‘grammatical’. Having used many different coursebooks over the course of my relatively short career I endorse Scott’s point that the majority of syllabuses today are ‘grammar syllabuses’. Certainly the majority of the ones I have seen are grammatical (i.e. organised around grammatical structures).
Jeremy Harmer wonders if learners are slightly naive in demanding that they be taught grammar, buying grammar books etc, or if there is a good reason for why they do it. In my opinion and based on my own personal experience it is the former. A few weeks ago a lady brushed past me in an English book shop here reaching for a copy of Murphy’s Grammmar in Use. When I tried to start up a conversation she couldn’t say anything to me at all.
It seems to me that grammar can sometimes become a ‘safety net’ for not only students and teachers, but also coursebook writers and publishers. That is why I believe that the work of Scott etc, fighting against the overuse of grammar mcnuggets and tired old deductive pedagogical grammars in our field is so important.
Interesting (?), but hardly unusual. If you google well you can find tons of it…
I do understand the ‘too much grammar’ point you are making (and yes, the safety net ‘do what we’ve always done’ approach can be tiresome).
I think my question would be whether there was anything in English File that you CAN use. How, if at al, do you use it?
Correct – that’s why I pointed that out in my original comment.
However, it’s useful to bear in mind that our assumptions about who has access to technology are not necessarily based in fact, particularly when it comes to talking about the constituents you mention – although they would presumably have little need for the technology because they will all (in the cases you mention) be living immersed in the target language?
Talking to an Indian guy (involved in one of the mLearning projects) at the mobile conference the other day, he was quick to point out that mobile phones with Net access are seen right through the different strata of Indian society because they are a relatively cheap status symbol – a sign of having arrived and made it (in much the same way as people in Spain buy flat screen TVs the size of Belgium and a third car with an amusing ‘my other car is a…’ sticker).
The Plan Ceibal report (http://edutechdebate.org/olpc-in-south-america/olpc-in-uruguay-impressions-of-plan-ceibal/) is worth reading as another demonstration of access to computers on a countrywide scale. In most of Latin America it’s hard to move more than one block without finding a cheap Internet cafe. In Krakow, Vilnius and countless other places in Central and Eastern Europe there’s free wifi in the city centre. Libraries in the UK give anyone access to a computer and some connectivity, etc.
I think there’s a general assumption (and I’m certainly not suggesting that you’re making such an assumption) that gadgets and Internet access are mostly limited to the middle classes and beyond in predominately wealthy or ‘developed’ countries and I think it’s healthy to challenge that assumption.
Only two days ago a colleague working in Burkina Faso told me that a mobile learning project was being considered there…. the times they are a’changing.
Thanks for taking the time to reply to me, Gavin, and I agree with you. The material elements are getting cheaper and more widely available.
Education is still the key though, and computer/technological/digital literacy is not always a given. I’m reminded of an evening class with a middle-aged lady from Brazil, who works as a cleaner, in my elementary/pre-intermediate evening class. Sat in front of the computer, she was completely flummoxed!
Totally agree that we live in changing times, and I’m certainly quite interested and excited to see what’s around the corner. Will check out that link to Plan Ceibal soon.
And all of that will, I guess, mean that, understandably, they seek refuge in …the coursebook.
Truly fascinating stuff.
I copied and pasted this entire comment thread into MS Word in order to search for a term I had read yesterday, and the thing came to 72 pages. It then struck me: I can’t remember the last time I was more gripped, educated—entertained even—by 72 consecutive pages of any journal.
So how is this for emergent dialogue, huh?
No really, I mean, how is *this very thread* as an analogy for what good, inspired, dogme-like learning is, and how it could perhaps emerge in the classroom as well? Yes, yes, there will be time to read the journals that one reads, as there is always time for vocabulary flashcards and self-study, but what’s happening right *here* as the core guiding principle for how education should work—well, do we really not agree on that much at least? ‘Cause that’s really the core argument for dogme, isn’t it? What is this discussion, if not participant-negotiated, emergent, materials free, yadda yadda yadda?
But then again, is this dogme or a dogme moment, as per Jeremy’s interesting distinction? Fascinating stuff, I say again, with my brain swimming with possibilities after 72 pages.
And I should add: As an analogy, this-thread-as-dogme-lesson also raises an equally interesting meta issue: Here we are, a bunch of educators having a dialogue on education, just as it sometimes happens that a class of L2 learners enter a dialogue on L2 learning, perhaps to discuss grammar even… And hey, wouldn’t that be at its core a grammar-based course if it happened often enough? And what if those learners then got excited enough about translating grammar forms back and forth that they started doing it all the time… maybe even competing with each other to create the most convoluted constructions to stump each other with… crazy Mon plume est plus grande que ton jardin kind of stuff?
You see where I’m heading here: Grammar-Translation, unplugged!
I’ve mentioned to Scott privately that dogme strikes me more as an “approach to approaches”, that is, an orientation towards pedagogy that is compatible with any particular method because it is more like a set of core beliefs than specific set of instructions or characteristics. Well, he nodded politely and didn’t immediately call me a misinformed cretin, so I’m gonna try to run with it again here and see what happens…
To illustrate, TBL is characterized as being about the task. You can’t “do” TBL and G-T at the same time because their defining characteristics are fundamentally at odds with each other. They are clearly separate methods. TBL instruction is to the task, not to the language point, as TBL assessment is of the task, and not the language point; there’s no getting around that.
However, how a task focus is achieved in TBL could be more or less materials dependent, more or less dialogic, more or less restrictive of emergent language (ie: “open”, “closed”, “focused” or “unfocused” tasks, etc). And interestingly, a G-T language point can be approached the same way: It can be emergent, dealt with dialogically, and be from a grammar syllabus or not.
So that is what I mean when I ask if dogme is not in fact an approach to approaches rather than an approach on its own. Because if it were the former, then there wouldn’t be much ground for argument left here, right?
Just saying, is all. 😉
thanks for a great post. I love dogme-ed grammar translation!
But your main point is EXACTLY that I believe. The whole Dogme conversation is about orientation – about style and metaphor, based, yes, maybe, on a body of academic writing and deeply-held beliefs.
But it is not science, it is art. It is a way of looking at things. The metaphors we live by.
I think anyone who says (about anything) that it is ALWAYS this way(but this is belief) is in danger of becoming a religious fundamentalist (that’s a metaphor by the way and is not meant to refer to any life-threatening practices, but rather to monotheism).
No one has converted me yet!
