Dissing Dogme Round Three: the implausibility of certain core language emerging via conversation.

I recently had to cover an Upper-Intermediate class at work, at very short notice. I literally picked the book up, went straight in to class and started teaching.

The class is doing OUTCOMES (hey, if you can’t use your own coursebooks at your own place of work, where can you use them, eh?!) and were on Unit Three – Things You Need. The goal of the opening double-page spread is to help students talk better about a wide range of objects and to describe what the objects are for. If any of you have used this book, you’ll perhaps have spotted a fair few typos in the first edition, which escaped the copy editor’s clutches. Beneath the obvious typos, though, lies another level of glitch: things that we as writers know have been missed out, but which may not be apparent to the casual observer! Typically, this lesson began with one of just such mistakes. The first exercise is vocabulary-focused and has students looking at a whole page of pictures at the back of the book and discussing some questions in relation to these. Students discuss if there are any things there that they have never used (and if not, why not); which objects they use all the time / regularly /now and again / hardly ever; whether or not they have any of these things on them now – and which they have at home . . . and, finally, which they did not know in English before. Now, here’s the catch. The pictures at the back were supposed to be labelled, like a picture dictionary, but somehow the labels went AWOL. The pictures show things like a hammer, a drill, a saw, a torch, a stepladder, a nail, a screw, glue, rope, wire, a plastic bowl, a cloth, a dustpan and brush, a mop and bucket, washing-up liquid, a corkscrew, a tin opener, a lighter, a rubber, correction fluid, staples and a stapler, scissors, clips, sticky tape, a charger, an adaptor, string, a needle and thread, an iron, (clothes) pegs, a plaster and a bandage. Obviously, not having the names of these objects isn’t a disaster because as a teacher you simply begin by asking students to work in pairs (or groups) and to see how many things they know the names of. You then round up and teach the gaps, drill any new words, write them up on the board (possibly with extra collocations / examples of use added in, so things like HAVE YOU GOT A CORKSCREW? I NEED TO OPEN THIS BOTTLE OF WINE or HAVE YOU GOT A STAPLER? I NEED TO STAPLE THESE BITS OF PAPER TOGETHER.) and THEN get students to do the speaking afterwards.That’s what I did and it all worked fine.

Now, quite possibly, you’re wondering why I’m telling you all of this in what’s billed as being another bash at hardcore Dogme, right? Well, afterwards, I was discussing the class with a colleague and we were discussing how hard it’d be to access and teach such language through a Dogme approach. There is a whole slew of language that’s useful for students that simply doesn’t come up in everyday conversation and is unlikely to appear in a conversation-driven class unless the teacher really goes out of their way to guide the conversation towards it in some cunning way. I was reminded of something I heard Willie Cardoso say at Spain TESOL this year. He claimed that essentially language only exists in the here and now, and only comes into being – or becomes relevant to students – through communication and as a result of communicative needs. At the time, this struck me as a short-sighted thing to say as clearly all manner of language exists all around us. Even when we’re sitting silently, not engaged in communication at all, language is everywhere: in books, on posters, in newspapers, on the web, in the conversations of others and so on. Much of this language – and actually much high frequency lexis – occurs far more commonly in written language than spoken, and actually in specific kinds of written language, chiefly journalese or the language of academia. Much other language that may well be high-frequency in certain contexts only occurs in those particular contexts and is unlikely to be needed in general chat.

If you doubt the frequency of some of the words above, think on this: in the MACMILLAN ADVANCED LEARNERS’ DICTIONARY, string is a three star word; ladder is a two star word, as are cloth, needle, rubber, rope and nail. I could go on, but the basic point here is that almost all of these words are relatively high frequency and thus deserve to be taught. I’m obviously not saying frequency is everything, but at the same time it’s not nothing either. What’s important here is to have some kind of principled approach to what we teach across a series of lessons, or across a course as a whole, and to ensure that we pay heed to such crucial factors as word frequency.

