Dissing Dogme Part Five: Conversation-driven or teacher-driven?

Conversation is an elusive beast. It can be hard enough to have a decent one with someone that you know well and enjoy talking to. You may not be in the mood, you may not feel you have anything particular to report on since the last time you spoke, the topic that seems to be emerging may be of little interest you and you may participate only nominally as your mind may well be somewhere else entirely. Now add a few more people and shake to see what happens. Well, if my classes over the last twenty years, or the classes I’ve observed during that time, are anything to go by, then what happens isn’t all that dissimilar to what would happen in a conversation between eight or ten or twelve people in a pub. Two or three people dominate, with sometimes just one or maybe two hogging the conversation completely. Factions emerge, people drift in and out and sub-groups splinter off and have their own conversations instead, maybe chipping in to the main conversation when they feel like it. What almost never happens is a conversation spontaneously develops in which all the varied multiple members participate and contribute equally. I’m not complaining about this. It just seems to me to be the way things are. As any of you who’ve met me will know, I love a good conversation as much as the next man (or woman) and believe, much like Theodore Zeldin, in his mesmerisingly good book The Art of Conversation, that what we talk about and who we talk about it with can have a profound effect on who we become. So I’m down with the concept. What I have an issue with is basing a whole approach to teaching on it! Or claiming to, at any rate.

Dogme prides itself on its own self-image as student centred and conversationally driven, yet beneath the veneer my feeling is that there lurks many a frustrated materials writer simply waiting for the right offer from the right company before cashing in their chips, saying goodbye to the revolutionary kudos and joining the big bad enemy camp. And I speak as someone whose whole career as an ELT materials writer has been driven by general boredom and frustration with much of what I had been given to teach with early on in my career! The roots of my cynicism lie in the fact that when I hear Dogme practitioners vent about materials, what I think is actually going on is not a rejection of materials per se, but a rejection of most other materials apart from their own! Now, in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with this. Many good young – and not-so-young – teachers start out on the road towards becoming materials writers (even if only on a part-time basis, as I’ve always preferred things to be myself) by rejecting published materials and preferring their own. This is as it should be. This is how you start to learn your craft. But let’s be honest here and recognise things for what they are.

I remember reading – slightly incredulously – a post on Chia Suan Song’s blog where she took a Tom Waits’ song into class and did a lesson based around it, which then morphed into student-selected songs followed by a viewing dictation of the action in Lady Gaga’s Telephone video and a homework that revolved around pop artists Roy Lichtenstein. Now, I’m not saying none of this was fun. I’m sure most students had a great time doing all the activities Chia describes – and I’m not saying it didn’t lead to some vocabulary work that may have been of utility (though the cynic in me feels the need to add that some items such as a helicopter flew by, prison warders and a car with red and yellow flames may be particularly useful when having to describe the video to Telephone, and that perhaps this is not something students will often find themselves doing again in future, but hey!), but to claim that this way of doing things is anything other than a keen teacher infectiously spreading her enthusiasms (Tom Waits, social semiotics, Roy Lichtenstein) and teaching on the hoof is to dignify things above and beyond the reality. In essence, this is a materials-driven class; just that for some reason the teacher believes that a Tom Waits lyrics and a Lady Gaga video offer more to the students than published material might. Of course every teacher has the right to make these decisions, but at the end of the day, we also have to be able to square with ourselves that what we end up teaching is of maximum utility to our students, and not simply something that was needed to describe something foisted upon students by one’s own whims. And I speak as someone who comes from a music background and who spent the first few years of my teaching career imposing countless songs I was personally mad for onto my students!

On a similar note, last year I watched Luke Meddings give a plenary at France TESOL, where he compared the city planning of Paris with the way Dogme teachers approach lesson planning and where he also made several analogies between exploring cities and language. Within this, we were treated to several pseudo-impromptu tasks involving working with partners and describing our first memories of visiting Paris, what we’d done thus far in the city this time around and so on. The idea was that a teacher could use these talking tasks to generate ‘meaningful, student-centred’ discussion and from there, pick up on mistakes and things students were trying to say but couldn’t quite say yet (or ’emergent language’ if you want to sound fancy) and turn this into input – the old TBL task-followed-by-teacher-led-input paradigm I’ve discussed elsewhere in these rants. Now, again, this could well be a lot of fun and could generate a lot of discussion – BUT Dogme seems to mistake generating a lot of discussion with being ‘discussion-driven’! It’s surely TEACHER driven in that it’s the teacher deciding to bring such tasks (or, indeed, any of the many similar tasks that you find in Teaching Unplugged) into the class and using them as a way of getting students to talk! And in this sense, can anyone explain to me how this is any different to a good text in a coursebook that students want to talk about, or a set of questions in a coursebook that students want to discuss? The only difference I can see is that one may – if written well – feature graded input, recycle previously taught language, be written specifically to encourage classroom conversation and target specific high-frequency bits of lexis!

