Some foggy notion? Dogme in ELT

Today I’m pleased to present my first guest blog post, written by an old friend of mine called Simon Kent.

Simon is a teacher at London Metropolitan in north London, but may perhaps be better known to some of you as one of the authors of both the Market Leader and Language Leader series. What follows are his thoughts on the Dogme trend that’s been sweeping hipper circles of ELT these last few years. I’ve plenty to say on the matter myself, but thought this might serve well as an opening salvo.

Take it away, Simon . . . .

Much has been made of Dogme in ELT since Scott Thornbury’s initial article in 2000. It now counts as a ‘movement’ in ELT , with a discussion forum, conference papers  and  its own very well attended symposium at last year’s IATEFL conference In Brighton. Followers and more recent converts also have a holy text in the award winning ‘Teaching Unplugged’   (Delta publishing 2009). But, what does it really offer?  If I understand correctly, in essence Dogme (like the Danish film movement it derives its name from) is all about a return to basics, originally a focus on the uncluttered purity of film making, or in this case, teaching.  Set free from the tyranny and excesses of the modern course book, the idea seems to be that this will herald a new age of awareness among teachers and students.

Although at first glance these ideas may seem attractive, underneath there lurks another agenda, or more reactionary subtext.

1 It is Anti teacher

As the Dogme proponents themselves say, the three guiding principles are that it is (a) conversation driven, (b) materials light, and (c) focused on emergent language. Well, I take this to mean that teachers need to engage with, and talk to, their students, and listen to what they say, and deal with the results. Well, what’s new about this? Isn’t this what any sensible teacher does, and what goes on in classrooms anyway? No material, course book or otherwise, is unmediated. The teacher is a conduit. Where are all these teachers who blindly follow course books without reference to themselves or the students sitting in front of them? The assumption to me seems a bit insulting. Can the world really be full of unprofessional teachers who spend hours after hours slavishly following course books without reference to their students’ language needs, interests and desires. All teaching is a voyage of discovery for student and teacher alike. It’s a bit like what my friend Hugh Dellar said to me about a class some years ago: “I never thought I could have anything in common with someone who likes Phil Collins.”

In fact ‘Teaching Unplugged’ is chock full of activities which any teacher worth their salt should have at their disposal, but which are not really enough on their own. The Dogme proponents seem to be saying to teachers who may use a course book, “you’re not doing it right”.

2. It is Anti student

The ideology is really pretty unmediated. Underpinning the three principles is the notion that somehow the students are fully formed in terms of their ideas, opinions and thoughts, and simply lack the language to express them. I would suggest that some students fall into this category (perhaps particularly, though not exclusively, in a Business English environment), but that many people are in a language classroom for much more than just language. They are there to learn ‘stuff’’, develop an aesthetic, interact with others, and expand their knowledge of the world and the way they feel about it. Some students even attend language courses as a way to sort out their personal lives, and indeed their motives are far removed from pure language learning The idea that all students lack is the language they need to communicate what they already want to say is absurd. Part of learning is language but also exploration of things not seen, heard or thought about before.

In some cultures the idea that the student ‘teaches ‘ themself is seen as confusing, contradictory and a dereliction of duty on the part of the teacher. Materials may be seen as a key part of the learning process. In some parts of the world the idea of developing a conversation in front of a class of people is simply alien. I can imagine a new teacher bounding into a class of Japanese students head held high and saying “ right, we’re going to have a real good time together- let’s have a conversation.” It’s almost inviting the teacher to fail.

3. It is Anti industry

Now, I’m no apologist for the EFL publishing industry, quite the opposite in fact, however it is part of the lifeblood of the profession. Who sponsors and helps pay for many of the key industry conferences and events? It is not perfect, far from it, but there is probably enough good stuff coming out each year to indicate a vibrant industry. This is important. It is a sign of health that all sorts of courses and books are coming out.

It is easy to see course book writers as the lackeys of publishers, as most EFL publishing these days is market- driven. With their focus groups and research questionnaires, publishers are loath to do anything without prior market approval. However, it all comes down to teachers in the end.  In my experience publishers rarely listen to anyone other than the markets (teachers) about anything. Dogme is a negative approach in the sense that it sees publishing as corrupting rather than aiding teaching. It seems to see published materials as trying to come between student and teacher rather than helping to bridge the gap.

The image which is invoked by the self-styled Dogmeticians is an MTV one of being Unplugged (see above), so at the end of last year there was an opportunity to see a ‘Dogme’ lesson by Luke Meddings ‘live and unplugged’ at the British Council, London. Filmed for posterity, it was a 45-minute class with a group of 13 students from the Wimbledon school of English.

(See link below)

http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/seminars

It began, a little unfortunately, with squalling ‘ White Light/ White Heat’ era Velvet Underground feedback noise, due to microphone problems. To teach a live lesson is to be admired, but really what we saw was the information gathering part of the Dogme approach. What would have been more interesting would have been to see the following class and how the raw material provided by the students was developed into teaching material. There wasn’t much ’ conversation ’. The students were asked how they felt, and predictably “ nervous” was the almost universal one word response. A series of communicative tasks were then built around this single piece of information. It was all very nice, if quite teacher directed. However, the students didn’t seem to actually learn anything new. At the end, when someone in the audience asked what it was the students had got out of the lesson, and they were asked directly- one Japanese girl gave the biggest shoulder shrug I’ve ever seen- I thought her arms were going to come off.  Ironically, the only new word learned by the students was ‘feedback’, (rather than ‘horrible noise’ as one student called it.) They did, understandably, all look a bit horrified when, at the end , Luke slipped into the more  usual  teacher use of the word and said “Now , let’s have some feedback! ”

Conclusion

I confess that I do have some sympathy with the Dogme proponents in the sense that there does seem to have been a concentration on fewer and bigger courses by publishers. Where we differ is that, far from discouraging teachers from using coursebooks, we should be encouraging teachers to demand more of, and from them, their publishers, and writers. After all, these days publishing is “market driven”, full of focus groups and research teams hell bent on re-purposing content, and ‘offerings’. The point is publishers cannot do it alone – they need input from teachers i.e. people at the coalface, to produce lively stimulating and relevant material.

Finally, to return to the musical analogy, the title ‘Teaching Unplugged’ also seems misplaced. It obviously comes from the series of MTV concerts where musicians played their songs ‘unplugged’ and acoustically. However, as many of these performances were not actually acoustic, the title is more about the atmosphere, intimacy and perhaps purity of the experience – i.e. unfettered by technology. The point is ‘plugged ‘or ‘unplugged’ you need some songs to play. Dogme to me is a bit like bad jazz. It seems to elevate technical ability over ideas, virtuosity over original thought, at worst a directionless self-indulgent meandering, mainly for the practitioner’s benefit.

So, to conclude, I’m not really sure what Dogme is offering teachers and their students. Although, at first glance there is an attraction, it is at best an illusion, an idea that is all presentation but which lacks substance- a ‘foggy notion’.  To use another musical analogy, what I’ve always liked about the Velvet Underground is the fact that their songs were much better than their own ability to play them. Dogme in ELT seems to me to be the opposite of this.

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47 responses

  1. Personally I thought this post sounded a bit like bad Jazz as well, of the ‘play it again Sam’ type I’ve heard spun out so many times before, and almost always by people directly employed or associated with publishing. Most of the arguments here are cheap shots at easy targets (common caveats many Dogmeists readily acknowledge and warn against), none more than the attempt at holding up Luke Medding’s sample lesson as a being broadly representative of everything unplugged. I’m not sure whether it is an easier or harder target, but you’re welcome to analyze and critique my own recording of unplugged language teaching, which was in a genuine classroom context without audience or staging:

    http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/11/flipcammed-an-unplugged-lesson-with-beginner-level-students.html

    Coursebooks can be good – I’ve written a couple myself and don’t feel too guilty about it. Teaching unplugged works better for me and a lot of very dedicated teachers I know. I respect other teachers’ right to rely on and admire coursebooks, and hope they’ll respect my own right to avoid them.