Can’t add much after Marcos’s inspired wrap-up, but this caught my eye just now: a posting from the IATEFL TTEd SIG Discussion List Moderator, Martin McMorrow, in NZ:
We’ve just had our Language Teachers’ Conference here in New Zealand – and it was notable how far sociocultural learning theory has come to dominate our discourses – it was pretty much acquisition OUT and participation IN. Is this being reflected in our Teacher Education I wondered?
Probably not, I’d say, except where dogme rules!
there you go again! We always quote the people whose views accord with our own (well I do anyway!)
But the question that occurs to me is to ask Martin McMorrow who is the ‘we’ in ‘OUR discourses’?
And come on! Of COURSE it is reflected in teacher education. Read good-selling methodology books (including yours). Participation has been around for years!
Acquisition out? What a nonsense.
Anyway, watch this space. Remember the Lexical Approach?
I’m not sure what the question about the Lexical Approach is meant to imply. If it’s that all ‘methods’ are ephemeral, the Lexical Approach is perhaps the wrong choice, since the influence, at least, of Michael Lewis on coursebooks still continues to play out (see L is for (Michael) Lewis on my blog), and, moreover, developments in lexicography, corpus linguistics, and usage-based learning theories, suggest that the basic tenets of the LA are as theoretically respectable today as they were in the early 90s. If Dogme survives half as long it will be doing quite nicely, thanks (and this thread suggests that it still has some puff!)
Hi Ceri, Jason, Olaf,
yes and then you collect all these materials,and then, obviously, if you are sensible, your re-cycle them and sooner or later someone wants to publish them and then you’ve got….?
Seriously I think these kinds of post-lesson materials are absolutely wonderful.
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1. I hope writing books is not ONLY for paying the mortgage. I hope there’s passion and commitment there too!
2 But the fact is that you DO like all the Dogme stuff (so do I) but you see a role for books too. Yes, Scott may have passed on the baton (sort of) but as Karenne points out Dogme 2.0 (what a curious metaphor) is still committed to ‘materials-lite’ lessons.
3 Luke, above, allows readers of Teaching Unplugged to keep using coursebooks while they build up their Dogme lessons – (quoted by him from their book, above). In other words, developing for the great moment when they can throw away their materials – that IS the implication.
4 (And I think that is crazy – see ‘using coursebooks’ above in my replies to David)
As a writer, how do you feel about that?
Answer 1: Passion, commitment, dedication almost to the point of obsession and enjoyment in large doses …. but that’s another story. What I mean is it’s my job.
Answer 2: Dogme 2.0 is a sort of hybrid that certain dogmeists have decided to incorporate into their toolbox. Some like it, some don’t, but if what you have in the room, apart from students chairs etc is an IWB, computers, or whatever, then I guess why not. Certainly makes the classic ‘computer room class’ a bit more directed and meaningful, even if the direction emerges rather than being pre-planned.
Answer 3: But IS it? Does he say anything about throwing away books for good? In all your classes forever and ever, amen. And does he allow or does he suggest? As if often mentioned, dogme is often criticised for being only for highly experienced teachers, an argument I don’t agree with at all, having spent the first 15 months of my teaching career working for a school that didn’t use any coursebooks at all (I remember the day they bought a copy of Headway Intermediate, which had not long come out. One copy.). dogme is for teachers who can think on their feet, that’s for sure, and it’s more tiring than using a coursebook, ‘riskier’, but I suspect Luke might have just been suggesting a way of building up risk-taking confidence in some teachers. I don’t know, so don’t quote me on that 😉
Answer 4: As a writer, but moreover as a teacher and teacher trainer, which are my other true passions, if some teachers get better results without a coursebook, then by all means. It’s entirely dependent on the class, I think, or if not entirely, then 70%.
What do I mean?
If you have a class that just don’t seem to learn from books – in my case this typically means kids of around 14-17 who react against the book as a sort of weird authority figure and deem it ‘object to be graffitied, crumpled and left at home’ – and you’re willing to give dogme a go, go ahead. If you have a class that respond to a book, but it works better if you take the Rayuela/Hopscotch approach and use it in a different order than the one it’s been stuck together in, so that as you realise from, say, the group’s writing journals, that their present continuous is not a problem but their comparatives are non existent and you feel that they might be more useful where your students are right now, then teach unit 5 before unit 2 or whatever. I’ve taught several courses where the topic (ie not the grammar) that emerges at the start of the class/week decides the unit we use, when I’ve had to use a book. I must point out that my ‘specialities’ are pre-writers ie the under 7s, and the ‘grotty teens’, especially the failers, aged 14-19. I remember a small group of 15 year olds who were still failing 1st year secondary English (12-13 year olds)responding pretty well to one of the Cutting Edge books. In one of our first classes, a student was trying to tell me her hobby was painting, so I asked if they’d like to look at art for a week. Yep. So I took in a Hockney painting (alas, not the original) and the unit in their book on describing people – not the first unit in the book. The students saw that we were using the book to meet their needs, not to follow an agenda and the shot ahead, motivation tally-ho.
Obviously, as a writer, as I said, I hope that students and teachers enjoy using my books (and if they don’t, I’ll blame the editor ;-)) and I know that not everyone is going to burn their books, so I’ll keep trying to provide them with great, good material. It takes all sorts in this world, some barbecue, some use a traditional oven, some microwave, some prepare sushi – the best cooks and the ones who really enjoy cooking, probably do all four depending on the situation and the people in the (dining)room. Don’t you think?
I really don’t subscribe to ‘one approach fits all’, and I don’t think we should diss any technique just because it doesn’t match our handbag
I think I need to dust my keyboard! I cut the last two ‘handbag’ lines, but they’ve repasted themselves… apologies.
I think you and I agree – i.e. I don;t subscribe to ‘one size fits all’ And that’s really why I wrote this blog in the first place. Because there is a view (articulated in the comments) that ALL learning happens in a particular way, and it is because I just can’t get my head round that that I felt like having a go.
Of course writing books pay the bills. It is a job I am proud of, as I am sure you are (and many other people who have contributed to this blog); as jobs go it’s not a bad one to have. But the more mercenary my aims the less attractive (and maybe creative) the job becomes for me. It’s a fine old tussle. But then writers are no different from people in other professions. Sometimes a book takes off (and good luck to the writers; I feel no resentment for those who have done really really really financially well in this business), lots of time we fail. We do our best!!