Now of course, I’m sure that the more skilful Dogmeticians could come up with contexts in which some of the language mentioned above could be introduced (though I have to say, could is certainly not the same as do – and I’d bet good money that most actually don’t!). You could perhaps ask students to brainstorm problems around the house and reformulate their ideas onto the board; you could then ask them to discuss all the tools they’d need to deal with these problems – and maybe encourage to walk around explaining things they don’t know the words for to see if anyone else in the class knows the English words. It’s obviously not impossible for at least some of these tools above to thus emerge and get taught, but it’s not strictly conversation-driven to approach a class this way and the emergence of these words depends on the teacher choosing tasks with a specific language goal in mind. Which, when you stop and think about it, is basically what materials often do, isn’t it! And there’s the rub.

Perhaps a truly skilled Dogme teacher, who’s incredibly well informed linguistically, could even manage to ensure conversations veer in all manner of different directions over a period of time and thus ensure coverage of a large number of high frequency words more commonly found in written English. I have nothing but admiration for the one in a thousand teachers who may be able to manage this. I simply ask them whether or not well thought-out materials might not be able to bring those words to the students in a faster, more focused and more efficient manner?

As a coursebook writer, one of the major changes I’ve made is to shift from the colloquial, informal spoken style of INNOVATIONS to the more complex, broader range of language contained within OUTCOMES. Now you could easily argue that for many students, the former is more what they require. That’s fine. I fear, though, that for many more, they also require (either now or in the future – the great forgotten time by Dogmeticians, for the need then has by definition yet to appear!) language used in more niche kinds of speech (presentations, business, academic discussions, etc.) and also in writing (and its close cousin reading). One of the things we obsessed over with OUTCOMES was ensuring coverage of as much core lexis as possible. The Macmillan stars proved an invaluable guide and helped us countless times to decide on which words to include – and which to not bother with yet. And such decisions are at the heart of what we do as language teachers. Written well, coursebook material is far better placed to bring this kind of language to the students – and to test how much of it they know already and to then give opportunities to practise it – than Dogme is.

Dogmeticiains will argue that their approach somehow creates ‘a real need’ in students for the language, yet actually whether the task is brainstorming tools required or trying to name tools in unlabelled pictures, both tasks are an artifice, a kind of game, and in neither situation do students REALLY need these tools. By starting our planning with a goal in mind – a place you want students to have got to by the end of the class – you’re far more able to introduce such language, though, than you are if your goal is go with the flow and see what comes up.

The only time a student in a true Dogme class may actually REALLY need to ask for a hammer is when they reach boiling point and flip out in frustration at their teacher, who has no clear notion of where the minutes are leading or of what they intend to teach – and a blow to the head with a blunt instrument seems to be the only possible way to end such tedious torture.


19 responses

  1. You make me laugh, Hugh, the way you hammer it home ;o)

  2. Hi Hugh

    I’ve just recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying your posts. Even the dogme dissing posts, although your understanding of dogme differs a wee bit from mine.

    My questions here would be, why did you decide to teach ‘string’, ‘ladder’, ‘hammer’ etc? Are these words you thought the students needed or would need to use soon? And, if they did need to use them, how difficult would it be for them either to ask what something was called, or to look it up in a dictionary, at the time of need? Would it then be more memorable? Would our time be better spent encouraging them to find the information for themselves so they are increasingly able to function without the teacher? If I needed a hammer while learning a new language in another country, I think I’d just look up the word for it? If someone talked to me about a hammer and I didn’t know what they were talking about, I’m fairly sure a quick mime would clear things up.

    In my experience, it’s through dogme that the words and structures students actually need to use to talk about their experiences, interests, knowledge and opinions come up. One of the thoughts I’ve had after discussing a topic is that it’d be unlikely that the language that students needed would have been in a course book. I’m not dissing coursebooks here – I know there are good ones around – but we need to know the limitations of any one approach and deal with them appropriately.

    For me, a dogme approach is the best use of the two hours a week face-to-face time with the learners I work with. Other activities can happen between sessions. Learners seem to agree. Realising that one learner didn’t know the names for pieces of clothing, I suggested we do that in class. He didn’t want to. He could do that on his own at home. They want to use the time for talking. I can’t imagine using a course book in my current context. Learners have different abilities, ‘levels’, first languages. They have things they are interested in talking about – that could be the DIY project they are currently involved in or it could be the reasons why we drive on the left in the UK. They want what we do in class to be relevant and useful.