    😉

    Best,

    – Jason

    1. Hi Jason –
      Thanks for writing. Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, but I’d been planning to watch the video first and comment from there, but simply haven’t had time today. I think it’s great that you’ve done this, anyway, as it’s always easier to comment on individual lessons that on vague proclamations of ideology! It’s also great for teachers to see other teachers and use these observations as a springboard for self-exploration and questioning. Even if you react violently against something you see, it’s good to work out WHY and what that means about what exactly you believe.

      Glad you picked up and ran with the musical metaphors, by the way! In that spirit, I guess I’ll wrap things up for today by showing my age for the two main musical things Dogme really reminds me of come NOT in the shape of unplugged singer-songwriters doing their thing or even jazz cats riffing around basic cores, but firstly shoegaze, the early 90s indie scene that featured acts such as Chapterhouse, Ride and Slowdive . . . and was known in the music press of the time as THE SCENE THAT CELEBRATES ITSELF! Though I’m also reminded of Oasis too . . . great first LP, real breath of fresh air at the time, shot of energy in the arm . . . followed by the law of diminishing returns as you realise they’ve basically said what they had to say early on and are now simply rehashing it in a variety of different ways, whilst getting ever more beligerent and convinced of their own supremacy and genius!! Harsh, I know, but containing at least a grain of truth! 🙂

      Anyway, I’ll carve out some time this week and give the videos the time they deserve.
      Hugh

  2. Hi Simon,

    I first want to say that thanks to your ML series I survived many many classes throughout the years and still view those books as some of the best BE materials around.

    However, I would just like to comment on your Japanese example. I spent several years researching speaking lessons in China and quite a few of my students were also Japanese and Korean, not to mention all the ethnic minorities (officially 52 but actually more).

    I used to teach these students in the UK and they never spoke, EVER! Conversation classes did NOT work, Market Leader speaking, role plays, case studies etc failed very badly. They worked perfectly with other nationalities. Did I blame the materials though? No. Did I blame the students? Perhaps. But I also blamed myself. Most people just taught and taught and didn’t bother doing any speaking. In China, I basically had the opposite in that students loved speaking English but they didn’t know many topics, wouldn’t risk saying their opinions and just were scared of losing face. After trial and error over the years I set up a course where students researched a topic for HW and then we did some functional a language and various speaking scenarios. Students talked, argued debated, shouted and loved it. No books, just the odd PPT or handout with phrases on it and some language help.

    Yes, the Japanese were quiet but also joined in the best they could, same as the Koreans. If you got onto a subject they wanted or chose, like the Chinese, they were off and talking away. These students went on to do competitions and go abroad and were FAR better than my students in Europe.

    I do know that these students needed the content aspect as when we just ‘talked’ it didn’t work. They enjoyed learning about real issues and then being allowed to create their opinions and talk. They really enjoyed talking in groups, as a class and asking me my thoughts. BUT they especially liked that there were no wrong answers, just opinions. for many of them this was the first time they had done something like this.

    Was it Dogme? Well, Perhaps but it was the formula I found that worked after trying for 3 years.

    Yes, they did have the belief that teachers teach but they also were people and had needs and were capable of having opinions. We, as teachers believed it was our duty to help them develop as people and to become thinkers using English as a tool.

    So, few materials, conversation-based, emergent focus. Could be Dogme. I know that the entirely content-based course didn’t really work, the one in the L1 neither and the TBL one and the TEFL one and the just chat one. It was all about ‘real conversation’ but adding in the content. For me the key was letting them talk. Students had so many years of being taught that they just wanted to speak and discuss and treated like human beings.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read – and respond. I’ll pass this link on to Simon, as I’m sure he’ll be chuffed to see the kind comments about Market leader. You’re certainly nicer to him about his materials than I’ve ever managed to be!! 🙂

      I think what you were doing with your Chinese (and Korean and Japanese) students students sounds eminently sensible, to be honest: recognising the fact that all students are basically keen to talk about things they know something about, trying to tap into their interests – and, where possible, expand their world views, giving them time and space to prepare – and then reworking their output. I would MUCH rather see teachers doing this than going for the ‘teach and teach and teach with no speaking’ option! I must say, though, it sounds like rather than being materials free, as in a purist Dogme approach, you were basically very much using materials – just that they were your own!

      I guess that for me, as a writer, what we’ve tried to do with both Outcomes and Innovations, is very similar to what you’re talking about, which is one of the reasons I’ve always resented the tarring of all coursebooks with the same brush that the Dogme folk so often fall into. My starting point for writing any materials has always been what might students want to talk about, what language might they need to help them do it better, what models might they need to see in advance of their own efforts – and how can we scaffold their own output. In many ways, I see this, if you like, as a Dogme approach to coursebooks, which makes the ‘all materials are bad’ hardcore end of the rhetoric really hard to stomach.

      One other area in which I guess I’ve developed / changed over the years is that I’ve lessened the emphasis on speaking to the exclusion of much else. This was certainly where I was at when writing the early levels of Innovations, but I came to realise that there’s actually loads of language out there that students still need to try and get to grips with if they’re really going to become fluent, and that a lot of it just isn’t going to come up in topics or in normal speech as it’s the language of journalese or academia. Look at the 3000 most common words and much of those words are of this nature. For me, a truly serious, principled teacher will (whilst also doing much of what suggest above) also have thoughts on how / when this kind of language will be got to the learners, and how it might best be revisited, consolidated and extended.

      Anyway, thanks again for writing.
      It’s always great to hear such individual, personalised stories of classroom practice.

      1. Thanks for that Hugh.

        A few months back I gathered a group of the ‘dogme gang’ together to address many criticisms fielded at dogme. They added their own and other people’s criticisms then addressed them. You can also add comments and people should respond, hopefully. Here is the link:

        https://docs.google.com/document/d/1StYPjIe07kgsFDH_kpeHdz702F8peLjylari685kvqU/edit?pli=1

    2. Hi again Phil –
      Thanks for that link. Makes very interesting reading, I think, and I also think it’s great that you’ve bothered doing this. Good to archive and record these things. I can also see why there must be a sense of deja vu and ennui from the Dogme crew on reading yet another post having a bit of a bash. At the same time, mind, given how furiously you all seem to be blogging and scratching each other’s backs, I can also see how the illusion that Dogme is actually a ‘movement’ has sprung up, as I think you all generate a degree of Internet heat that’s totally disproportionate to the (small!) degree to which Dogme has really infiltrated the wider world of ELT that exists away from the frenzy of the blogosphere and Twitter.

      Sadly, I also think that the whole debate you’ve captured there crystallises just why so many people feel the need to have a pop. When I read statements like “I teach more language in one Dogme lesson than anyone could ever in one coursebook based lesson” or “using coursebooks is an embarrassment” I just wince and feel it’s a provocative and stupid thing to say – and is guaranteed to get people’s backs up. It’s the old ‘If it’s not Dogme, it’s not good teaching’ argument writ large again.

      It’s also the fact that there seems to be the opposite kind of belief creeping in as well: if it IS good teaching, then it must be Dogme. Given that there’s such a diversity of beliefs and practices represented, even among the small sample of folk you’ve selected to discuss the issues there, there is perhaps an inevitable tendency towards in-grouping and self-defining in a positive manner, rather than exploring and accepting differences and not feeling the need to bracket things under a particular flag of convenience.

      Thar said, there’s much I agree with there as well, obviously. I just worry that you’ll end up down the same cul-de-sac NLP resides in. I went to an NLP session at IATEFL once where, on being challenged about the fact that much of what he was advocating was already common practice in many circles, the presenter uttered the immortal line “Listen, it it works, it’s NLP!”