Let’s be really generous here and assume, for the sake of pushing the extremes, that a teacher DOES somehow manage to work from emerging conversations that happen between the students themselves, at some point they will inevitably want to turn this inwards and towards language. What they’ll be looking for is a slip or a gap in the students’ output that they can seize on and exploit, so students feel like they’re actually learning something and not just jabbering on. What is picked up and the way it is exploited is often the result of past experience and practice. Indeed, it’s hard top see how it could possibly be anything else. This means the teacher rolling out a familiar riff and thinking “Oh great. I can do my thing on used to versus usually here” or “Brilliant. Let’s do a little bit on what they thought London was going to be like, and how it turned out to be different. That always goes down a treat!” In essence, despite the appearance of spontaneity and ultra-responsiveness to students’ so-called needs, these linguistic interludes are frequently simply another form of teacher-driven task or teacher-led language focus.

As an adult, I’m smart enough to know that not everyone in a very varied group of fellow learners is going to want to sit and chat or talk about whatever I might want to start talking about of a morning – whether that be Arsenal’s ongoing struggle for a Champions League spot, a new country record I’ve been digging, a row I had with my wife or the nutter I had to deal with on leaving my house in the pissing rain that morning. And I sure as hell don’t want to spend my morning having conversations about other such mundane topics of anyone else’s choosing! I’m all for classrooms having more talking in them, and for this talking to engage the whole student, but let’s confuse things and call these bits of talking conversations. They’re clearly not, or at least hardly ever will be. They’re the result of materials (or tasks) that teachers bring in, and that teachers have to justify to themselves, their students, their students’ sponsors and their bosses in terms of their goals, the utility of what is taught around them and so on. In this, the good practice that Dogme seems intent on claiming a monopoly on is no different to the good practice nay teacher who’s learned how to listen to their students engages in, and to insist that it is is to do these teachers, who numerically surely far outweigh the Dogme crowd, a profound disservice.

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17 responses

  1. I’ve long thought privately what you dare to say in public in these rants. Thank you Mr Dellar for swiping away the Emperor’s new clothes and revealing Dogme for the sham and personality cult it is. It is ivory towers thinking that has about as much in common with the everyday teaching situations I see in my work as David Cameron does with a Greggs customer.
    And I think we all know who you are talkin about in Paragraph two.
    The only criticism of these blogs is that it gives something the oxygen of publicity that should have been sent to Dignitas years ago.

    1. Hi there –
      Thanks for taking the time to read and to respond. Appreciate it.

      Not quite sure I’d go so far as to say that Dogme is a sham or a personality cult, though I do think there is sometimes a bit of a he / she who blogs / Tweets loudest, longest and hardest wins element to it, which is to expected these days, I guess. Interesting to note that you feel this way, though. I suspect you’re not alone.

      As I’ll go on to blog about sometime soon, I do think there are ideas of worth hidden within Dogme. I’m more interested in things being presented in a slightly more reasonable manner and less preposterous claims being made, less divisions being forced and the like. Also, as an obviously self-interested (!!) coursebook writer, I’m interested in coursebooks being discussed and dissected on their own relative merits, rather than tarred with one big brush.

      Paragraph Two not intended to be about anybody in particular, by the way! I’m not THAT coy about these things! Anyway, glad you enjoyed reading the posts and thanks for the response.

  2. I’d say dogme isn’t about any materials you bring in. It’s about student generated language, which is the key. I feel the point of dogme is to start and end with the student. So, a dogme activities purpose a la Teaching Unplugged is to encourage student output for related language work.

    You end up with an engaging text. The assumption here is that language and topics generated from the students are inherently more likely to be of interest to them than an outside text. Yes, outside texts can be extremely useful, but dogme assumes that you have a better chance of hitting on an interesting topic if you simply start with the student, rather than the text. There is also something intrinsically motivating about this. If students start talking about gardening on their own, they feel the language is relevant and are more likely to engage because it comes from them than if you teach gardening because it’s time for Chapter 5. In principle, if you ask the students to scroll through a course book and choose which chapter they’d like to do next, then yes, your argument is valid, but only if that choice is offered.

    The language portion can be teacher lead, but that’s probably why a teacher is being paid in the first place. If students could identify their own gaps and fill them comfortably, they would have chosen a self-study method. It doesn’t invalid the approach. It goes back to the intrinsic motivation of seeing your own language reworked. You, the student, chose the topic, chose the language, and now you’re looking at how to improve it. Very motivating. Additionally, it’s very easy to make this student centered. Students look at recordings or transcripts of their language and find areas for improvement or interest. There’s not a need to be especially teacher centered with it.