    So, am I wrong? Is a dogme approach not appropriate here? Should I be using a course book?


    1. Hi Carol –
      Thanks for finding me here and for taking the time to both read and comment. It means a lot to know folk are bothering. Glad to know you found something to enjoy in my rantings and ravings.

      I think you raise some interesting questions, and I’ll try to address them. In terms of why I decided to teach string, ladder, hammer, and so on, the trite and obvious answer would be because I was covering and they were in the book. Having co-written the book, though, I guess there’s a deeper logic, and that’s simply that these words are useful, they’re relatively high frequency, they’re things the students may not know, and they’re things that can lead to interesting and entertaining activities and discussions / role-plays in class.

      I think one of Dogme’s fatal flaws is the absolute prioritization of the here and now over any possible future. It’s like a child’s view of the world! One of the ways in which I’ve changed over the years is that I’ve become more input-centred than output-centred. When you start to consider just how much language there is, how much there is to know about the words that are in common usage, and how little time we have in class, the issue becomes how much can we reasonably expose students to in the precious hours we have together, and how useful will it be to them in their future language-using experiences, for surely we have to look towards the future: this is what all education does – build towards the future.

      In a kind of parallel, this morning I was discussing with my wife the notion that kids don’t recall anything before, say, their fifth birthday, and that all the memories we are now storing up about our daughter (three next month) will be forgotten by her. The one thing, though, of course, that is NOT forgotten is language. Kids soak up language like sponges, even though much of what they absorb will have no relevance or utility for them for many years to come. My daughter may not need to ask for a hammer for many years to come, but when she does, she’ll know how to do so!

      Of course you can avoid teaching this kind of stuff – and possibly much else that appears in the high-frequency lists – on the grounds that students can always look it up when they need it, but that seems to be to ultimately be a kind of anti-teaching mentality, when carried to its logical end point: why teach ANYTHING unless they say they want a word NOW! Students can already find words and information for themselves – they have dictionaries. What I can give them that dictionaries can’t, though, is a definition that may connect to their own realities, examples of common usage, some of which may derive from their own (elicited) ideas and the chance to practise using this new language in meaningful, fun contexts in a risk-free environment. I think that’s one of the things students pay us for. The best way to ensure students can function without a teacher is to teach them as much language as we can, imho.

      As for memorability, it may well be true that things you look up on your own at a moment of need do stay in the mind, but that’s not to say that words learned in class can’t do the same. It depends how the teacher deals with them, surely?

      There’s a fair bit more to say in response to your first action-packed post above, but that’ll do for now. I’ll revisit it later on today!

      1. Thanks, Hugh! I don’t have time for this but it’s really interesting 😉

        I’m not really sure I’m the right person to get involved in saying what dogme does or doesn’t do and, like I’ve said, I seem to understand it a bit differently from you. I try to do the best for my learners using the resources available and I’m quite sure I don’t always manage it. I don’t think we should limit ourselves to one way or approach but I have found that dogme – as I understand it – works well.

        Having clarified that I may not know what I’m talking about, I’m not sure that dogme priotizes the here and now over the future. In deciding to use it as an approach, I’m very aware of the possible futures of my learners and encourage them to think of them too. The things we do in class, and what they do outside of class, are all intended to make them better able to use language better in the future. Like you said: “this is what all education does – build towards the future.” I don’t really see how using a dogme approach rather than a course book does this any less. The language – lexis and structures – will all be useful in the future. Learners can be encouraged to reflect on how they can use what they’ve learned in other contexts in any approach. What I think dogme does say, is that language which has real meaning for the learner as it is being used – spoken, read, heard, written – may be more easily remembered/acquired (for use in the future). This doesn’t mean that language encountered in course books is not relevant, meaningful or interesting to learners, but that a dogme approach is one, quite effective, way of doing it as well.