But what we produce (in coursebook terms) is, as I have said elsewhere, a ‘proposal for action’. It’s up to the teacher to decide if they want to ‘rayuela’ it or not, extract what they want, adapt, omit, replace etc. IAs I said above, I don’t think you can ‘dogme a coursebook to death’; what teachers can do is find what is in the coursebook and then facilitate contact with it for your students so that you and they get the most out of it that they can.
I don’t think teaching unplugged is necessarily for ‘elitist’ teachers, no. It IS for imaginative and creative teachers with some confidence in their language abilities, however. I am unsure how appropriate it is (even when there is no alternative) for the kinds of teachers that Graeme Hodgson describes in his post above. TIt is no surprise to me that it is the more resourceful, creative, engaged and out-of-the-box teachers who have so embraced the Dogme flag, and found uses for everything around them – that is the D 2.0 crowd including computers, IWBs (interactive white elephants I remember them being villified as, but that objection seems to have disappeared!!).
But in the end I am glad when coursebooks are written by people who are keen to find ways of getting students right into the process; who care passionately about trying to find engaging, thought-provoking content; who write for the ‘classrooms in their minds’; doing it, as I suspect you do, with the same degree of passion and commitment as a good teacher takes into their lessons.
Funnily enough… I just posted about how Lindsay Clandfield and his Global coursebook has been really helpful to me in terms of unplugged language teaching:
And by the way, I think this post of yours Jeremy may just have set a record for most number of comments for a single ELT blog post!
An indication of just how prevalent this issue has become? Or just an example of how copiously a small number of us like to argue? I would like to believe it is more indicative of the former… 😉
Finally found time to get back here. There’s a number of important issues that came up in various places in the comments above that I’d like to look at. The first is the idea that all theories of learning are simply some kind of guess based on experience. Come’on! So this whole discussion, taking training courses, getting an MA, even the books Jeremy writes are simply a waste of time? Do any of us really believe that? It’s about as correct as saying evolution is “just a theory.” As I’ve complained before, the blogosphere can be a bit too wishywashy as people simply don’t want to step on toes. Social etiquette overrides any real critique sometimes. Sure we should be open to new or alternative ideas, but let’s not shy away from taking a stand, holding our ground, and being practical.
It is safe to say that some practices are simply better than others (which is why this debate is taking place) and that there is a lot we do know about teaching and learning. A student that does not speak in class or outside it will not be able to speak in real life. A class that never does listenings in English will create a class that can’t understand English when spoken too. Sure, grammar translation might have helped Gavin, but we KNOW it would have failed if he hadn’t had other means of gaining the necessary skill sets for live communication.
We have so much evidence and research advocating one method over another. Let’s not take exceptions to be rules. Some students will always learn IN SPITE OF the methodology or find alternative means outside the class to become proficient in what they need to accomplish. This doesn’t mean ineffective methodologies are somehow more tenable.
Another mistake that seems to be being made is that happy students = learning students. Motivation and the affective filter are important, but that is certainly not the whole story. I remember a couple years back talking to Ken Wilson after a drama workshop he gave. Being a big advocate of drama myself, I asked, “What if your students don’t see the value in it?” To which he responded along the lines of, “Maybe your students are just happy having a native teacher and listening to you talk away is all they’re looking for, so that’s enough.” This response didn’t and still doesn’t sit well with me. I also remember a talk Luke Prodomo gave where he gave 2 examples of teachers at a school he visited. One was considered to be really good and the other terrible. Turns out, according to the principle and students, the good teacher was the one who had the students sit in rows, do worksheets, answer only when spoken to, etc. The same mistake is being made here – the assumption that happy students = learning. Obviously the classroom management was good and the students were comfortable with that teaching style, but were they really learning how to effectively use English in the real world? I think not. Could the lessons have been more effective if the learners’ desires were taken into account and taken further so they actually used it to co-construct meaning in the class room. I think yes.
At first, many of my students are incredibly content to do nothing more than listen to the teacher talk and plow through their book. However, I strongly believe this is not the most effective way to help them learn. Sure, work with their beliefs, but guide those beliefs and negotiate the course until better learning is occurring.
We are the teachers and that often seems to be forgotten. We have the training, education, and years of experience. The student may think they know what works for them, but, more than likely, they’ve never even tried anything else. As Jeremy mentioned above, it is very open to debate if learners always know how best to learn. In my experience, they usually do not. The trick is to work with what they believe and then show them better ways to do it. It’s striking that balance between motivation stemming from what learners believe to be effective and guiding them to best learning practice.
In my own career, I have observed countless classes where students reported extreme satisfaction with their teacher due to the teacher’s style or simply attitude in the class. I have also seen many of those same classes emerge after 120 hours with very little to show for it.
Another point on this issue is the actual ability of the teacher to adapt to ALL the students’ needs. We’ve talked about this before with MI. It’s well nigh impossible and simply impractical to expect a teacher to adapt to 30 or more different students. However, it is entirely reasonable and infinitely more practical to expect each student to adapt to one teacher. If this is indeed the case, then it would make sense that the most effective teaching approach would be best because all learners are going to need to adapt to it. The teacher can structure lessons in such a way as to try and include different learner desires and needs, but ultimately the students will be adapting to the teacher. This is why I advocate a dogme approach. I feel that it is the best environment in which to learn for all the reasons we’ve previously mentioned. I’ve seen it time and time again where students who may not be the most comfortable with the approach, slowly adapt through patience and encouragement and eventually blossom.
Additionally, as I’ve mentioned before, teaching should be about more than just English. Unless preparing for state exams, gap-fills are useless (however, I’d say it’s important to teach that way if that’s what you’re preparing your students for), but learning to communicate with other human beings is not. As a teacher, I want to develop my students’ weaknesses as well as play to their strengths. Does dogme favor students who are more extroverted? To a degree I’d say yes. Are the skills and behaviors extroverts possess something a student will need to participate in not only their community, but the global one where the English they are learning is the primary form of communication? The answer is most certainly yes, so I want to foster that development as much as I can in my classrooms. Come out from the shell, open up to the world. Let’s learn about ourselves, the world, and each other together. This is why language is used after all.
True: happy students not necessarily = learning students
BUT also even truer: BORED, DISENGAGED STUDENTS do not = learning students – it’s more likely to = students wondering what’s for lunch or why the teacher’s wearing odd socks.
As for me, when Jeremy asked how, as a writer, I feel about what had been said previously, I replied that if students are happy WHILE LEARNING, then even better. I didn’t say anything about ‘hey, I hope they’re happy, regardless of whether they’re learning or not’. Did anyone else say that? I must have missed it. I’ll look again later.