    Will all learners participate equally? No, but neither will they in any other lesson, so I don’t view that as a particulary outstanding criticism.

    Thoughts?

    1. My point about the materials, Nick, was simply that many of the leading bloggers who come at things from a Dogme-oriented perspective often aren’t rejecting materials per se, just anything except their own materials. That’s fine, but let’s call that what it is, rather than dressing it up as materials free or whatever. I’m all for encouraging student output, but as I said above, there are many ways to skin this particular cat. Christ, even some deadly controlled grammar practice activity can, sometimes, lead to loads of super-interesting student output that can then be reworked. If the message is simply ‘let’s create chances for students to speak and then let’s reformulate’ then great! I don’t think you’ll find ANYONE disagreeing with that. The fact that so many feathers have been ruffled by Dogme, though, and not just mean, would seem to suggest that there are other aspects of it, or claims made by those involved in it, that irk.

      As for student-generated texts / topics being more interesting, well I’d dispute that. More interesting to the individual student in question, possibly, but certainly not to the class as a whole. In the end, one of he teacher’s role is to filter and select topics and texts – or books containing them – to save the endless debate about whose texts / topics to use. Why do you think things like Spotify have become so popular? Sure, sometimes you want to listen to music you know, but oftentimes you want to hear something new and fresh and surprising, and that can hit you just as hard as something far closer to home. The same goes, I would suggest, for topics and texts. I’ve always liked the old Lord Reith adage of giving the punters what they didn’t know they wanted in this respect!

      The point about gardening is, for me, simply that at some point a good coursebooks should have space for students to talk about it if they want to. Why it should become a topic for a whole class, though, simply on the grounds that one student is keen on their marrows or whatever, I fail to see.

      I’ll be blogging soon on the whole idea of ‘negotiated’ or ’emergent’ syllabi, by the way, so won’t go into any more detail on that aspect just yet.

      To conclude, then, yes to space for students talking and to reformulation. It’s a key part of my own teaching. But no to students choosing topics / texts, for all the reasons outlined above.

      1. I agree on the materials issue. As dogme tends to be lots of different things to lots of different people, you end up with some who view it as materials light and others who view it simply as student-centered. The anti-coursebook element is often a big part, but I agree that that can be a separate discussion.

        I agree with you that outside text can be just as interesting and motivating. I think the key is that it isn’t scripted. Doing chapter 5 just because it comes after chapter 4 often can have a very demotivating effect on both students and teachers.

        As for one student guiding a whole class, I’ll speak for myself here, but when teaching a dogme style lesson, I look for topics that peak a lot of people’s interest (you can never please everybody). You see it happen in classrooms all the time. One student opens a topic and suddenly the others start jumping in excitedley. THAT’s your dogme topic for the day, not just any old thing someone happens to be talking about.

        I look forward to the next post.

      2. I know it’s not exactly what you’re saying here, but I’d personally take issue with anything that attempted to equate ‘student-centred’ with ‘materials-light’ personally, Nick. As though one can only be student centred without material or with material or one’s own choosing! I also personally think it’s always better if texts are not necessarily scripted, whatever you take that to mean, but certainly graded to the level of the class and I also think it’s preferable, generally, if they’re written for the classroom as they can be tweaked and twisted to allow divergent viewpoints, points of departure for discussion in class in a way that ‘authentic’ texts very rarely are. In addition, of course, they have language benefits – right level, recycling, avoidance of random obscure items, etc.

        As for doing chapter 4 just because it follows chapter 3 or whatever, I fail to see why this should be demotivating in and of itself. Surely it all depends on the teachers’ ability to bring the LANGUAGE within whatever unit or page they’re doing to life and connecting it to their students’ lives. I always see spreads in a book – or any kind of material, really – firstly in terms of what language there is to be taught. I feel Dogme folk often see it in terms of its ability to generate chat. I’m not saying that’s unimportant, just that it actually makes the teacher’s life harder as topic is harder to sell to students than lexis. If you look for LEXIS that piques students’ interest, any topic becomes manageable, and there’ll be spin-off points you can go into a looser more chat-oritned style for as a direct result of working the language.