      How bloody convenient, I thought to myself as I stormed out.

      1. Cheers for the comment.

        I do agree that it has been blown out of proportion. Suddenly everyone seemed to be divided into Dogme or not and some even felt bad if they weren’t standing on roof tops screaming about how Dogme they were. I wasn’t in the whole thing when the initial ‘books are evil’ came out so I don’t know about that but what I do know is that I have never been successful at speaking classes, mainly because of the title BUT I always had great and meaningful conversations in normal classes because they just happened. That for me took about 10 years to sink in and use.

        I don’t think Dogme is for everyone and I also think the new breed of teachers are a lot more savvy and advanced than I was when I started (may now too). They seem to progress a lot quicker and are thirsty to understand and learn as much as possible. Just look at the amount of new speakers at conferences, many young and without DELTAs/MAs and even published works. This should be encouraged I think. I never use dto like attending conferences because it was always the same old writers sneakily flogging books. What I like is hearing about real experiences and ideas. The Dogme crew seem very energetic and ready to do this. They are eager to step forward and say what they do and what works in the hope it helps others. They are also very happy to make new friends and share ideas.

        Thanks to Twitter, FB, blogs and tech you are really seeing a lot of this and the Dogme folk are probably more visible than most because they are developing via each other. It’s communal development. You may also want to take into consideration that there are many people like me who are geographically ‘cut off’ as some people put it from the ELT industry in Europe. When you work freelance and in a foreign land and don’t have many if any ELT colleagues, then an online supportive community s fantastic, whatever name they use.

        For CPD, give me positive and productive bloggers sharing their ideas with anyone who reads and wants to comment over a pile of published articles or teaching training books.

      2. I couldn’t agree more Hugh. I remember a DOS saying that GE would disappear back in 2003 and he did his best to see that it did. This meant lots of work for me as I was the one creating all these Businessy courses. It was hard to get it right though as the late teen/early 20 students didn’t want it too heavy and also interesting/entertaining. A few years later they solved it by just running online modules.

        I have been reading more and more about online adaptive tests and surely we’ll have adaptive courses eventually too. My own students use an adaptive online course which they seem happy with. I don’t know about English 360 but wouldn’t this be an ideal situation ie every week teachers choose a topic and the grammar/vocab points and have paper and online stuff. Then depending on progress and opinions subsequent lessons are suggested.

      3. There’s obviously something in this, Phil, and I’m sure all the big publishers are going down this route at the moment. My own fear is that all it ends up meaning is yet more stuff available which focuses on doing, re-doing and re-re-re-doing endless discrete grammar points. Plus skills. None of which will challenge the dead-in-the-water way we have language presented to us. Also think it’ll be a fair few years off yet as many many schools around the world are nowhere near ready for such hi-tech solutions. I include my won place of work in this as well, btw!

      4. Yep. I do think the edutech movement has got a bit ahead of the majority of teaching environments. There are countless places overseas who don’t have funds for tech and even books. I remember one place couldn’t even tell students to buy a book as it was against the procedure. This resulted in copies of books getting scanned and uploaded to a website.

        E-books are a definite saver though but we’re just not at the stage where they can replace books. But saying that I’ve had a few exchange students who said their unis gave/offered cheap e-readers and closed their libraries.

        Another question I have is how do you feel about the surge in lesson plans online?? There are more and more sites with plans/structures and less whole lesson worksheets. As a teacher, I find it hard to follow other people’s lesson plans but I can see the benefits of them such as many are very creative. Some like FILM ENGLISH and LESSON STREAM use an interesting variety of language and video/worksheets. Do you think this is the new direction? I’ve always found one-off lessons to be difficult as I like to have a course structure but from all these plans and worksheets it still seems that many people do like one-offs.

      5. Yeah, it’s weird, the e-book market. In some places where you’d least expect, like rural sections of Russia, there are huge e-markets as distance learning is the norm, due to distances, etc. I bumped into Jeremy Harmer the other week in Sofia, where he was doing some tech-related talks at Pearson’s behest, and he was moaning about what a ridiculous topic it was to be doing there and most of the teachers didn’t even have broadband at home, let alone interactive whiteboards, etc. at work! Good to keep an eye on all that, for sure, but don’t forget how most teachers around the world still operate – and don’t forget that many of them may well still be really, really good teachers.

        As for the online lesson plan sites, I think they’re far more part of the problem than the solution, personally. They create the illusion that writing materials well is simply a matter of slotting things into a template, whereas, as anyone who’s engaged in writing professionally will tell you, there’s a real craft to it. The templates, rather than democratizing actually just devalue expertise. They also feed into the recipes frenzy: the love teachers have of ‘something to do on a Monday morning’. I still stick by the old adage that there’s nothing as practical as a good theory, personally! And for me, grasping Lewis, Hoey et al gave me an approach to my teaching that negates any need for tricks and bells and whistles. Finally, I think you’re spot on to say they’re bitty and that it’s better to see things as a whole . . . which is something I’ll be doing a whole post on sometime soon.

    3. Thanks again for posting Phil. Really interesting to discuss this stuff.

      I was interested in what you said about the best conversations in class just happening. I couldn’t agree more, and suspect you’re often setting yourself up for a fall if you’re going for a whole ninety minutes, say, of predominantly just speaking. For me, the irony )in the context of this debate) is that often they just happen as a direct result of something that’s come up from language in the book! We’ll be doing some vocabulary and maybe the word wedding will appear. I might explain it and ask a couple of questions and then sudden;y students will ask questions about what happens at weddings here, and we’ll end up doing five-ten minutes of pairwork talking as they explore what they do – and what other students do – at weddings. There will then be some extra language fed in around what they tried to say. Alternatively, there might be a word / chunk in a vocab exercise that comes up whilst I’m checking answers and that I’ll ask extra questions about, and from this a story might emerge. For instance, fall out may be one item. I’ll ask who you can fall out with and why – and students may go off on one about times they’ve fallen out with friends and what ended up happening. My point, though, is that these Dogme-esque moments happen BECAUSE OF the way I mediate the classroom material and also, I feel, because of what’s actually in the coursebooks themselves.

      I also agree that the Dogme crowd are in some ways a breath of fresh air. Any younger folk coming through on the conference circuit are to be welcomed, without a doubt. I often wonder (hardened cynic that I am!) how long it’ll be before the sharper / more business-minded ones among them get picked off by publishers, as plenty of them don’t seem to be anti-materials per se, just anti materials that they didn’t write themselves! This means it’s only a matter of time in some cases!!

      I do wish they’d take criticism a bit more on the chin on occasion, rather than leaping to knee-jerk reactionary defences. Like everyone, learning to get your head round opposing points of view is crucial if you’re wind up with a fully-formed ideology. I also wish more of them would stick to showing lessons and discussing concrete examples of practice rather than spouting overly intellectualized justifications of what often turn out to be very standard activities. It’s almost impossible to engage with the concept of Dogme outside of specific concrete examples because, as I said, it’s become such a cover-all piece of terminology.

      1. Brilliant stuff Hugh.

        My current method is to go into a 2 hr MA class with 1/2 video clips (2-3 mins) some questions I honestly want to ask and few trains of thought I think are worth pursuing. that’s it. 2 hours later we’ve usually had a great discussion, some debating, arguing, disagreement (hopefully) and 1)I’ve learned a lot because the students enjoyed the topic and so talked and explained lots 2)Students had REAL conversation(s) and not just ‘fluency/language practice’ 3)Students have felt engaged and mentally challenged 4)I’ve helped with language problems/refining language for expression.

        I deal when language when it comes up but never stop for long grammar bits. The emphasis is on real discussions in English and I say I am there to provide a platform for this and to help them express themselves.

        Personally, this is the best method I have found and students actually love it BUT I spend a lot of time finding the right topics. They are IT students so it has to be topical and techie enough but still broad enough to expand into wider issues.