By the way, ‘happy’ to me doesn’t imply cheesy grins and oh what fun. It means quietly content while engaged, truly engaged. ‘oh what fun’ = mildly amused.
Hi Fiona, just an FYI, I didn’t actually have your comments in mind in regards to mine. I just got the impression from your comment that you felt that way.
My comments are more regarding a general impression I’ve gotten from some comments above and from many other conversations I’ve had. I would agree with you, if students are happy while learning, even better.
I couldn’t have put it better myself!
(Which is why I go on a lot about engagement – though that’s nothing special; so do lots of other people)
Of course the thing to wonder about it is whether engagement means something really different for different cultures, different types of student…
thank you for your two comments. There’s lots in there to talk about.
I do NOT think (and i am sorry if I have just given that impression) that everything is just a ‘guess’. That would make everything we do, say or write about completely pointless. And it isn’t. But that doesn’t stop any of us challenging others’ wisdom however passionately or widely shared it is. I think (and scientific discovery is based on this very concept) that the challenges are a vital part of expanding and broadening knowledge and helping us to achieve greater and great understanding (see, I’m a co-constructiionist really!). Hey but meditation helps too!!
But on one point I think we agree a lot. Many teachers have described to me recently (because I have asked them to) lessons which have been successful. I love hearing about these lessons, and the engagement and fun they engender. But I do sometimes ask myself what students actually GOT OUT OF IT. We need to have a more exacting measure than enjoyment. Indeed enjoying a lessons (I prioritise ‘engagement’ a lot in much of my writing) may not be so important for some educational cultures as it is for our (= largely western…excuse the generalization) view of things.
As for fostering development…well, yes. Of course.
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I would say New English File has many good things in it. There is a lot of good material around which to build speaking tasks for example.
However, there are an awful lot of boring old explicit, deductive grammar tasks accompanied by misleading pedagogical grammar rules etc etc which I am expected to teach. Students get a bit worried if we don’t cover this. For some reason most adult students in my teaching context believe that learning this pedagogical grammar using decontextualised examples etc is essential to learning English. They believe that if they were somehow able to swallow the contents of Murphy’s Grammar in Use they would be able to speak English perfectly.
What I am trying to do is supplement what I am obliged to teach with my own tasks, giving students contextualised examples, noticing exercises etc etc. Fortunately this approach seems to work quite well.
I’m also using NEF and feel exactly the same.
You almost have the feeling when you go through the grammar sections (if you can bring yourself to inflict them on yourself and the students) that the writers took off their creative hats and put on their ‘let’s give ’em the bit of grammar they’ll be expecting’ hats. A bit like going through the motions so that the punters get what they will be expecting, or the teachers get something they can put into a test to assess learning (ha! ha!)
Hi Thomas and Glennie,
yes I do understand the criticism of grammar in coursebooks – and English File is not alone in that, of course. But there are ways to finesses all that grammar surely, ways to make those exercises meaningful so that some of that grammar becomes second nature, so that the learning of it (and the doing of those exercises) can be engaging and act as springboards for other things??
Yes, I understand (and enjoyed) the idea of swallowing Murphy! Of course a lot of grammar teaching actually teaches other things as well!! But I can’t help thinking that doing endless repetition can sometimes help students to automatize language chunks for example (and some grammar teaching inadvertently, perhaps) promotes this.
Something that is currently engaging my interest is the analogy with music practice. When I practise I can, sometimes, play the same phrase again and again, but nothing happens because something in my brain wasn’t wired up or connected when i did it. But at other times the connections ARE there, the wires are hooked up, and then the whole thing really works!!
Ah yes, The Lexical Approach, something you called (in another felicitous phrase, and this time I agreed with you completely) “all chunks and no pineapple”. You may say it (I mean “The Lexical Approach” in inverted commas) is surviving, but I would dispute that. The fact that more attention is now paid to vocabulary, and especially to collocations and phrases, well that is certainly true, but/and that is a reality influenced partly by The”Lexical Approach’; but also by many other factors such as corpus linguistics etc and much other research has a claim to have influenced our views on grammar, vocabulary and the relationship between the two etc. Don’t misunderstand me here, please (!); I am not belittling Michael Lewis’ contribution, but when was the last time you heard “The Lexical Approach” mentioned at a conference. It flowered, blossomed and was in full bloom, it seems to me, for only a short time. I hope Natural Grammar does and will continue to well for years and years….
For what it’s worth I think Dogme and discussions about Dogme – unplugged teaching – will be around for longer than “The Lexical Approach”`. But I also believe that teaching and learning moves with fashion, and though no one will ever stop talking about participation in some form or other, still other matters will absorb interests sooner or later. So that’s why I mentioned the Lexical Approach.
But that’s all unimportant, really. What matters (and this particular conversation may well have run its course) is the nature of learning and best ways of promoting it. Nothing I have read on this blog or anywhere else has made me doubt the desirability of what you and Luke call unplugged lessons. Some of the best lessons I have seen (and many – probably indifferent ones – that I have taught) have been of this type. But learning comes in many guises and anyone who claims to know how ALL learning takes place, excluding ranges of possibility outside their own particular view of things (however widely supported) risks, it seems to me, the very real danger of getting stuck in the wood and never being able to get out.
But, to be personal just for a second – I don’t think you are that kind of person, and I would find much of your own writing difficult to squeeze into the learning model you have so assiduously promoted in response to this post! But maybe that’s my problem, and shows my lack of understanding rather than anything else….
Jeremy and all,
I am back 15 days after reading the post… and after reading most of the comments here´s my take.
As somebody who has recently written about moving away from coursebooks and embracing project-based learning, I would like to add my views.
I am the EFL coordinator and teacher in a private school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and this year we decided to stop using coursebooks with students from grade 6 onwards (age 11+). The reasons, as I explained in some blog posts, were the feeling that the coursebooks did not reflect our students´ needs and interests, the fact that teachers were too dependent on coursebooks and the evidence that students were losing interest and therefore more effective opportunities for learning.
However, I do not consider myself a Dogmeist (although I have been contacted by some people in this regard) nor am I against coursebooks. The fact is that grades 1 to 5 in my school still use coursebooks because we feel they benefit from the structure and safety that coursebooks provide.