        I hear you on one student mentioning something and it leading into a bit of a class chat. That obviously does happen, though often only if the teacher is sensitive to it and facilitates the development of that conversation by clarifying / redefining the focus in terms of questions to discuss, etc. BUT it certainly doesn’t provide enough to teach a whole three-hour lesson on (that’s what I teach where I am). It may well be a ten to twenty minute interlude, sure, but the only way it could then become the ‘topic’ of the day is if you then improvise madly, whizz videos into the class, invent your own tasks around them and so on. For me, that’s obviously a kind of skill, but not one I’d want to see my own teachers engaged in too often. I’d rather they knew when to stop, when to bring it back to the teacher and when to move on to the next piece of input.

  3. Another great post, Hugh, passionately and persuasively argued as always.

    Until now I have been, I’m sure like many others, enjoying from afar this whole series of posts on Dogme as well as the recent blogs of Chia Suan Song on Dogme vs Coursebooks, Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings and the “Demand High” blog of Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener, without yet actively participating in the debate. Thought I’d finally get involved…..

    For what it’s worth, I think that maybe 40% of my teaching might loosely be described as “Dogme” but not necessarily “pure Dogme” which I feel would be hard to maintain in most teaching contexts such as the one I work in (multi-lingual, wide variety of nationalities, 16 in a class, same teacher for approx 20 hours a week for anything from 1-12 weeks and continuous enrolment). My own approach to teaching language is probably most influenced and informed by a lexico-grammatical analysis of language and the theories of Lewis which your coursebooks undoubtedly best put into practice, and my own experiences of attending (pretty average) Spanish classes and drawing conclusions as to what was useful/ a waste of time, what I as a paying customer expected from language classes, and how classroom time could be most usefully spent given lack of time and money.

    Put simply, I would probably be very happy with a class where I had plenty of opportunity to speak about interesting and relevant topics, and through this discussion I had my language reformed, corrected and my notebook was absolutely full of phrases and ready-made chunks of language in context which I could go home review, revise and put into practice immediately. I did not want to listen to a teacher, desperately trying to convince us of his grammatical knowledge, “justifying his presence” by giving lengthy, decontextualised explanations of minor grammar points in response to one pedantic student’s question whilst frustratingly watching the clock tick away, or spend 6 lessons looking at and doing fill-the-gap grammar exercises on the difference between ser and estar. Again.
    In short, I wanted a kind of Dogme lesson with plenty of useful and relevant lexico-grammatical input to support me and help me speak and listen better in particular (but also read and write). As well as using this new lexis/input in speaking activities, I would also need to see it and record it to ensure it wasn’t all forgotten after the lesson, so would be reliant on quality boardwork from the teacher. The teacher would also have to encourage me to recall and use this language in subsequent lessons to ensure it was actually acquired so would need to build in regular but quick recycling and review activities (and maybe even a test from time to time). My “dream lesson” as a student would also probably contain a balance of skills with the emphasis on speaking and listening, plenty of efficient and meaningful intervention, correction and help with pronunciation from the teacher (“Demand High” in other words?). It would be purposeful, sufficiently challenging and intense, but all in a fun and motivating atmosphere. I would like to feel that the teacher had a rough plan but wasn’t afraid to be flexible and deviate from it, exploiting learning opportunities, personalising things and using students as the principle resource to keep things engaging and memorable. At the same time I would want to feel that the teacher cares deeply about my individual progress and seeks to maximise class time and really listen to students, not clockwatch disinterestedly. Whilst the lesson wouldn’t need to be all bells and whistles and games, as the usefulness of the language would keep me motivated, a little variety would be welcome (reading and discussing newspaper articles and encouraged to notice/highlight chunks and collocations, DVDs, role plays, presentations etc.)? Not too much there that I think you or most Dogmeticians would argue with.

    Whilst obviously I can’t speak for all students and their needs and expectations, in my experience this kind of approach does usually keep nearly all the “General English” students very happy nearly all of the time, and help them feel a real sense of progress. Given the wide variety of learning styles, needs and personalities in a class this is probably about as much as can reasonably be expected of a teacher.

    From reading some of the different blogs, it’s easy to (perhaps mistakenly) get the impression that teachers have to be in one camp or another. You are either pro-Dogme or pro-coursebook, pro or anti-technology, pro lexical approach or pro-grammar whereas I think there is a lot more overlap and a well-thought through, principled lexico-grammatical “eclectic approach” is not necessarily watered down and muddled, but simply good practice and a necessity in the majority of teaching contexts.
    I agree with you that there is a tendency to (lazily?) tarnish all coursebooks with the same brush though closer examination of certain books (especially the Outcomes series) will show how coursebooks have evolved and developed to better meet the demands and needs of today’s learners with far more attention to lexical chunks and phraseology. These learners generally want to get things done quickly and are more likely to be concerned with communicating fluently than getting 3rd person Present Simple “s” drummed into them endlessly before they can move onto tackling the Past Simple in Module 6, six weeks into their “intensive course”. This “Grammar McNuggets” model of coursebook is brilliantly critiqued in Scott Thornbury’s blog post/video “G is for Grammar Syllabus” and insightful follow up posts.

    http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/g-is-for-grammar-syllabus/

    Many of these posters however, seemed to lament the lack of an alternative coursebook focusing more on phraseology and spoken grammar, which is precisely the type of coursebook I think you and Andrew Walkley have written (with first Innovations then Outcomes).