        10 weeks in now and I and they enjoy our classes and their oral English is really improving. Dogme, good teaching, communicative…I don’t really care. This is what’s developed as the best approach and it works great.

      2. Hi again Phil –
        Sorry I took a while to get round to responding to the comment above.

        What really interested me about your description of what you’re doing with your MA IT students is that essentially it is the first stages of creating your own course materials!! There’s a part of me that still worries about what the POINT or GOAL of these sessions might be, but I suspect that you have some idea yourself of where you think things will go once students start engaging in the discussions. This means you’ll have paid some mind to the kinds of things they may possibly try to say – and will be ready to pick up on those areas in particular should things head in that way. Once you’re doing this, to be honest, you’re only one step away from starting to preempt some of the things you think they might need to say by writing exercises which look at possible useful language (based on past experience of what students talk about in that class and your own intuition. You may even record yourself and friends having the conversations to help you think of useful language. That’s what we always do when writing). Over time, this coalesces into the core of a course – and hey presto! Your prep time gets dramatically reduced.

        I’m not knocking this in any way or saying the lessons look bad. Quite the opposite, in a sense. What I am saying, though, is that this, to me, shows the gap between Dogme and materials is basically non-existent. One can be the conduit for the creation of the other – and the materials will almost certainly be better off as a result of this.

        Hope this makes sense.

        And thanks again for the great posts.

      3. Cheers Hugh.

        Yes, I’ve done a post-course book for 1 121 student. So , in a way that is a reverse course.

        Re: My current course, I work in a very tight framework.
        My students study English online and have also had a veeeeeery long and dull intensive grammar course so when I tried doing grammary things it did not go down well. They are pretty advanced and don’t use or have ANY books or pens. They only use laptops, as is the way in the vast majority of universities I’ve worked in. They spend all their other classes doing online exercises and have test after test. It has been this way for years. The overall goal of my classes is “to create real opportunities for conversation and to fix their problems and also push them/help them to develop”. I’d say a lot of it is activating stuff they learned but never used but also introducing new ways to express themselves.

        They really want to just talk and discuss but the topics have to be suitable (this takes a lot of time on my part). I have seen this type of course run in many unis and it is often called ‘debate’ as opposed to ‘communication skills’.

        When I started I set up a blog (http://debatediscussion.blogspot.com/) to create lessons on. I wrote full BL plans/lessons but through the months have found that the first video and a few questions rarely leads to where my lesson does so planning a lesson just helps think of possibilities and it does help to have some things prepared that I can pick and choose from. This could be another related video, a very short article,a photo or different kind sort of speaking/debate scenarios. I’ve found that having a laptop and Google handy is very helpful.

        I can honestly say that I love teaching these classes as they are challenging for everyone an I even get students from other classes who come along. Yes, you could say that it’s just a fluency building lesson but I do a lot of scaffolding/error correction/extension work as a class and then reinforce language and feed in new stuff.

        If you are interested, here is a more traditional lesson worksheet I made following my video-based discussion on the Raspberry Pi: http://thelanguagepoint.com/english_materials/show/12063?filtered=technology

        This would not have worked with my class but covers exactly the same information as our discussions.

      4. Glad to hear you’ve managed to collate some of this stuff and will get some re-use out of it, Phil. In a sense, maybe the whole coursebook versus Dogme argument is the wrong one to be having, and maybe things would be much better off if they followed the kind of ‘reverse course’ logic you mention above. That’s basically how I’ve always tried to write myself and how all our courses have emerged.

        The online advanced students sounds interesting. The least of most students at that level’s issues is grammar! Wish I could remember where I encountered it, but a few years ago I came across a presentation in which they played a recording of Kofi Annan and asked us to assess what level it was (super post-Proficiency, obviously) and then to discuss why. The killer was when they revealed that the whole thing had been done in the present simple and that what made it great English was just a very very good grasp of sophisticated lexis.

        I’ve had a look at what you’ve done with the debate discussion blog and think it has potential. For me, the next step would be thinking about what students MIGHT want to say in response to some of those questions, writing it down and feeding it in via exercises so that they can then try to use some of it when talking. Part of the issue with advanced students is that they rarely make that many mistakes, so what a sharp teacher needs to listen for is not errors per se, but really things which they would say in a different – and more sophisticated – way.

        That way, there’s a clear learning outcome in terms of definite new language students will leave the class with. Otherwise, with these things, I think there’s also a risk that loads of great discussion and debate occurs, but little actual teaching! And ultimately students can always chat and discuss away from the classroom anyway, so it’s extra layering and extension of what they can already do that’s crucial. To me, it seems mad to limit that to post hoc work, when it could also be done in advance of talking as well.

        Also, by starting to write your own materials containing language that you either THINK could – or should – come up, or that has come up in the past, you get to develop as a materials writer and get to think much more about good and bad ways of structuring input exercises.

        Anyway, top stuff.
        Cheers for all of that.
        Hugh

      5. Thanks for the reply Hugh and the great tips. It’s nice to know people are writing based on actual students and their experience. I think it definitely does help, you are right. I write listening tests and tape scripts from time to time and it is a lot more realistic if they are based on actual conversations. But then that seems daft that they are then recorded by someone in a studio.

        Yes, I tried to predict and feed it in but these guys are far beyond tense and conditional work. I have a CPE student who just wants to talk and me to correct/extend her. The only things she really doesn’t know are random idioms and expressions. We also spend a long time discussing my corrections of her writing which is always about philosophy as that’s her specialism. There are very very few errors so everything is my improving or just matching language to the same level/register. she likes to argue about why X is better than Y as her dictionary says they are synonyms so I have to use online corpora to explain. Things like “it’s more common” or “it’s only for literature/newspapers” or “it has a strong cultural reference to??”. This class would be very hard to prepare material for as she chooses topics. She does mail me writing though for marking and I make lists of synonyms, collocations etc and we spend ages fighting them out. She does get angry a bit (I don’t blame her) because her dictionary/books just give flat explanations and her teachers often tell her things which sometimes aren’t true (they aren’t natives). It’s a very difficult class to teach but very enjoyable. Any tips??

      6. Hi again –
        When we first started working on what went on to become INNOVATIONS, one of the things we obsessed about was the general weirdness of much ELT listening material and how unlike natural speech it was, and we walked around for something like a year with little dictaphones, recording our everyday interactions. We’d spend hours transcribing them and looking for common patterns and chunks and phrases. After a while, we were basically so soaked in it all that we were better able to write dialogues which had at least a ring of truth to them (I hope!) and which also included a rich array of useful and frequently recurrent language.

        The recording in a studio may seem a bit weird, but isn’t as daft as it perhaps looks at first glance. We tried using just ‘raw’ conversations quite a lot and the problem was that REALLY what you wanted was a kind of perfect composite of lots of similar conversations all overlaid to form one whole, sort of like the perfect philosopher’s concept of a chair that is the accumulation of all other other chairs. If you use ‘raw’ data you get loads of stuff that, while vaguely interesting, isn’t really teaching much: loads of hesitation, mumbling, unintelligible talking over each other, etc. As a mate of mine once said, “Let’s face it, Hesitating while talking isn’t usually something most Intermediate students actually struggle with!”

        Just as listening to loads of real conversations can sensitize you to how language works, I think you’re also right in that correction of really good students can do the same, where you understand what they mean, but wouldn’t quite say it – or write it – that way. Thinking about how you’d reformulate helps you see patterns and think of bits of lexis that don’t get taught enough.