It is also worth pointing out that not using a coursebook does not equal Dogme, at least in my opinion. I still create my projects around certain linguistic abilities or topics I want the students to learn, develop or master at certain stages. The language is not introduced or pointed out unless there´s a need from students to learn it in order to express themselves. So what I try to do is to make sure that the materials and projects will make the knowledge of this particular language ability essential.
So, am I a Dogmeist because I do not use coursebooks? I do not think so, because I still use lots of (authentic) materials and technology to “slyly” prompt specific language. I simply do not use coursebooks because my educational context, which is certainly not all schools in my country, has allowed me to move in this direction in the hope of providing or creating a more efficient language learning experience. I must confess I still do grammar when I feel my students need it and I find it very difficult not to organize the learning around grammar. I think I have just found a different way of doing it, that´s all.
much much ‘better late than never!”. Thanks for some great comments. And yes, you have put your finger on this. The Dogme ‘debate’ is often about coursebooks (I ma partly responsible for this of course; but it was a founding tenet of the whole thing, after all). But it is about much more than this, as all the comments on this blog have suggested.
I agree that your planning – using whatever materials come to hand – does not sit well with some of the Dogme discourse. For if language ’emerges’, then planning ‘specific language’ lessons surely does not fit. Yes D 2.0 is happy to use technology etc, but the dialogic con-constructed model would surely be unhappy about ‘slyly’ – or even explicitly provoking the use of language…
As for using or not using coursebooks – well I have always always been admiringly supportive of teachers who can provide coherent and useful programmes of study without them. And based on that wonderful presentation you gave in FAAPI Cordoba a few weeks ago, I am pretty much in admiration of the work that you do at your school!
Maybe not a Dogmeist, I don’t know, but certainly a ‘textbook perfect’ TBLT practitioner, from your description!
Hi after initially adding my two cents, I thought I’d just soak up all the knowledge flowing freely from every corner – which I did. However, couldn’t resist adding another 2 cents. Someone mentioned that coursebooks are not Bibles. I’d say of course not. In fact, those who possess free thinking, question the Bible itself. The point is, what happens after the analyses of the coursebook? Most ‘everyday’ teachers are not afforded the luxury of that choice between dogme and CBs. But a free thinking teacher, one that’s not burnt out yet, one that wants stds to speak the language, will bring all his experience, knowledge, even intuition to arrive at an educated decision – how much CB and how much DM – a bit like Granny’s recipes. Those teachers may not be famous stars in the ELT world, they may not have their blogs and most certainly not well-known authors. But just like granny who never showed off her skills at 5 star hotels for presidents, and yet made the most delicious of food, those ‘small teachers’ do a wonderful job. I have met a lot of those teachers and their students. And as they say, the proof is in … 🙂 I have spoken to those students, sometimes again after a period of time and have been genuinely impressed by their progress. The point, I was trying to make is that both CB and DM are important – to an extent that one is incomplete without the other – of course in the context of actual teaching, day in and day out.
thanks for celebrating the great mass of teachers around the world who work both with and sometimes without the coursebook. Of COURSE that’s what a lot of teachers do – bring their coursebooks along and use them creatively. Because in the end (I am like an old broken record here) it’s not WHAT you use, it’s HOW you use it.
I think your bible analogy is a good one, however. For even those who follow the Bible take different messages from it and use it to justify a whole lot of inimical practices – and I sometimes think with ELT methodology that what starts out as a clear statement of pedagogic principle becomes ‘biblified’ and then it’s open house on how people want to interpret it.
Of course, without clear statements of pedagogic principles to shake us all out of our complacency we’d have nothing to talk about.
And meanwhile teachers get on with it and work away (as so many commentators on this blog do) doing the best they can with what they have got….
This is a fascinating debate, and I’d like to throw my hat in the ring.
I had the privilege of judging, and voting for Scott and Luke’s book for the British Council ELTons last year.
A recurring theme throughout this discussion seems to be the importance of how a coursebook is used, or how a teacher is able to generate and maintain interest in a materials-light Dogme lesson. Do you have any views on how to visually present and record this language? It would be interesting to see what common ground there is.
Theories that focus on collocations have profoundly influenced my teaching, most notably in helping me to organise my rather messy whiteboard, and encouraging my students to produce notebooks that don’t consist solely of lists of isolated words with no context or co-text. I would like to hear your opinion on the revision and recycling of language, which coursebooks are so good at doing. What about learner-generated language?
To me, this is an area that is often neglected. In my own teaching, I have had great successes with language plants. English Raven’s recent post on writing in wavy lines http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/10/global-wave-meets-wandrous-whiteboard.html complements my work, and I envisage coursebooks with a lot of white space to allow learners to record the language they produce in the discussion activities that, as you say, have been a staple for many years. Do you see a way to bridge the gap between the two views?
thanks for your great comments.
I absolutely agree with the idea of coursbooks with white space for students recording. Or, as we get more and more comfortable with technology mediated lessons, tablets etc with organising software to help students categorize things successfully.
What students take away from a lesson will depend on how they are constructing their own understanding of what is happening (that is Co-construction? Hmm. I think different people construct reality in different ways actually). I can see great uses for IWB software (and the tablet computers etc) in helping students do summarising work on what has happened.
It is surely the skill of the teacher to help students organise their summarising thoughts – and to give them space to do it in a way that best suits their own style.
190 posts! There has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about what works and what doesn’t, about what is good and what is bad, about the extent to which learning is co-constructed, the extent to which learning takes place in the here and now, a lot of talk of you and me, and some good old ranting. Perhaps it is time to consider what hasn’t been said, time to play ‘spot the doxa’ – the unspoken, agreed assumptions behind all this discourse?
The most striking assumption in all the posts, I think, is that what we do in the classroom is all about learning, language learning. But classrooms are complex, socially constructed phenomena, and serve many functions besides learning. The socialisation of young people, the reproduction of ideologies, child-minding, exam training …. It might be nice to believe that language classrooms (outside the private, adult sector) are primarily about language learning, but sadly this isn’t often the case, whatever teachers and students might think.
Scott & Luke’s DOGME isn’t, I think, just about pedagogical issues, although it often pretends that it is. It contains a fairly transparent socio-political agenda, and Scott’s attacks on grammar teaching and coursebooks have, on occasion in the past, been explicitly political. So rather than questioning whether or not DOGME ‘works’, perhaps we would be better off considering its appropriacy in particular political and social contexts … the extent to which it contributes to or could contribute to its libertarian objectives. And, of course, whether we share those objectives.
great to have you along.