    One of the reasons I am a big fan of coursebooks such as Outcomes (apart from the usefulness of language, challenge, high demand etc) is how generative and easy to usefully exploit/mine the material is for a teacher (from tapescripts to fill the gap dialogues/workbook exercises) and then recycle/practise. Good listening/reading material can offer alternative voices to the teachers’ and students’ own opinions and so often stimulate better discussions. This in turn, increases the likelihood of more language emerging naturally through conversation, and crucially students noticing high-frequency lexis from listening/reading texts. This can be highlighted, focused on, written on board, worked with and practised in addition to all the great language from the coursebook. I feel to some extent I have to rely on good material to do some, but certainly not all, of this work for me as I’m sure most teachers with a higher amount of teaching hours a week do.
    I’m also actually quite a big fan of authentic materials, and using technology where it genuinely adds to the learning and is not simply being used as a gimmick. With regard to technology, in our school one webtool that goes down a storm with students on the IWB is the BBC iPlayer. An episode of (e.g The Apprentice) with subtitles exposes students to a wide variety of chunks/expressions in context which the teacher can highlight,draw attention to and create activities to help students use it actively, not just understand passively. Students are massively motivated by this type of thing (evident in all class chats I do with every class to see what really happens in classes and what students really think of what they do – often more revealing than observations!) as well as being entertained and finding the language more memorable. In my experience they often recall this language better than coursebook language. It’s also usually easy to find good programmes that tie in with the coursebook topics (Crime, Current Affairs, Education, Entertainment etc) and it’s rewarding for both teachers and students when so much lexis covered in classes comes up naturally in authentic programmes.

    Though coursebook writers might not like the idea that teachers adapt and supplement their material, the reality is I think, that no matter how good the book is, virtually all teachers do and have to. I’m not sure I know any teachers who go through the coursebook exercise by exercise, lesson after lesson and I doubt students would let them get away with this.
    If teachers are going to use a coursebook and the reality is most need one to provide structure, content, language, pacing, support etc, then it needs to offer flexibility.
    Could Outcomes actually be the best available coursebook for teachers who recognise the need for large amounts of appropriate lexico-grammatical input, structure, support etc but also the need/desire of students to have room for longer, freer conversations and the teacher to work with emergent language (i.e quite Dogme-friendly and the best of both worlds) ? Obviously many of the activities in Outcomes do this (e.g give students plenty of freedom in their answers whilst also practising a particular chunk in context.) Is what the teacher then does with this freer output, “controlled Dogme ?”

    My concerns with a “pure Dogme” style include some of yours. If a teacher adopts a pure Dogme approach (in my understanding, very materials light /no materials?), whilst a great deal of excellent language might emerge naturally from conversation it is also leaving a lot to chance. Well prepared material from coursebooks (e.g Outcomes) has carefully predicted plenty of useful language related to certain topics which will help students talk about these topics more successfully and fluently rather than relying totally on the teacher’s ability to skilfully reformulate and feed in language on the spot and be the sole provider of input. I also think pure Dogme all the time, unless consistently brilliantly and skilfully done, runs the risk of students perceiving the class to be slightly unstructured, unplanned and aimless as well as well as (in larger classes) teachers having to carefully avoid dominant students going off at tangents which do not interest and lose other students.

    Finally (!), your reference to the Art of Conversation reminded me of a brilliant podcast that Alain De Botton did on this subject, which also refers to Theodore Zeldin, the gist of which you can read in this article he wrote:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1302218/ALAIN-DE-BOTTON-Who-cares-going-rain-Thursday.html

    Lots of fascinating points, some of which I’m certain are applicable to the EFL classroom and this debate (e.g the need to plan for successful conversations; some artificiality, engineering and gentle but firm direction being necessary; the importance of personalisation and opening up your soul ; bland and neutral topics so often favoured by publishers producing sterile and forgettable conversation etc.)

    Think that’s it for now. Apologies for massively long post but plenty of food for thought from all this debate and lots to get off my chest!

    1. Hi Luke –
      Many thanks for taking the time both to read my posts and to contribute such a lengthy, thoughtful response. Much appreciated.