        I know what you mean about CPE students knowing a hell of a lot. I think it’s actually both ends of the spectrum they struggle with, though – the more everyday, spoken, colloquial end, but also often the higher end that involves journalism and academic English, so things like, if you’re discussing politics, say, IT’LL CREATE DIVISION AND COULD LEAD TO TENSION / IT DEVASTATED THE AREA AND LEFT THOUSAND DEAD / IT MIGHT BENEFIT THE RICH, BUT IT’LL HARM THE POOR / IT UNDERMINED RELATIONS BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES / IT PUT AN ENORMOUS STRAIN ON FINANCES / IT EXACERBATED THE EXISTING SOCIAL PROBLEMS and so on. When we were writing Outcomes Advanced, it was very much these ends we were interested in: how a topic might be written about, and how it might be spoken about, and what language might emerge as a result.

        The synonyms issue is a killer. The way I’ve come to think about it is informed by Hoey’s LEXICAL PRIMING theory – yes they’re basically the same, but we expect – or don’t expect – this one to work like this because that’s the way we’ve been primed to expect it to work through repeated exposure over time.

        Look up words like FINALLY, EVENTUALLY, IN THE END and AT LAST in a dictionary and you basically get variations of the same definition. That’s not necessarily a flaw in the dictionaries. It’s simply the way things are. To really grasp these kinds of close synonyms, the only thing you can do is to pay more attention to context and co-text when you meet them – and keep good records of everyday examples you encounter.

        Hugh

      7. Hi Hugh and Phil.

        More interesting stuff here. Of the Dogme principles, probably the ‘(necessarily) materials lite’ one doesn’t quite sit with me all that comfortably. I experimented with this in what I call a Butterfly Bow-tie sequence:

        http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/11/un-plug-un-a-butterfly-bow-tie-lesson-sequence.html

        In essence, unplugged language teaching leading into (or feeding) targeted/plugged material, which in turn unplugs itself again. This, I think, puts ‘coursework material’ in a rightful and very useful place and without some well crafted materials it can perhaps limit how much language is essentially captured and worked on with meaningful practice.

        To that end, later I put together a series of what I call ‘Open Sauce’ materials for teachers to use, adapt, screw up and play paper ball fights with, etc. The general idea is that these materials help to catch emergent language and themes and then channel them in ways to create good practice but also a nice looking record of language work completed:

        http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/open-sauce-english-resources.html

        And this all sort of fits into a perhaps rather lame attempt to picture and diagram what I think works in an unplugged language teaching approach – and materials do have a role to play, I guess:

        http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/12/a-visualisation-of-an-unplugged-teaching-approach-part-2.html

        Cheers,

        – Jason

      8. Fantastic stuff Jason. I’ve quoted and referenced your lesson cycle many times. It got me through many many classes when I started to break away from huge handouts.

        Possibly the best thing you’ve put out there though is the recorded Dogme lesson you did where you recreated some coursebook activities in the class. I think it worked very well and have been trying this on and off for ages. I think you mentioned that there are some great stuff in books and they are a good source of inspiration but personalising things and making students part of the process does help. Many over my students across the years have gotten used to just ticking, filling in or drawing lines. Getting them to create their own gap fills, find someone who questions etc definitely draws them in, helps them understand and retain the language and is interesting. I’ve found this works very well with role plays and business scenarios as 1)I’m often not allowed to photocopy 2)The cases/intros are just too complicated 3)They like/I like to create scenarios.

        I’ve also started using GDocs in my classes as I don’t have a board, just a projector. When I teach grammar based on the interactive questions I set and student feedback/conversation, I quickly create sentence chunks, examples, questions and whatever else will either clarify or extend the grammar. This means I don’t prepare them before so I have to think quickly but it does mean that I create things that are based entirely on what needs working on and what students have talked about. Students have a link to the GDoc and can then write on it. I can see them constructing sentences and can either jump in or comment afterwards. I tried video and audio recordings but it never works.

        Oh, on another note, do you think there are many books out there for students 20+ who have studies English for 15+ years and so have learned a lot of grammar and need a more ‘activational + extension’ approach. I still see many that seem to teach everything as though students know nothing. I’d also love to see more books for 121 classes like Business English.

      9. Great to see the ongoing dialogue all this has led to! Though obviously my blog posts also just fit into what’s clearly been a much broader ongoing discussion about these matters anyway!

        Phil – yes! Making space for personalisation and giving students space to be their whole real selves is crucial, not just treating them as language reproducing automatons and personally I still don’t think there’s enough of it done in coursebooks.

        That said, I personally draw the line at getting students to make their own exercises simply because (a) it’s so bloody time-consuming and prone to screw up and (b) that’s MY job as a teacher / writer – to select and write exercises that i think work well and that focus on what I think is worth focusing on AND that engage and involve. And trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way, having been through very similar stages earlier in my own career where I was endlessly getting students to do this kind of thing (actually inspired, in my case, by mad Mario’s exercises on listening to songs, where he suggested students write questions they wanted to know the answers to for other students)! Each to their own, though . . . and maybe we all have to journey along these roads ourselves at different times and see what we can find.

        I was interested to see how much you’d been influenced by doing Business English and teaching one-to-one. One of the big influences on us as writers, when we started doing INNOVATIONS, was Peter Wilberg’s seminal work on one-to-one teaching . . . and both Andrew and myself developed this notion of teaching one-to-one with the whole class.

        Which I guess other people might prefer to call Dogme!
        Ha ha.

        Hugh

      10. Hi again Jason –
        Thanks for this. I think what you’re doing with the post-unplugged coursebook unit is very similar to what I’ve been discussing with Phil and to how we’ve written Outcomes and Innovations, to be honest. Think of sensible places you want your students to get to (or sensible ‘tasks’ if you prefer to label them as such), think about the language they’ll need to get there (some of which they may already know, of course, but that’s what the material allows you to find out) – either by recording yourself and friends doing the tasks, or by simply using intuition or else by teaching it and seeing what comes back from students – then turn this into material and roll from there. Good to see there are others out there working with similar ideas – and I can only salute your generosity in putting this stuff out there for teachers to use as they wish to. You’re a better man than I in this respect!
        Hats off.
        Hugh

      11. Yes, personalisation does seem very important and I spent years doing photocopies which students couldn’t relate to. For young Business English students books like Market Leader were perfect as they learned real business ideas/concepts but experienced students often had all that and more. They wanted the language but would frequently pull the cases apart or comment on certain scenarios based on their experience. This has fed into my worksheets I think as more and more I realise that creating a fake company scenario takes a lot time, is obviously fake and the students would work better on one from their own lives. However, this can be risky. I did one recently on Crowdsourcing and the worksheet built up and then asked students to select a company and job they know well and breakdown one of the main tasks into sub-tasks. This sounds wonderful with the perfect EFL classes many books are written for but may fall flat on less co-operative ones I guess.

        This is another of my gripes as I haven’t taught a dream EFL class since getting out of EFL schools. Outside there are students who just have to do English but don’t want to. You can kill yourself trying to so personalised and interesting speaking activities and exercises but sometimes, for your sanity, a book/worksheet is the only thing that works. This can take a long time to change but then you adopt an air of superiority which I’ve seen in some people teaching abroad who are so convinced that the TEFL method is better than any other. I spoke to one publisher about this and they said they were keen on more English for…books aimed at specific countries and undergrad/post. The problem is that it’s narrowing the reach and target market.

      12. Hi again Phil –
        Yeah, I think Business English is in many ways a special case and often a world away from General English. My first experience of teaching it properly was when I was based in Jakarta way back in the early 90s and was doing in-company stuff. We were supposed to be using a book – I forget which one, but I know it had a red cover (!) – but I ended up basically helping everyone make phrase books to help them do their jobs better. They’d record all phone calls they made in English and give me copies of letters they’d written and we’d rework those and I’d pull out language patterns and chunks of relevance. These kinds of classes will always (potentially) be far more focused and narrow-goal oriented than General English classes can ever be.

        General English will, I think, eventually end up more niche and more country and market sector targeted, but as you suggest, publishers are slow to get there as they want to go for the economy of numbers and sell large globally.