Yes, of course this is socio-political! Classrooms, as you point out, are microcosms of the socio-political reality that surrounds them. or rather, what happens inside a classroom is ALWAYS deeply political and reflects a pervasive ideology not just of learning but also of behaving, hierarchy, structure etc. Why else, after all, do Freire and Illich etc still captivate us with their call for a different emergent view of learning. Thornbury/Meddings fit well into a libertarian view of learning, and it would be very difficult to criticise that viewpoint if you are in any way a ‘liberal’
I think the problem arises when you have groups working together for an educational purpose which can be specifically identified (yes, a language classroom is much much more than just a LANGUAGE classroom – I entirely agree with that); does an ideological view of what happens sit well with all the individuals in that room? Is the same socio-political reality appropriate for everyone there?
If you take, as I do, the view that learning is a mixture of discovery, input, individual thinking and study and some collective action leading to insight and development, what kind of a socio-political view is that? Pluralistic? Wishy-washy?
Teaching is political. So what, then, is everyone’s politics? There IS a danger of elliding approaches like Dogme with libertarian progressive politics. It is an attractive connection to make. Yet within itself it may well include another form of prescriptivism on the part of the teacher –> this is how it’s done, this is how you will do it. But is the TEACHER’S view necessarily the one that should prevail.
I have no answers to this. It just worries me the whole time!!!
It strikes me that the liberals are the ones who call for principled eclecticism and, more often than not, really just mean cherry picking. I think that dogme, as a movement, has shown far more concern for the principled part than it necessarily has for the eclectic.
I don’t share your preoccupation with the transfer of the political into the classroom. I don’t think it has to sit well with everyone in the room. In fact, I don’t think it can become “the same socio-political reality” for everyone.
I go into the classroom (full of young people from immensely rich families) and teach, confident that education is about helping people change their realities. Ultimately, my hope is that by helping people to see that they are the rulers of their own lives, we inch closer towards a sociopolitical setting which is more egalitarian, more democratic and more in keeping with the anarchist principles that attract me most. But IN the classroom, my principal aim isn’t world revolution. After all, most of my students would be up against the wall! My principal aim is to help the students learn without a teacher. To hlp the students question the need for a teacher/a course/a book/a school etc. Because if they can realise that they can learn independently, they are already a bit more free than they were at the start and any learning that they do is likely to be a damn sight more effective.
Your view of learning is not necessarily wishy-washy or pluralistic. It is, as you present it here, incomplete because you don’t include any information about your view of the purpose of education. If it is learning for the sake of learning, then I would argue that it is a rather elitist view of learning and one that forgets the context in which the majority of the world are obliged to learn. But I don’t think that you are a Learning For The Sake of Learning type of chap.
A last comment before I hop into my car and pollute the streets of Manchester: no. It is not the teacher’s view which should prevail; nor is it the learner’s view. The view which shoud prevail is the view that wins most support. In my classroom, as far as learning goes, it is often the case that the teacher is the only one with a view and it is inevitable that this becomes the default view of the class. But the teacher then needs to encourage a critical questioning of the view which can be done through evaluations etc. And of course, the learners get the last say: if they don’t conform to that view, they tend to withhold their labour. Homework doesn’t get done, classes aren’t attended, classrooms are full of whispered messages. Hmmm…students as striking heroes…an interesting metaphor that I shall ponder as I sit in queues of traffic.
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Successful change happens when people begin to question their attitude, or change their behaviour and this requires them to adopt new working practices, one tool at a time.
The reason many coursebooks front a traditional grammar syllabus is simple. It is the syllabus which many teachers, and many students still expect and demand. However, as Jeremy says, there are other things going on in a good coursebook nowadays. And there are other things going on in good classrooms. And as long as people are happy to experiment with different ideas, and stay open to the possibility that they will work, then we are on the road to change. McDonald’s now sells salads, as well as grammar Mcnuggets.
great to have you along!
Yes, McDonald’s now sells salads. I wouldn’t especially want to eat their burgers, however. But I don’t think grammar is packaged in the way (msnuggets) Scott described. Or rather, those mcnuggets probably have greater nutritional value than the chicken ones!
But in general I completely agree…question, examine, think, retrench, go forward….a constant cycle of reappraisal. And meanwhile good coursebooks have good side dishes and salads and all sorts of sweets and antipasti (sorry, I’m in Rome!)
It’s a rich and enjoyable world out there; I don’t want any restrictions!
Ahh…Rome…perhaps rather than chicken mcnuggets we should be thinking of these grammar nuggets as Italian antipasti – smoked salmon parcels filled with crab, spinach and ricotta in filo pastry, tomato slices with basil and mozzarella – a small but valuable part of the feast which is a language lesson, or a coursebook page. Tasty chunks. Much better than swallowing Murphy. Buon Appetito!
Perfect, Antonia, perfect!
There is so much to learn from these comments. I only wish I could “listen to” the dogme debate in a podcast. Maybe you could all record your parts and we could package it together into a nice program that I could listen to while making dinner?
Great idea Tara! We could get some good background noises too – e.g. coliseum roaring, swords clashing on swords, booing…
Or maybe make it into a kind of remix song? With a catchy chorus?
Just kidding. It would be nice to have this kind of thing in audio, but it would not be as developed I think.
Now then, Lindsay, less of the levity if you don’t mind. This is a SERIOUS blog!!!!
Seriously, Tara’s idea is of course a great one. A properly filmed or recorded Dogme discussion. Methodology audio chunks. Now why didn’t I think of that?
I have now!
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To keep the idea of teacher’s predilections and their approriacy in the language classroom, I came across this:
“Jonathan Shaw’s … (Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand) “Experiential Learning and Epistemological Beliefs: A Case Study of Vietnamese Graduate Students”, also used Schommer’s framework of epistemological beliefs to examine what happens to students’ conceptualizations of teaching and learning when they encounter an educational approach radically different from any in their previous educational experiences. One of Shaw’s conclusions – that students do not necessarily subscribe to the values that define a system in which they succeed, but rather adopt a pragmatic understanding of what is expected by their teachers – raises interesting questions about the relationship between beliefs and achievement.”
If I have understood this correctly, Shaw says that the teacher can go in with all the best intentions in the world, but the students will not be able to get past their image of the teacher as The Authority Who Must Be Pleased.
Yes, and that is a frequent barrier when you get a mix of teaching and learning ideology in a classroom (see my reply to your last comments).