        Also, like you, I think input is very important and learners should be encouraged to get as much exposure and useful input as they can. If there’s sufficient time or it’s particularly relevant, this can happen in class – remembering that dogme is not ‘just’ conversation but that it’s a conversation-driven approach. Extensive reading’s a favourite of mine, but I also encourage watching and listening to English. And, as you said in your post, language exists all around us, which, I would argue, is a form of communication if people attend to the message the posters, newspapers, etc are conveying. And, just as a teacher using a course book would be likely to input language not found in the course book, I’m sure many teachers using a dogme approach would introduce language to learners that they thought would be useful for them to know – either now or in the future.

        Finally, I’m going to agree with you again, being able to explain language in ways that are useful to learners, and provide relevant and enjoyable practice, IS what we’re here for. I was simply reacting to what you said in your post that this language would not be dealt with in a dogme class. It might or might not be, but then it might or might not be with a different course book. Really what I was trying to ask was: does it matter that much? Learners can do some of the work on their own. In a dogme class, as in one where a course book is used, teachers are there to help learners say or write what they want or need to be able to say, suggest new ways of saying things, work on structures, coax, encourage, push – in a risk free environment.

        I know that there have been some forceful posts and discussions about the value of dogme above all other approaches, but I think the majority of people who might be using a dogme approach, do so because it suits them and their learners in their particular contexts. They don’t want to short change their learners just so they can follow ‘the way’. They believe it’s effective. It doesn’t mean they don’t bring in materials (it’s materials-light, not materials-free) where it’s useful or entertaining, but as an approach dogme is a useful way to start with the learners, what they’re interested in, what they can do, what they need to be able to do and build on that. It also allows a flexibility to work at different levels with different learners. I’m sure a lot of these people too, if they thought it was best for their learners, would use a suitable course book.

        Phew! I’m off for a walk…

    2. Right. I’m back. The next point I’d like to pick up on – and it’s one that I’ll be expanding on in a full post sometime soon – is the notion that Dogme is somehow more student-centred.

      The notion that in a Dogme class students are all equally busy rushing to try to say things and engage in ongoing, developing conversation is one of the movement’s greatest myths, I think. In the Dogme lessons I’ve watched or read about, the vast bulk of what occurs happens because the teacher wants it to and guides it in that direction. In other words, the teacher goes into the class with – or at some point decides upon – some topics to discuss, some kind of tasks, somewhere they want the conversation to go. That’s fine if the teacher can justify to themselves and their students why they feel that the direction they’ve selected results in better and more meaningful learning outcomes that those decided by coursebooks. Of course, in the case of some coursebooks, this shouldn’t be that hard to do! It is, though, a challenge.

      In my experience, when students actually DO try to take the class off and direct it, and use the teacher as a resource to help them express their own emergent language, it is actually often to the great DISPLEASURE of the rest of the group – and the teacher who allows it to go on for too long is seen as weak and directionless. There may the student who wants to go on about football (frequently, I find!) or about politics, though rarely about much else, and who will monopolise the teacher’s time and energies unless the teacher is very careful. Where does Dogme stand on this? Is the Dogme teacher supposed to turn this one student’s enthusiasms into input useful for the whole class? Or move on and do something of possibly more value to more students?

      And once the teacher HAS decided on a task – let’s say, describing cities – are you sure that what may or may not come up from the language that emerges is of more LONG-TERM utility to students than language on a similar theme in a coursebook? Does it also depend on level? By definition, the higher the level of a class, the less likely they are to make many mistakes when talking, and thus the fewer options there are for teachers to rework their language. Is it enough to simply provide space to practice, when instead you could provide challenging new input and encourage students to use it?

    3. Hi again Carol –
      Hope you had a good, relaxing, head-clearing walk! I opted for a large scotch and a DVD of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLIDER, SPY!

      I don’t have time for this either, really, to be honest. I fear it’s all a delaying technique to stop me from getting on with real proper work like writing, but as you said, it IS interesting to discuss these things and work out one’s own stance.