      13. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing lessons out there which are incredibly creative but I’ve rarely taught in a situation where I could do one-offs. However, a couple of years I adapted a culture course and was able to bring in quite a bit of online stuff but integrated into the course. It was far better than the lectures we were supposed to deliver.

        When I was FT in a language school I remember, more than once, teachers looking for last minute copiable lessons. I got the feeling that students were just getting random things everyday. The same happened in some exam classes and computer labs. These kind of teachers just wanted ‘time fillers’ but for the whole lesson. This isn’t how I operate. Time is precious and I don’t have enough of it with students. I don’t know if the ‘copy and go’ materials have catered to a need of busy teachers or if they have fuelled the fire and made teachers reliant on last minute copying. Any thoughts?? At the other end are courses with endless resources which almost need a Phd to figure out how to blend together. Most of it is great but I’ve sometimes just been overpowered by the amount of material. Then again, I’ve had a couple of bosses who just refused to buy teacher books and insisted we did the exercises and figured out the answers. Yes, it sounds like a good idea but who has time?? I’m not advocating blindly following answers in a book but if you have 6 hours of classes and you are using materials it is very helpful to have the answers.

        Re:Tech abroad

        When I was in Asia it seemed incredible that everyone was using mobiles and even laptops. Why? Because they had skipped everything else. Of course, copyright was another matter. Where once you could buy a dictionary copied by a woman in a back room, now students copy course books to save 2Euros. With that kind of mentality I don’t know how you manage to sell any books. Especially when book shops become something like libraries with people sitting on the floor for 5 hours reading books from back to front. The other problem is just supply as every single place I’ve ever worked has never been able to get enough books when they are needed ie the 1st week.

        Thanks again for this great discussion.

      14. One more for tonight, Phil . . .
        I’m not saying this stuff can’t be creative, but rather than in some ways that kind of creativity isn’t always a good thing. I think having a fixed and pragmatic way of doing things that doesn’t require constant reinvention of the wheel is more valuable. That’s all.

        I’m also absolutely not in a context where one-offs are really that acceptable. Certainly not an endless string of them! We have prospective students, parents, sponsors, bosses, etc. all contacting us and asking us for detailed info on what we plan to teach. If we said ‘Well, a bit of this and a bit of that, as the mood strikes us and depending on what interests we imagine the students to have’, we’d lose business just like that!

        The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is interesting in this context though. I think the two things definitely fed each other – teacher crave quick fixes and time fillers and publishers are only too happy to provide them. My gut feeling is CELTA courses are probably to blame, as they churn out teachers barely able to deal with language, but adept at entertaining and blagging and able to do gap-filled songs, etc. That’s the root of British ELT’s obsession with recipes, imho.

        What else? Well, regarding materials, this is why I’m happy just having a coursebook. I just teach it from cover to cover, but the spin-off and improvisation and tailoring to students comes from how I explore and exploit the language and how I work from the speaking the students do and turn that into further input. Cuts prep time down dramatically, reduces any reliance on photocopying, creates structure and security for students, but provides me with a back beat to to riff off.

        As for the book market, ensuring supplies, etc. . . . well, that’s a whole other cup of meat to be consumed on a different day perhaps!

        Cheers again.

        Who would’ve thought we’d end up having such an excellent discussion from such unpromising beginnings!

        Hugh

      15. Thanks Hugh. I think you are at least the 4th person I’ve heard this week say the CELTA is to blame. People have also said it’s the reason for low pay, lack of FT jobs and various other gripes. I’ve spoken to a few CELTA tutors and they are very aware of this and do seem to try to change things but the same answer keeps popping up in that “it’s an introduction to ELT”. I was told the same, then they said I should go off abroad, soak up some books and then come back to find a real job. Every lesson we did was based on a book but they insisted we copy, cut up and create add-ons. On my first day of work after the course I was a given an option class and was just lost as I couldn’t use the books I’d learned with. What’s more every book at the right level seemed to teach the same stuff so I couldn’t use them either. IT felt like the CELTA just taught us to go by the book.

        I still don’t know why we still have a 20 day course but then a huge DELTA or 1yr FT MA. 1 commenter on my blog proposed a EFL PGCE which would definitely separate the mice from the men, provide solid teaching practice and classify teachers as recognised teachers. Maybe this is what should happen. The problem is it would kill the backpacking crowd.

      16. Personally, I think saying it’s only an introductory course is a lame excuse, even though I know it’s the one Cambridge like to peddle out. It’d be fine if it did actually serve merely as an introduction and if then schools all did ongoing development work, sent teachers on courses, etc. but we all know that the reality is that as soon as you’re armed with a CELTA the vast majority of people are thrown in at the deep end straight into the classroom. Cambridge could choose to make it a three-month course, say, tomorrow and revolutionise the whole market. Would it really be such a terrible thing if we then lost the chancers and backpack market? I suspect they’d still do some other Mickey Mouse qualifications and gravitate towards the bottom end of the market as per usual anyway.

        I actually wish the CELTAs would basically only teach students to use coursebooks well: rather than chopping things up and adding and the like, just teach them to understand how books work, what different stages and activities are for and how they can bring the language therein to life. That way, trainees would at least be able to work competently from whatever book they were given, would understand some basics of working from students while they’re speaking and so on.

        At Westminster, we used to run CELTAs and got so fed up with them that we scrapped them and set up our own part-time version. You can see a rough outline of what we’re trying to do here below, should you be interested.

        http://www.westminster.ac.uk/courses/english-as-a-foreign-language/part-time/teacher-training

      17. Oh yes. It makes no sense to have a 4 week course and then 2+ years later do a 3/9 month DELTA which then normally leads to an ADOS/DOS position. They should combine them into a 2/3 month course. Also, I don’t agree that the DELTA is equivalent to an MA as it isn’t, well, for most universities anyway. Some take it as equivalent to a PGCE but only the one which forms the first term of a PGCE/DIP/MA course. All these qualifications just complicate matters.Some jobs want the DELTA, some the MA and some both. How much is all that going to cost? I’ve spent a lot of time and money doing all those things and I am convinced it should all be trimmed down into a CELTA/DELTA combination or a PGCE/MA. The current criticisms of the MA courses centre around the lack of classroom experience but that’s pretty easy to sort out. If they included that then it would leave the DELTA trailing behind or being confined to the odd language school.

        My CELTA was all general English and about cutting up copies but the books seemed to be a letter better at organising stuff than me and it just seemed a bit stupid. We’d have been better combining resources. We were also not taught about teaching any other than general English. Maybe there was a talk on Business English but not much. I can safely say that 70%+ of my career has not been on teaching ELT book-based general English. This has meant I’ve had to adapt, a lot. I’ve also met bosses who refuse people with CELTAs because they say the style isn’t appropriate. How bonkers is that?? They prefer unqualified people. they also say that the certificate is unrecognised in many countries which it is. A longer more serious course could sort this out.

      18. Hi again Phil –
        It seems we’re thinking in very similar ways here. We run an MA TESOL at University of Westminster (http://2009.westminster.ac.uk/schools/humanities/english,-linguistics-and-cultural-studies/postgraduate-study/ma-tesol) and I run a module on it called ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING METHODOLOGY: THEORY AND PRACTICE. Basically, those who do the module do two twenty-minute TP slots to a class of morning EFL students and their assignments are split – first, a detailed piece explaining what they’re planning to do and why, then a reflective piece explaining what went well and what didn’t and what they learned from this, along with general action points for future development. During the course, we look at stuff like ways of approaching grammar, vocab, boardwork, etc, TTT, classroom management, etc. All good practical stuff, with a theoretical grounding. Very pleased we’ve been able to get the module up-and-running and I’d like to think it gives our course a bit of an edge (as, of course, does the fact we have Nik Peachey doing the tech module)!