I am convinced (sorry to repeat myself) that teaching and learning should involve some kind of bargain between the two ‘camps’, where the teacher brings his or her practices into the classroom but modifies them on the basis on where he or she is and on the predilections of the students. That way the encounter becomes a leearning experience for both!
Thanks for great comments!
Thanks Diarmuid for your thoughts, beautifully expressed.
I am not preoccupied with the ‘political’ nature of classrooms – or rather I should clarify what I mean. Classrooms ARE political spaces always. There is the politics of the relationship between teacher and students, and between students. There is the politics of education itself and the systems that were referred to in an earlier post. There is the politics of learning etc etc etc
Yes, the teacher usually has more of a theory of learning than the students – because we have thought about it and analysed what we do (well some of us – the ones on this blog for starters!). In that contexct? What I believe?
I believe that teachers should try and engage students in their views about learning and where possible promote a kind of learning auto-sufficiency that will help them take charge of what they are doing. I should promote that but not expect it to work in all cases. Why? Because some students do not WANT to, or they are happier to have things done for them? Are they bad? I don’t think so. But saying ‘You WILL be autonomous whether you like it or not’ seems to me to make the very same mistakes as ‘You WILL do everything I say in lockstep and drill till you drop’. As I have said elsewhere (and frequently) teaching and learning is a bargain between us and them, between them and them. And that IS political!!
Which is why although (as I keep saying) I admire Dogme practitioning and theorising, I cannot adopt it as the overriding principle of my methodological life over and above other beliefs that I have. For I do NOT believe that students get nothing out of coursebooks. No, check. Rephrase. I do not believe that it is the case that NO students get ANYTHING from coursebooks. I do NOT believe that it is the case that NO students get anything from transmission teaching – and that for some of them this may well be an ideal way of learning.
I think my central criticism of ‘Dogme is IT” (remember I am not not not against the Dogme ideal) is a fundamental mix-up (as ever) between input and intake – e.g. because we do it this way it will happen in that way. No. Learners’ brains process what they receive in different ways.
That’s it, I think.
This one (the D. debate) has certainly run and run, as they say.
I still think Dogme’s really about the social interaction and perception of roles in the relationship “teacher”, “learner” and “the stuff” (learning to speak English, bricklaying or playing the piano).
Because this dicussion takes place among teachers, who are paid for teaching; teacher trainers; ELT book writers; and other ELT professionals, in my view it is always too heavily skewed towards the importance of the teacher in the process.
I don’t think learners really learn because of having or going to lessons.
Having a teacher or being taught is only a part of it, as John Holt always stressed – or doesn’t even have to be part of it at all.
I probably said all this the first time around 🙂
Hello to the other contributors,
thanks for this comment. You are absolutely right that we tend to talk about ourselves all the time (we = teachers, I mean).
I have said many times before that my belief is that Dogme teaching is a matter sometimes of teacher style rather than learner substance!
Nevertheless teachers do have to do SOMETHING, and whilst I entirely subscribe to the idea that getting learners to do it for themselves – provoking the kind of auto-enquiry that leads to genuine learning – is what teachers are for, it may depend to a large extent on the class size, learner type and learning culture in which learning takes place. What is possible in a small group with sophisticated IT resources may not be so easy to accomplish in a large secondary school class. In one of my talks I quote a revered teacher from the UNAM in Mexico (now deceased) who got beginner students to recite the romantic poets perfectly even when they didn’t have an idea what they wwere saying. One of his claims about this is that in the groups where this took place the drop-put rate was significantly lower than in other groups.
Crazy? Probably. But IF the dropout statistic is/was true then he may have had more influence on their English learning (through engagement etc) than any type of learner-agented activity might have done!
For my part I think that the best thing that teachers can do is to put themselves in their learners’ shoes, mix that with their own hunches and beliefs about language learning, and see what comes out at the end!
I just wanted to let you know that we picked up this blog entry on ELTNEWS.com, a website for English teachers in Japan. If you like our site it would be great if you could list it on your blog roll. In any case, I hope we will be able meet the next time you are in Japan, as I would very much like to conduct an interview with you, if you have the time.
that’s quite a site you have there. Really impressive.
Do you run it/own it?
I’ll get round to listing it in a few days or so. And yes,let’s do an interview!
I wish I had read this long, detailed, and illuminating exchange of views before I ever set foot in an English classroom!
Thank you for a quick primer on the Dogme philosophy, applications, and limitations. As somebody who has taught many successful and a few unsuccessful Dogme-style classes, I find myself increasingly attracted to quality, learner-focused textbooks that include significant, authentic material.
Context and purposes matter most. For instance, I currently use “Giving Academic Presentations”, a University of Michigan Press title, in an advanced oral skills class. The international graduate students appreciate the explicit structure, practical tasks, and detailed presentation checklists. Even for the conversation activities, I also find it advantageous to provide worksheets and excerpts from a conversation textbook to both provide vocabulary support and create broader context. Students seem to speak more when more context is provided so you can have a richer, deeper dialogue. Dogme seems to work best in my classrooms in small, unexpected, and isolated teachable moments.
how interesting to hear you say that you are attracted to good coursebooks. Me too. But they do have to be good!
And even the best coursebooks have some ‘dreck’in them (that’s Charles’ word – see below) and I like it!
I think coursebooks often have more organisational structure (and the context you talk about) than some weaker Dogme-style lessons. Some students find this very reassuring. Others are less keen, perhaps.
I am certainly a fan of ‘magic moments’- “unexpected and isolated teachable moments” in your words. In one sense I guess they are ‘Dogme’ moments (if we have to use that nomenclature). I have just never bought into that type of teaching as a way of doing everything – as some kind of naturally superior ‘approach’. That’s why I wrote this post originally!!
I don’t make much of ‘dogme’ as propounded by ST, and think he is very much an ELT dogmatist himself, in his own way or ways. However, the movement goes way beyond his little article and I believe it has much more to do with the way the textbook industry churns out dreck. Effective teachers have to get around that dreck in many ways, and this movement captures a lot of that thinking and teaching.
well I think it was a bit mean of me to quote a short article from ten years ago. Things have moved on a lot since then, both in Scott’s thinking, in the work that he and Luke Meddings (http://lukemeddings.posterous.com/)have done, and in the work of many other Dogme enthusiasts. I think Scott in particular (though I should not presume to speak for him) is more relaxed about it all than once was!!)