      At the risk of sounding like a bad telephone answering service, I know there are plenty of other blogs out there, so thanks for spending time on this one! 🙂

      I was really interested to read your descriptions of your own teaching. As I’ll eventually go on to blog about, I suspect you could quite easily tag about 40% of what I do in any given class as ‘Dogme’ too, if you’re that way inclined, although I don’t think of it as such myself. And obviously, I’d also concur with the notion of my main driving force and influence behind the way I think about everything I do in class – and as a writer – as coming from a lexico-grammatical Lewis / Hoey-rooted place.

      Your description of what you’d be happy with from a lesson, as a learner, was fascinating and really well articulated, I think. A real joy to read – and almost a blog post in itself!

      It’s very similar to what I want when studying Indonesian, with perhaps one caveat: as well as being given interesting or useful things to talk about / practise having conversations about, I also want to have some sense that the teacher has selected and prepared language connected to the theme / conversation in advance and worked out some way of getting it to me ahead of me needing it. I did an Advanced Indonesian class at SOAS a few years back and the teacher would bring texts in about, say, natural disasters for us to read, but would pre-teach / expose us to what he deemed to be core vocab like it measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, it caused widespread devastation, etc. The reading also consolidated this earlier input, which I think is important. That said, what I want from individual lessons and what I’d expect to get from a course as a whole are slightly different beasts as well, and this is something else I’ll blog about soon.

      In essence, though, I’m with you on what you’d look for, and as you say I think little there would rattle Dogmeticians cages. All I’m saying (repeatedly and quite possibly ad nauseum for many!) is that this can just MORE easily be realised and achieved through good material than by relying on the teacher to feed all the language in post-task (or even pre- and post-task!). At any rate, it certainly doesn’t only have to be one way round and without materials. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, and am both flattered and slightly humbled by your words of praise for what we’ve tried to do with OUTCOMES!

      It may be rather pathetic of me to get so riled by the Dogme framing of the present debate, but as a coursebook writer who’s started out from a similar starting point of dissent and dissatisfaction with much published material, it particularly irks me to see the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. It may simply be the more extreme ends of the whole construct in which all coursebooks are seen as being equally damned, but I fear things like Chia’s Teach-Off did much to perpetuate and exacerbate these fallacious battle lines. I hope you’re right when you say that most teachers actually fall somewhere between the many stools being claimed so keenly by fringe elements in all these debates. It doesn’t feel that way when you start flirting with the blogosphere, but of course this is just a very rarefied little sample of the teaching world.

      Anyway, where was I? Onwards . . . I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the authentic materials thing. I’m not saying students don’t enjoy these things – they may well do – and I know that as a teacher there’s something very satisfying about knowing things you’ve taught are coming up in ‘real world’ sources. I know I get a kick every time I see a METRO headline with something I’ve recently taught in it! I just still think that this is the end point, not the road; the way we pave the road is through carefully selected, graded input and it’s up to the students to then go out and interact with English and activate that. A small difference of opinion, anyway, and each to their own.

      The supplementing issue continues to bemuse and amuse me, though not in equal measures! I honestly think much of this is simply learned behaviour and it’s much more of a native-speaker / CELTA thing than it is a global trend. I know from watching teachers around the world on my travels than many many non-natives often teach by working through the pages of a book – and often do so very successfully, as can be seen from the great students they often produce. I also know that when I teach my own books, I do literally just work from top left to bottom right. All the addition is in the exploitation of language, allowing spin-offs that result from student speaking and reformulation / responding to students’ questions. Without in any way wishing to accuse you or anything, I think plenty of teacher supplement without really knowing why they’re doing so: they feel they have to or else they’re somehow not being seen as ‘creative’ or they feel that ‘slogging through the book’ is inherently bad – and maybe lack the skills to bring the material more to life; or – often – they feel they need to do yet more grammar! I’d like to think that what you said about OUTCOMES allowing flexibility is true, but of course it’s not really for me to say that kind of thing really, is it!

      Finally, thanks for the Alain de Botton link: I’d not seen that one before, but my wife designs his books so we have contact there and I’m a big fan. I really like what he’s doing with his School of Life project and I think the point you make about the parallels between what he’s saying and teaching are spot on (and, indeed, again worthy of a blog post of their own, really!). It’s been worth me writing all this to read your thoughts on stuff like that.