      Anyway, a few further thoughts . . . the reason I said Dogme focuses on the here and now is not perhaps so much because the language it teaches can ONLY be used in the here and now, but rather because it will only get taught if it emerges in the here and now. If it doesn’t ’emerge’ through whatever communication students are engaged in at the moment, then it’s unlikely to get covered. This differs quite profoundly from coursebooks, which can be – though obviously aren’t always – written to ensure as broad a coverage of language as possible. That said, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not inconceivable that a good teacher not using any materials will still be able to winkle out and explore a wide range of language too. Just that I think it’s harder for the average practitioner to do.

      In terms of language being more meaningful if it’s met while it’s being used . . . well, firstly, surely much of what happens in Dogme happens after the speaking, during the feedback section, and secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, it all depends what the teacher does while explaining and exemplifying the new language. I think this is far more important in terms of making language memorable than when or how the words were first encountered or needed, and this goes beyond either coursebook or Dogme. The other thing to bear in mind here is that SLA and vocab acquisition research in no way validates or supports such claims as those made by the Dogme hardcore, which to me suggests we acknowledge these things simply as matters of faith.

      That said, there seems to be plenty we agree on: the importance of having an input-rich classroom (though I suspect we may differ when it comes to what that input actually is) and of being expert at explaining things. Anyway, my whole goal with these Dissing Dogme posts was certainly never to rile teachers such as yourself, who clearly stay well informed, think long and hard about what you’re doing and try our best for your classes. Rather, it’s a dig at the extreme wing, the bloggers and conference speakers you refer to in passing, who make daft statements like ‘If it’s not Dogme, it’s not teaching’ and ‘Using a coursebook is an embarrassment’. These kinds of attention-grabbing sound bites get my back up, get the hackles of many other teachers up and add nothing to any kind of sensible debate.

      On that, I suspect, we may also be able to concur!

  3. My relaxing head-clearing walk was followed by wine.. balance is everything 😉

    It does get my back up to hear statements like the ones you quote above, just as it does when people assert that you’re not serious about your CPD if you don’t use Twitter and social media, or any other “If you’re not ____, then you’re not _____” statements.

    There are different ways to reach similar goals and it’s important to recognise that what works for one person, won’t necessarily work (or be enjoyable) for the other. If someone’s not doing what you believe is a good way to do things – be that learning a language, teaching, professional development, or even spending their free time – it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, It doesn’t mean that it’s right either, but we need to be open to assessing other ways of doing things and to learning from them.

    But, this is your place to rant, so I’ll leave that to you… 😉

    But before I go, you make good points about the language available to be learned. It’s important to keep in mind and it’d be interesting to hear more about how course book writers make those decisions (a future series of posts?). However, it is surprising how much language is needed and actually does come up in a dogme lesson. It can be dealt with as it is needed in conversation with small groups or in monitoring or whole class feedback with larger ones, as well as in a later stage. I don’t know if the language that would come up in a describing cities activity using a dogme approach would be more useful in the long term than the language presented in a course book, but it could be argued that the language learned or needed by each student would build on what they already knew (providing that they are required to push themselves beyond what they already can do!) and be useful for them at their particular ‘level’ of language development. But again, it’s something to think about and be aware of. Most importantly – as you mention in your posts and comments – we need to know why we’re doing something in class and be able to justify our actions as much as possible. These posts, which seem to be more about what constitues good teaching rather than actually dissing dogme, will help us do that!

    I’ll look forward to your student-centred post…

    1. Hi again Carol –
      Glad you managed to find karmic equilibrium! I managed a jog this morning, so that was my attempt at something similar!

      Good to see someone else who gets wound up by the CPD ranters and Twitter evangelists! That’s a whole other slew of blog posts in the making just there! Their time shall come.

      I guess that I do more or less agree with you about there being different routes to similar goals. At the same time, I also think sometimes that such even-minded talk can act as a cover for any number of essentially stupid activities and that “It’s just my way of doing things” becomes a form of unassailable self-defence. I think what’s important, then, is defining / clarifying what kind of goals might be desirable . . . and then to discuss and evaluate which ways of attaining these goals are plausible, and whether some may be more efficient or sensible that others.