I am not sure I would agree 100% with the ‘dreck’ comment though I enjoyed it a lot!(and see Eric’s comments above). But I do agree completely with the idea that many teachers are more creative than ever when they think about how to use coursebooks and supplementary material in the best and most appropriate way for their students. It’s great to watch!
I am writing to ask you something. In September I attended the Fischer Conference in Bucharest and I saw a material in your workshop related to reading. I would like to have it or to have the site where it was from. I am talking about the material in which the cavemen find a book and they try to figure it out what to do with it. It is funny and I want to play it to my students.
Thank you very much
Textbooks remind me of the first book I bought (with my lunch money) and read on my own, in first grade. It was a Scholastic publication called ‘Stone Soup’. The story remains in my memory. It’s about a guy who travels from village to village and manages to bum a meal of ‘stone soup’ everywhere he goes. He only carries a stone. But he gets the villagers to bring him all sorts of things to put in the pot (because he is going to show them how to make that delicious stone soup). So everyone enjoys a meal of stone soup with him and think him wonderful. Now, is the guy an exploitative parasite? He doesn’t really contribute anything to the soup–maybe a few trace minerals with his stone. On the other hand, he taught the village how to cooperate to make soup together, to share what they had for everyone’s benefit.
So the good side of textbooks is that they are like that guy’s stone.
However, once you have learned the tricks and trades of language teaching, we can put that stone in our pocket and get on with the soup.
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To textbook or not to textbook? My first teaching experience in China commenced with “Oh, there is no textbook. Just create your own class.” 3 days later I found myself in front of a class of about 50 students expecting to learn “conversational” English. Since then I have realized that teaching is mostly about contradictions: mixed-level classes that require different approaches, levels of teaching, and tactics; the extreme difficulty of finding good textbooks; the pressures of teaching toward standardized tests (IELTS, etc.) versus encouraging students’ communicative ability; and the conflict between American-style communicative learning vs. Chinese-style rote memorization and recitation. As others have mentioned, a combination of methods in the classroom works best. As a Chinese language learner myself, I constantly evaluate what works for me and why, and what might work better for my students. I learn best n a quiet, introspective, questioning way. Group or interactive methods would not work for me. I also can’t teach a Dogme-style purely experiential class, because I need the safety net of good teaching materials just as my students do. Even when teaching classes where no textbook is provided, I find that students sit with open textbooks in front of them – any book in English will do – as “safety blankets.” I appreciate your post and all the comments; they have clarified many points regarding teaching methods.
I think there’s a strange paradox at operation at the heart of Dogme. Its intention is to be student-centred but the problem is it’s becoming utterly method and teacher-centred. Teachers debate whether or not what they are doing is Dogme or not. They self-identify with the group identity and examine all their teaching in the light of Dogme credentials. I almost never hear anything about the people in the classroom because they seem to have disappeared. How many Dogme teachers ask themselves what it would feel like to be in a Dogme lesson? While there are no doubt those Dogme lessons which work magnificently well there must also be lessons in which students feel uncertainty, frustration and perhaps boredom too.
The teacher I admire most, is a British secondary teacher called Phil Beadle who won a teacher of the year award back in 2004. His work is based on some very sound pedagogical principles chief among which is an unconditional belief in the potential of all his students and an incredible ability to be utterly authentic as a human being in the classroom. Students seems to like his teaching a lot. I await the Dogme version of Mr Beadle with interest. All I’ve got for now are a few scratchy looking lessons in which teachers write up some stuff on the board in response to what students have said. And I should get excited because … ?
When you contrast the brilliance of this kind of teacher with Dogme some interesting thoughts arise. The leading teaching practitioners working within educational frameworks are not being brilliant by ditching everything and trying to return to a ‘state of grace’. They are brilliant because they have worked extremely hard on their trade and in Phil Beadle’s case creating their own lessons that are not on the national curriculum but have been designed to reach out to every learner and captivate their imagination and desire to learn. There are no shortcuts to that I’m afraid.
This is a level of teaching which requires talent, skill, rigour and perhaps the right kind of personality too. In my view, Dogme is light years behind this kind of teaching. Dogme appears to be radical, it’s true but only when it is set alongside the conservative world of traditional ELT approaches out of which it originated. Set alongside Headway, Dogme looks radical. Set alongside nationally recognized, award-winning teaching, it looks like well-intentioned pseudery. Sorry.
With respect Jonathan, you seem to be somewhat confused as to what Dogme is; and you also seem to be equating teacher development discussion amongst peers with what goes on in classroom situations, which I very much doubt applies; in my case, it certainly doesn’t.
Equally, If you think that Dogme is about ditching everything and trying to return to ‘a state of grace’ then you have seriously misunderstood the main thrust of what dogme is… and if all you have found so far are a few scratchy looking lessons, then you need to invest in the book and cast your reading net more widely, as there is a good deal out there to get your teeth into.
If you are genuinely interested in finding out more about dogme, I’ve pulled together a list of links over on scoop.it that might make be a good starting point, here:
Dogme ELT on Scoop.it
Speaking personally, I’d say that the fact that Phil Beadle is a great teacher is unlikely to have any relevance to whether he is or isn’t a dogmeist, although what I will say is that many of the things that you admire him for are very much in tune with dogme principles. In my experience, people with his attitude and approach tend to turn out to be brilliant teachers, regardless. There are many great teachers around the world who work extremely hard at their craft and go the extra mile or two for their students. A handful of them attract attention because they are put forward for awards or write books and front tv series, but most of them just turn up to work every day and just quietly get on with doing the best that they can for their learners.
It’s wonderful to see such a long stream of comments where folks are trying to find “truth” and the best for their students.
I’m going to add something very simple. I thought some of Jonathan’s comments were interesting— how we hear little about students in this debate on dogme. And then I see Sue’s return volley. Impressive as well.
I recently commented that I wasn’t impressed with IWBs on Gavin D’s blog and was met with smart returns that I hadn’t used them and had been mislead by sales demonstrations. This might be true, but my feeling stays intact that they just don’t seem worth the investment, and that it is a passing trend (or really something that will be improved upon so much so that it will be well beyond what it is today).
What I’m saying is we often give opinions on something because of hunches, and not so based on personal experience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it simply diminishes the weight of our perspective. For this reason, I’m not going to say any more about Dogme until I’ve read the books, and tried it out in class, EVEN if I think it’s this or that, and I love the core themes.
Cheers to all for their comments, and Jeremy for getting this going (awhile back).
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This is the perfect site for everyone who wants to understand this topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject that’s been written about for decades. Great stuff, just great!
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