        Hugh

      19. Sounds great. I did a distance one and there was compulsory teaching practice in the first part which had to be recorded. I skipped this as I had enough other qualifications but it seemed feasible. I heard there is an online CELTA now which must do the same kind of thing. After my MA I did DELTA module 3 and it was good but I don’t think you can compare the DELTA to an MA but saying that DELTA people seem to get a lot out of it in a short time. Some MA modules are a bit stretched out but the dissertation is fantastic. I did a PGCE years back that was also good and I taught for about half the course, that really rounded me out.

      20. Just out of interest, Phil, what did you do your PGCE in?
        Did you have a specialist subject or something?
        How did it work and how did it compare to your EFL experience?
        What did you get out of it?

      21. Well, short story is that it was for higher primary ie 8-12 but on a course that specialised in EAL (English as an additional language) in London. I then specialised in English. It was great as we did a lot about multiculturalism, CLIL, task-based, project-based and blended learning. I also had to learn all the national curriculum subjects but at that time cross-curricular things were all the rage so we were encouraged to mix English with everything from maths to drama and even physical education. It was very tough though and I definitely would not recommend it for some people.

        I did the CELTA first but felt like I was just given some tools and wanted to know how language evolved and learn more. Thus, I started to learn about 1st language acquisition then moved up. Some days on the teaching practice were very hard, event violent on a few occasions but one day I just snapped and realised it was them or me. From that day on I got tough and earned respect from classes that used to make temp teachers quit in less than an hour. It mainly taught me that these EFL classes in language schools are too perfect and the real world is not like that. It also showed me how important content is and that most students don’t just want words and grammar. Well, most, maybe some.

      22. Sounds great Phil and must’ve stood you in really good stead over the years. My mum used to teach kids who’d been excluded from ‘normal’ schools – violent kids, kids with drink or drug problems, psychotic kids, etc. she did about twenty years in Camberwell and Vauxhall, then moved to Gateshead and is now retired. She used to come home from work and talk about how she’d dealt with having a blade pulled on her, that kind of thing, so I’ve never been under any illusions whatsoever about how lucky we are in our cosy little world of ELT!

        I do think you’re right on the content issue. It’s just that I also think that what students need isn’t ONLY content. If the content can allow us to usher in the language work through the back door, then great, but without language development work, even kids for whom English is their mother tongue end up ghettoized and handicapped.

      23. Yep, knives are a given in some places in England and even Asia. I had one kid not so long ago sat at the bag sharpening his nails with one, not very macho! The first time I was ever punched by a student I new things were not as rosy as I thought. That almost cost me my PGCE actually but I decided to stick it out.

        This is something that I hope coursebook designers take into consideration. I’m sure the big markets are abroad and the books are being used by non-natives with kids who are not quite as eager as the EFL ones.

        Sounds like you are CLIL/CBI then with a bit of Dogme even. The truth is out!!

      24. How dare you! I’ve never been so insulted in all my life. 🙂
        CLIL is a whole other mess that I’ll avoid getting in to here for now.
        Suffice it to say I think ti’s been a bit of a disaster in many contexts and very poorly – and politically – applied.
        In terms of my own writing, I guess I am coming very much from a leftfield starting point, yes, and am interested in all of these issues – and also feel classrooms should be interesting and should give students space – and language – to express their full sense of themselves and the world around them. I know only too well that the majority even of my students here in London aren’t interested in grammar per se, but merely see it as a means to an end. Anything that can remove some of the obsessive focus on grammar that we’ve seen these last twenty years can only be good, I think.

      25. OK. I take it back. BUT it does show that the average teacher may not actually be 100% in any camp and these “I do CLIL” type statements are just so people can join a group or learn something new. I do agree that I have seen some shocking attempts at CLIL. I used to do a lot of refugee support teaching in the UK in the late 1990s and it was the way things were going. Immersion was also paraded around as an excuse to just sticking them in a normal class with the occasional 121. As with many things, the ideals get watered down into nothing. I’ve worked with some very good specialists who really have helped refugee kids thanks to their approach but I’d be surprised if that even exists any more. The last time I was in a government school I had 2 autistic kids, 1 disabled, 5 ADD ones, about 8 refugee kids and several with learning difficulties. That recipe needs serious attention but teachers just don’t have the time or resources maybe.

        Obsessive grammar focus? Really? Would that be the effect of grammar obsessed books? I gave up teaching grammar like that a long time ago. I can’t believe I used to spend full lessons mainly on 1 grammar point and then said “yes, this is the present perfect but we will do for/since in the next unit”. Now I do present perfect and then it often leads to the past perfect and then other tenses. I remember some people used to recommend such mixed tense work for advanced levels but why?

        Moving to a related point, would you agree that a lot of ‘grammar’ in advanced books is just not necessary? Few students get to CPE level, probably because they need to be that high and if they do they frequently want specialised English and just more advanced language, not tenses and unusual structures. Should advanced books perhaps focus more on vocab and building long and complicated turns?

  3. Ana Garcia Stone | Reply

    Well said and written! One thing I find puzzling about Dogme is where the students’ emergent language comes from. I work in Madrid with young learners who have limited exposure to English and a lot of them only read or hear English in class – in the course book or otherwise.

    1. I’ve always thought that the idea that students are bursting with things they really want to try and say in English is optimistic in many cases, I have to say. I obviously accept – and like – the idea of teachers providing space for students to talk and to listen to them and to help them say things they’re trying to say in better English by reformulating / rephrasing their output and turning it into input that may be of use to the whole class.

      However, if this is the sum total of your approach to language enrichment in the classroom, you’re dooming the students to a fairly meagre diet. I’ve never understood the opposition to using texts / listenings as prompts to speaking . . . or understood why you can’t teach some potentially useful new vocabulary first and THEN get students to do some talking based on the new input, and work from that?

      It just seems like the imposition of really dogmatic rules on yourself for the sake of self-perceived purity of intent.

  4. A nice blog entry, thank you. It is the shame that people who like Dogme alway retort with the frankly tired, these arguments against have been ‘spun out’ so many time before line.
    Every time I read an article that questions Dogme it seems to come at it from a different approach. But if these arguments HAVE been spun out so many times before maybe the protagonists of Dogme should take a long hard look at how they are dealing with this opposition and come up with better responses.
    Dogmetists seem to me to be scared to debate, scared to have opposition so they try to belittle it by calling it the same old same old. It makes me think that they realise Dogme is the emperor’s new clothes… as soon as one person call it out it will collapse.

    1. I would basically agree with you . . . but then as a coursebook writer I’m clearly The Enemy and presumably my opinion becomes invalid and tainted by my commercial interests!!

      I think there is very much an Emperor’s new Clothes quality to the whole thing as well, although the fact that debate is still raging around the subject all these years after Scott’s initial article must mean there is something there.

      What bugs me most, I suppose, is that apart from getting students to talk and then reworking their output, I can’t really see what else Dogme has to say about anything. As a global theory of language and of learning, it seems remarkably thin. Now, there are obviously loads of teachers out there who could certainly benefit from thinking a lot more about what their students might want to talk about, from giving them the chance / time to talk and from learning to remodel their speech into better English, no doubt. However, this in itself is but one tiny facet of what it means to be a good teacher, surely?

  5. While I don’t agree with all the criticism of Dogme in this post, it does raise some good issues.

    Your comments on the Luke Meddings were mine exactly. It was an echo of what I posted on a blog a few weeks ago. The just of it being “what did they actually learn?” I also thought it was boring, but that is not a knock on Dogme.

    I agree with your point that any teacher should be able to do these activities. However, I think there are more teachers blindly following course books than you imagine. I know I was one of them when I started years ago.

    In this regard, I think Dogme is just a reaction to the large amounts of teachers who follow books and nothing more. For me, this makes it more of a teaching tip and less of a methodology. “Don’t use the book all the time and look for emerging language” would have been fine enough I think.