      Finally, yes, I will be writing more later on about some of the decisions, as I see them, that go into choosing language for coursebook selection. Whatever principles go into writing decent material (he said modestly!) though can of course also always be supplemented by leaving space for students to talk, and by the teacher picking up on gaps and problems and feeding new language in. Just why the two continue to be seen as mutually exclusive is beyond me!

  4. Having lurked around reading various blogs both pro and anti dogme I’d like to raise one point here (and will perhaps make myself even more unpopular – though I didn’t get into teaching to become popular): with regards to vocabulary acquisition (as that seems to be the main point of the blog above). It is generally agreed in research that we need noticing + exposure in order to ‘acquire’ language. Let’s go a step further and say it’s even been said in very respectable circles (Waring/Nation/Schmitt/Laufer/McCarten to name but a few, never mind the research on L1 acquisition which covers similar topics) that vocabulary should be encountered (noticed) and practised in various situations before it becomes part of a student’s productive repertoire. In the Netherlands we tend to refer to the four phase model (from the German Neuner; similar to PPP) whereby the learner moves from introduction (activating prior knowledge) to presentation of new words/structures then to practising the new words/structures in a closed situation (various ways of practising moving from closed to increasingly open) and finally to the transfer i.e. production phase. I wonder how many dogme teachers actually manage to incorporate re-visiting and practising of key vocab in such a way that their students actually master the words and can use them in more than one situation?

    I’m not a huge fan of course books as such (in the sense of dictating the curriculum) and believe that an intelligent teacher should be able to teach what the class needs – be that with a course book, supplementary other materials, or totally ad-lib.

    Just throwing in a challenge for dogme teachers to demonstrate they provide enough (varied) support for their learners’ vocab acquisition/learning.

    1. Hi there –
      Many thanks for taking the time to read the posts and to comment. Really appreciate it.

      Anything written by teachers in the Netherlands deserves to be taken seriously, I feel, if only because the level of English of most students there is so incredibly good (even if I do also have a sneaking suspicion that much of this must be down to the endless exposure via TV!). I was interested to hear about the four-phase model. It’s a new one on me, I must admit. I guess Dogme’s argument would be how can you know that anything is new when presenting it, but I’ve always thought that this is the point of vocab exercises – you assume some of it will be known, you see what they know already, maybe expand on those bits by giving extra examples or collocations and then teach the gaps.

      I think the whole issue of recycling is crucial. As a writer, it’s something I’m borderline obsessed about, to be honest, and we’ve always tried to cover language as often as we can without forcing it. I think any good teacher will also do something similar, whether it be explicitly via revision exercises, or via implicit boardwork.

      In a sense, this is the kind of thing I talk about here:


      I think the boardwork we give our students, and the way we use, plays a huge – and under-discussed – role in helping prime the students to expect words to work in certain ways.


      1. Thanks for the reply. Just one comment: I always used to think that tv not being dubbed over here played a huge role in the level of English. In the meantime I’ve somewhat adjusted my ideas. The majority of tv watched by teenagers seems to be of the (Dutch voiceover) cartoon style or local, national soaps (although serious games are still generally in English but the percentage of kids involved is still in the minority). What does seem to play a very important role here (boy would I love to have time to research this properly!) seems to be the prestige. English has huge prestige here and it’s ‘cool’ to speak English and throw English words into your conversations (deliberate code-switching). I think there is very little doubt in anyone’s mind over here that it’s essential to have a smattering of English if you want to survive in the big bad world – and the Dutch have always been a nation of traders facing outwards rather than inwards…..
        Incidentally, with regards to the link to your other article I don’t think you’ve painted yourself so black at all 😉 and a colleague of mine is currently writing an article on one of the points you make i.e. the automatic aspects of language as opposed to ‘remembering’. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the finished product!

      2. Hi again –
        Thanks for that. I suspect that both factors must play quite a large role, to be honest: the undubbed TV and the cool factor and outward-looking nature of the Netherlands. I’ve often pondered the TV effect as there just seems to be such a huge gap in language ability between countries which dub and those that don’t (which frequently means a northern-southern European split). That said, I think you’re right in that we can’t underestimate the social status of a language within a culture. I’ve often felt in Poland that English represents a kind of language of travel, of alternatives, of potential escape . . . and there’s also that feeling, as you say, of knowing no-one else is going to speak your own L1, which must make a big difference too!