      Thanks again for posting.
      Hope to see you around here some more.
      Take care,
      Hugh

  4. There are too many blogs, and too many posts to contemplate – but, as I am in the ‘here and now’ there is one thing that has been bugging me in the recent debates, and that is the tendency for “non-dogme teachers” (whatever that might mean) to suggest that dogme allows for strong students enforcing their views and topics on a class. Don’t try and tell me this doesn’t happen in coursebook based lessons too – indeed in any discussion the forceful personality might happen to be in.
    No, what’s been missing is the fact that dogme believes learning takes place in a social environment. The real, fundamental and first thing a ‘dogme teacher’ has to do is facilitate the creation of that environment. The first chapter of Teaching Unplugged after all is called “Creating the right conditions”.
    Anyone walking into a class and attempting to chat runs the risk of it falling flat, the same way you wouldn’t walk up to someone at a party and try it without introducing yourself, and finding common ground of some sort. This, I believe, is what happened to Varinda over on Chia’s blog (which I will be heading over to soon).
    That’s why “And I sure as hell don’t want to spend my morning having conversations about other such mundane topics of anyone else’s choosing!” actually DOES happen in – well ANY good class, because once you understand learning is socially regulated, and are in a room full of acquaintances gathered together for that purpose, you DO care about the mundane topics. And they frequently are more interesting than anything else that could come up – even more so because they are happening to someone you know.

    1. Hi there –
      Thanks for taking the time to find me here and to bother reading – and then to comment.
      As you say, there are millions of blogs out there, and we’re all vying for your attention, so thanks!

      In terms of stronger, more opinionated / needy students dominating classes and imposing their ideas, opinions, questions, etc. onto weaker, quieter students, yes of course it can happen in any class, regardless of the approach that the teacher is adopting, and it is, of course, the teacher’s responsibility (and up to a point also the class’s responsibility) to deal with. However, my point was really that if you’re basing your whole approach to teaching on conversation, and if you’re relying on that conversation somehow arising ‘organically’ from the group, then the odds are simply higher that this will be more of an issue. I’ve got no problem with mundane conversations every now and then, and believe in creating space for these things to happen, but if the whole class ends up revolving around the mundane then it becomes not a welcome break from something more serious or abstract but simply just rather boring and unchallenging. Just because something boring is happening to someone you know and like, by the way, really doesn’t make it interesting. Think of all the times you’ve turned off and listened with only half an ear as a loved one or good friend rambles on about something utterly uninteresting – or uninteresting to you at that juncture. And think how riveted you often find yourself by things you hadn’t expected to encounter: a random overheard conversation, a newspaper article found in the tube, a letter from someone out of the blue. My point here really is just that material can bring change and challenge in a way that mundane conversations,. much as they can be fun and a diversion, generally can’t.

      Finally, I think the idea that somehow it is only Dogme that recognises that learning happens “In a social environment” is laughable and yet again does a profound disservice to teachers out there not following whatever tenets Dogmeticians feel they should be. ALL classroom activity clearly happens in a social environment. The classroom is a social space, teachers and students social agents and any instruction or activity that occurs in a classroom is a social process. Why this means that everything should be conversation driven is beyond me?! Why is allowing a conversation to emerge in a classroom any more or less of a correct social process than asking students to do a grammar exercise or listen to a CD? And ANY teacher, whatever their approach, has to work on creating a good atmosphere and a mood of trust and caring and sharing and humour, etc. This is not unique to teachers who’ve fallen under Dogme’s spell, but simply s precondition of teaching, surely?

  5. What about Teacher training Hugh?
    Where would many of us teachers be if we hadn’t had a good teachers book to help us. The coursebook is easy to attack (it can’t fight back), but it always comes as a package, not seperate.
    The unfortunate thing is that the teacher’s books are becoming more like answer keys and do not have the insights into language and the tips for materials-free (not photocopied sheets) teaching activities as they used to do. A good teacher’s book makes an average coursebook look great.
    The DOGME group avoided this basic fact (maybe they should have burned the TB as well). So little research is also done/gone teacher’s books so they are often forgotten and now not invested in. The teacher’s books are probably the most influential tool in the area of teacher training than any course you might go on. I still remember my first book by HARMER, Meridian, with a story of a Formula 1 driver, it may be too simple for me today but they teacher’s book was what first helped me do activites that would allow me to move away from the coursebook and listen to my learners.
    Have texts been fogotten?
    There is also no subsitute for good texts. Student rarely produce good texts, they do not produce spoken texts above their level and form a texts for another learner to use as a model. Written texts is just the same.
    If you have got to rely firstly on the students’ texts how can you help them push up to the next level if you don’t make a text yourself.
    You point about the list of materials/vocaublary is valid as it shows cousebook texts can widen the student vocabulary with language that people use (high frequency words). If students are repeatedly exposed to high frequency words this benefits language acquisition. If learners are only exposed to what they know they will stay there unless the teacher has to do spontaneous teaching/language gymnastics to help them improve.
    Text are also a starting ground for what Willis always advocates, language recognisition, and teachers use texts to help them do this. Making a text in DOGME class really only means mainly showing learners their errors, which is not always bad, unless a teacher has to feed the student language that only the teacher finds relevant to the students production. The student will generally use texts they have already recognised and stay within their com Teddy Bear comfort (there is a paper called lexical Teddy Bears, believe me) zone.
    A coursebook made of good texts (written and listening) with a good teacher’s book is the skeleton for a good course. The teacher provides is the meat, the students depends on them both but the texts can’t point language out.
    DOGME tends to deride/forget the area of text and put all the onus on the teacher (in practice not the students) in order, it believes, to be successful. All courses need some form of structure that is why they are called courses. It doesn’t have to be organised in the grammar nuggets, a coursebook can do this and DOGME course would lack structure even as an single event. You were nice in comparing it to TBL. It may advocated that the students provide this structure from what they produce, but is this the real world?