    1. If only they’d kept it to “Look for opportunities to exploit emerging language and learn how to reformulate”, none of this horrible mess would ever have happened Dave!
      I know Luke personally, and like him a lot, but that lesson is a right old dog’s dinner. I think it kind of is and isn’t a knock on Dogme in a way.
      The fact that Luke is Scott’s left-hand man on the teaching Unplugged means it is important that he present well, as folk will be looking at it and wondering what Dogme is all about.
      I’m not even saying, personally, that you couldn’t do a GOOD 30-minute lesson improvising round the word NERVOUS, but it just seems to be endless reasons why you feel nervous, with Luke upfront and the students just sat there . . . ironically, looking ever more nervous. Why not expand into other connected language, if you’re going to go for input? Why not go for things like i completely lost my appetite / I had a horrible feeling in my stomach / I just couldn’t concentrate on anything / My mind went completely blank and so on. OR why not have some material that feeds in some of what you’d expect them to say anyway? Work the language, teach the gaps and then let them practise and build on that?

      I’m not personally even so sure that “every teacher should be able to do these activities”. They just look like more recipes to me, to be honest.
      When I first read Teaching Unplugged, it just felt like Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking dressed in a Che Guevara T-shirt.

      I’m not sure teachers do “blindly follow” coursebooks. I watch a lot of lessons and mostly I see teachers actually just using coursebooks badly: not exploiting the language that’s there, supplementing in all manner of mad and not particularly useful ways, failing to provide enough speaking opportunities and failing to work with what comes up when they do manage some, etc. Personally, most days I just work through pages of OUTCOMES, from start to finish of a spread, but never feel this is “blindly following” as I’m busy doing all of the above!

      Anyway, great to have you here and thanks again.

      1. Sorry to jump in here

        What I do find interesting is that Luke’s Dogme and Scott’s are very different. Luke is very interested in ‘learner lives’ and seems more interested in using emergent language but often brings in a topic he thinks/knows students will be interested in.He also, like in the video, works on emotions. He seems to enjoy dictations. Whereas, I think, Scott used/uses texts and breaks them down. I’ve never seen this done in a Dogme class but have tried it. Other teachers like Dale Coulter use lesson frames/skeletons which can be moved around. Chia Suan Chong is very ‘here and no’ and picks up on and works on lots of language and grammar. The list could go on…What I got from this is that they all take ‘conversation/emergent/materials light’ as just guiding principles. But it is interesting that Chia’s DOS in her Teach-Off did not enjoy her own Dogme lesson. Maybe because she just thought of it as a chat followed by some grammar stuff. This would tend to point to the fact that it isn’t that easy and it has to be either an ingredient or a guiding principle to a specific teacher’s approach/method.

      2. Hi again Phil –
        In a sense, you’ve nailed another thing that bothers me with the whole set-up and the way it’s proselytized: given that, as you say, there seem to be very very few distinguishing features even among those at the forefront of the so-called ‘movement’. From what you’re outlined above – and your own summary pretty much nails the way it seems to me as well – we basically have some fairly divergent approaches all loosely linked by a desire to spend at least some time in the classroom giving students time to speak and then working from what they say, reformulating it, running with it. If this is the case, and it seems pretty clear that it is, then I think Simon Kent is right when he says “Well, that’s what loads and loads of teachers do already anyway”! It’s proper Emperor’s New Clothes stuff.

        I was also interested to see you focus on the different slants folk have. This is what I’ll be blogging about next, hopefully over this weekend: the way that, in a materials-light context, the teacher invariably and inevitably foists their own angles and interests onto the class and the way it unfolds. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m interested in students’ lives as well, as I suspect loads of teachers are, and like to think my materials create loads of space for student stories to emerge. At the same time, though, I’m also interested in broadening their range and repertoires and ensuring they can discuss the economy and sport and politics and the weather and cites they visit and so on, because one day they may need to! I get between a hundred and a hundred and fifty hours with students at each level and there’s time a-plenty to cover a broad and divergent range of topics and language, to match the range of interests and needs in any particular class.

      3. Hi Hugh,

        I’m not sure that it’s what loads and loads of teachers do. A lot of writers, conference speakers and DOS/ADOS people have said this but they are definitely not the average teacher. I’m sure there are far more CELTA grads or even people with CELTAS abroad, both native speakers and not, just following books. As the number of foreigners speaking English has now outnumbered the natives then this will grow. the CELTA was/is very book-based but the DELTA/MA courses give you more freedom. If you haven’t got that far in your career then you’re probably not taking advantage of emergent topics/ideas because 1)you don’t have the skills to exploit them 2)you have been told to do 70/30 with the book 3)have a lot to get through.

        Most of my early ELT jobs were book-based and we had to follow them unit by unit. Then when they started using their own published stuff we had no choice as the new units only arrived on Monday morning. Other places I worked used blended courses where you really had to keep up with the books/online stuff. Diverging off is a tough one and doing “how was your weekend?” then “oh, you all watched a football match so lets talk about that” has never really worked for me. A lot of the Dogme classes I see are general and similar to this so it’s not suitable for me with Business, corporate, MA and content courses. When I tried doing it classes ended up on computer games or music or just nothing as students had very few interests. So, I had to step in a guide things by establishing topics early on together, giving them choice week by week within a framework, choosing flexible themes myself based on my knowledge of them and even just at the end of class giving 3 options and having a vote.

        I also have to stretch students and go into topics they don’t know. This was a big problem in China but after a while I just gave the topic, some recommended reading/viewing and students really got into researching the topics. In fact, they said they often enjoyed that more than their other classes. Of course, I had to have an angle, as you always do. I would start off with them, relate the issue to them on a basic level then pull out in the wider issue or the opposite. This is vital in exam prep speaking tests like IELTS. I used to go in with videos, copies, worksheets etc and students complained. I class even complained for just using a book as they said they just needed practice. Thus, I lightened up.

        For people like me from a book-centred, materials heavy and grammar teaching point ELT education Dogme was just a wake up call. Senior teachers I used to work always used less materials than me and had a very natural way of teaching I never had. During the few observations I’ve done on other teachers in EFL schools, government schools, unis and online, they have generally followed books because that’s their job and what they are paid for. Chucking that in the bin and creating your own lessons, be they from internet handouts or Dogme-style in risky and probably not going to get you in your bosses good books. Thankfully, I have some trusting and flexible employers and some very demanding students so I basically give them what they want/need and everyone is happy.

      4. Hi Phil –
        Thanks (again) for such a detailed and thoughtful post! I’m struggling to find time to keep up with you! How did you do it? Seriously!

        I hear you on bad teaching happening as a result of coursebook use, but my argument has always been that, while learning how to reformulate student output will obviously help, what needs to happen here is NOT the books themselves getting ditched, but rather the teachers learning how to use them better, how to exploit the language in them in a more student-involving interactive kind of way, how to get the speaking sections to run better, and so on. In all honesty, all the worst coursebook-driven lessons I have encountered have NOT involved teachers “just following books”. Far more often, they involve teachers ripping book lessons apart, reinventing the wheel as a lumbering great biog square and being ‘creative’ for the sake of being seen to be creative without any real understanding of what they’re doing or why. To me, this represents a bigger issue than teachers who work from 1-10 in a thorough, principled way!

        The point you made about going off on an ‘Oh you watched some football over the weekend, let’s do five minutes on that’ was the point I was trying to make above, really. And once a teacher has done that once or twice, and knows which language they can exploit around that, they’re more likely to pick up on a similar theme next time and to do a similar version of the teacher-driven input, so it becomes a trick of your repertoire. I know this, because I find myself doing it too, and am aware of the fact that it sometimes stops you picking up on other things students are saying that may be less obvious or less immediately obvious in terms of how to exploit them.

        Cheers again, anyway.

        Must dash.

        Have some football to watch!

        Hugh

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