        By the way, I’d love to read your colleague’s article on automatization / automaticity as and when it’s finished. Maybe you could post it up here? or at least add a link?


  5. Hi Hugh
    I’ve just finished your three posts on Dogme and there’s a lot to mull over here. Unfortunately, I can’t take the time to write long comments, and I shouldn’t since I promised myself not to visit blogaland while on holiday, but… just to clarify one thing and to challenge another:

    – you might’ve misunderstood me, or I might’ve miscommunicated my thoughts; but the ‘here and now’ mention of my talk was not about ‘communication’ and ‘communicative needs’ as understood in TEFL; my stance was on ‘dialogue’, as understood in literary theory and language theory, most precisely as articulated by Bahktin; twice referenced in my talk. Just to clarify, this dialogic nature of language (and learning) can happen (and does happen all the time) between a reader and his/her book for example, between a couch potato and his/her box set of Grey’s Anatomy; and whatever else. There’s no need of two face-to-face people for this dialogue I speak about to happen; two voices/texts will do.

    – If those students you thought were given the same page of pictures today, without labels, how many words would they remember? I wonder… Or better, if they need to buy a corkscrew at a shop, will they be able to ask for one? — I’m not doubting your teaching skills, you taught the words the best you could and that’s our job; but I often doubt the whole idea of teaching random lexis just because they’re frequent, and I’m not sure how much of it students end up recalling them at the point of need (but… I’m not sure either how much retention of lexis there is after a Dogme lesson). Maybe I’m in fact an anti-teaching; if teaching means giving definitions and drilling for pronunciation. But well… I’m on holiday, more later.

    1. ‘Anti-teaching’, it’s the new black.
      I think that’s quite telling, though, isn’t it? Perhaps this reluctance not just you but a lot of teachers feel towards ‘giving definitions and drilling’ is what drives some of the popularity of approaches like Dogme. And there are others – many teachers ‘just’ do conversation classes, which I think was the old term for Dogme before it was Dogmetised. We are simply not convinced of our own ability and influence to cause learning in our students.
      And with good reason – learning is not a consequence of good teaching, it is an biproduct of a person’s desire to know something. Dogme expects that to just materialise out of nowhere in the classroom setting, which I feel is probably wishful thinking a lot of the time, while the rest of the ELT world tries to hoist that motivation on learners through the medium of amazing technicolour, which occasionally works.

      (See our blog on learner coaching for the Grand Unified Theory of ELT)

      1. I fear you may be right about the appeal of Dogme being rooted in such ‘anti-teaching’ (or is it ‘anti-teacher’? or maybe even ‘anti-whatever-stereotype-of-teacher-some-of-my-students-may-have’?) ideology, though I’m also sure that plenty of folk who see themselves as Dogme influenced are good at – and keen on – explaining and drilling too. The confession above does, to me, reek of the kind of 60s counter-cultural influence I was moaning about right at the start of this whole blog: the ‘I’m not a teacher, I’m a facilitator’ thing.

        That said, whilst learning clearly isn’t a DIRECT consequence of good teaching, this doesn’t mean that good teaching causes NO learning . . . or that not teaching IS a direct cause of learning. It just means we need to be realistic about how much we can expect students to remember simply because we think we’ve taught things – and to accept individual variations in this.

        For me, motivation is far more rooted in the social arena of the classroom and in the way the teacher mediates the language and the material with the students than in either technicolor day-glo bells and whistles OR magicking things up out of thin air.

        But that’s a whole other post for a whole other day!

      2. Hi Hugh,

        Thank you for replying – I felt that perhaps I sounded a bit flippant in my response to Willy, and apologies to Willy if I did ;o)
        And please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we can’t make a difference. I think we can, but it probably isn’t so much about the teaching methodology as the teacher’s attitude that counts the most. I’m sure Dogme and Catmeticians would agree. The energy and worry we are all clearly putting in to finding the balance between materials-led lessons and dialogue-led lessons is testament to the responsibility we all feel towards our students, and I’d say its that sentiment that students respond to most.
        My feeling (based on anecdotal evidence from learners I’ve known – I wish it was based on harder evidence) is that the amount of learning that goes on in our lessons is dependent on what our students are doing with the opportunities to learn that we present them with, whether they be mediated through materials or conversations. A learner showing poor learning skills isn’t likely to respond well to either, whereas a learner showing good learning skills will make the most of whatever presents itself.
        My question is therefore: why are we so wrapped up in how far along the plugged-unplugged cline we sit and why aren’t we more concerned about such issues as inner motivation, good learning skills, study organisation skills, setting goals and what our students are doing when we aren’t there to motivate them?

      3. I hear you loud and clear on this one. Just like every other teacher who’s been in the game for some time, I’ve had students who progress at a far slower rate than others in the class, who seem resistant to my attempts to de- and then re-programme them in terms of how they do things outside of class (an area we have all have huge responsibilities towards, I think, and one I’ll try to blog about sometime soon). Indeed, sometimes it feels like whole classes, who just go slower and absorb and process input slower than others!

        I think it’s a balance of both what the teacher does in class to engage and motivate students whilst they’re there, and to make the learning experience meaningful and fun, as well as what students do outside of class. Some things they do are clearly much more worth doing than others.

        That said, if you think about revision, students can only revise what we give them in our classes, so what we think is the most fitting input is still critical. I do totally agree, though, that the questions you raise at the end of your post are under-discussed ones, and ones we’d all do well to ponder and have principled positions on.

    2. Hi Willy –
      Thanks for bothering to read and especially for taking the time to comment.
      I now know what it’s like when you blog yourself. Other people’s blogs can prove a terrible distraction and drain on your energies and time! Anyway, enjoy your holiday and get some deserved R&R! You can always read this on your return.

      I get the Bahktin reference and am familiar with his work. I’m not suggesting that I don’t think things CAN be learned through dialogue, whether that be between two people, a person and a book, a person and a DVD or whatever. Learning clearly can happen in that space. I’ve learned things myself that way. I’m just questioning why that has to be the ONLY way learning can occur. It seems to me that much of Dogme has elevated this kind of learning, which is frequently, let’s face it, accidental in a sense, to such an exalted position. It’s patently untrue that learning from grammar books or picture dictionaries or whatever other form of ‘rote-learning’ you might care to name is necessarily NOT going to lead to intake. We’ve all met students who’ve learned quite excellent English in the most random and unusual ways. In the same way as when you’re learning an instrument, you learn chords and scales way before you necessarily use them in songs. In other walks of life, we learn things all the time that we may not immediately need to use. It doesn’t mean this way of acquiring information and knowledge is invalid.

      I also just think that things like the tool words I was talking about are far less likely to come up ‘through dialogue’ of the kind that might occur in a ‘conversation-driven’ classroom, yet still believe they’re worth teaching. As for what makes language memorable to students, I honestly think it’s way more to do with what the teacher says about the language in the class, the examples that are given, how the students interact and practise the language and what they then do at home to revise and what the teacher then does in class to recycle than it is to do with whether the words were learned from a picture dictionary type exercise or from a dialogic encounter!

      As for teaching ‘random lexis just because it’s frequent’, I would just argue that (a) it’s not random – it came up in a unit in a coursebook called THINGS YOU NEED and (b) the fact it’s frequent means it’s more worth teaching than something and NOT frequent, which is what I sometimes end up teaching when I’m just riffing off what students come up on occasion. Frequency isn’t everything, as I said, but it does mean it IS language students stand a better chance of encountering again, and thus noticing again. This, in theory, increases the chance of longer-term retention.

      As for not believing in explaining and drill pron . . . well, that’s between you and your maker, that one! Suffice it to say that for the way I see it is that being good at explaining language and coming up with meaningful pertinent examples of relevance to the students’ lives is perhaps THE central skill a teacher should possess.

      Anyhows, thanks for stopping by.

      Hope this hasn’t scared of, and trust none of this will be seen as any kind of personal attack or anything, but rather as an exchange of ideas and beliefs.


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