    DOGME is a pseudo-intellectual argument and for me has run its course, it has valid arguments within it but when pulled apart is unrealistic in practice.

    BTW I see there is a training course called TEACHING UNPLUGGED which is now doing the rounds. Not sure how much they charge but the trainers must have a great time convincing schools to go against everything they have done with no real basis to change, while they see the world. ROFL.

    I won’t bother with the typos just like ArsAnal can’t be bothered to pay for decent players.

    1. Hi Shaun –
      Thanks for finding me here and for taking the time to post such a thoughtful response to all my ongoing ranting!

      I hear you loud and clear on the massively developmental role teacher’s book have played in the development of many many teachers and, like you, lament their sad demise: another example of the short-sighted nature of publishers, in lots of ways, as they’re seen as giveaways, freebies, and thus as not worth investing in. They’re sub-contracted out to anyone who’s got a spare month and needs a grand and a half (if you’re lucky) and frequently not even seen by the authors of the main books at all. We did two Teacher’s Books for Innovations – Advanced and Elementary – and they’re among the things I’m proudest of having done, despite the fact they actually sold about 75 copies each (!). They’re mini-manifestos in a sense, clarify the goals and purpose of the books and suggest all manner of ways in which the teacher can bring the books to life more. ironically, some of these ideas would, of curs,e have involved ideas on how to work students’ speaking more, how to reformulate and how to work the language more! Despite the limited sales, though, I know for a fact they have impact as I’ve met folk at conferences and talks who’ve used them and who’ve specifically come to find me and say what a difference they made to the way they think abut what they’re doing in class. A good teachers’ book can help you do that hardest of things: actually teach a book from start to finish well, without endless recourse to photocopies and recipes and games, but in a principled, rigorous way.

      I also learned a hell of a lot early on from teachers’ books, as I’ sure did many many people, and as you say, they’re part of the package, not just some random add-on floating in decontextualised space. Let’s hope publishers take note of this as well as Dogmetician folk, and start reinvesting in them. Actually, in the case of something like REWARD, I’d argue that its success was actually built on an incredibly popular teacher’s book, so they’re very much of a loss leader in hard financial terms.

      What you say about texts is spot on as well. You’re obviously very much preaching to the converted here, but good points well made. I’ve already blogged about Dogme’s over-reliance on a teacher performing “spontaneous linguistic gymnastics” and am totally with you on the value of texts to enrich students’ language, bring high-frequency lexis, prompt discussion, push beyond comfort zones, and so on. They also allow teachers to help students better understand how they’re processing texts, to see what kind of vocab record they make based on the texts they use and to advise on ways of recording chunks / collocates better and so on. No-one ever got really good in any language, even their own, without reading being the bedrock of their learning and language enrichment. ‘Nuff said.

      I don’t quite share your dismissal of Dogme as a pseudeo-intellectual construct that has run its course, but I know plenty who do, and I do think the dressing up of essentially very simple ideas such as REFORMULATE in Bakhtin, Freire, Vygotsky and all of that wears thin. I think teachers do need to learn how to work from students more, to treat them first and foremost as humans (but also to recognise they’re there as paying language learners too) and to work out how to turn student output into further input. Those are all valuable ideas. I just don’t think Dogme has the monopoly on them, or that it has much else to really say. If it helps bring some teachers towards those things, then great, but why it insists on chucking the babies out with bathwater quite so actively as it does is beyond me.

      Oh, and Prince Poldi for ten million: not a bad way to start what WILL finally be a summer of some kind of proper investment for London’s best team this year!
      Up the Arsenal.

  6. Absolutely I would agree…but in a dogme class it is an absolute prerequisite – unless you want things to fall flat on their face, whereas unfortunately in coursebook based courses it seems to be the exception – not the rule. Those are the asides that come before “now we better get back to page…” inevitably rears its ugly head. In my experience very few teachers have much of an idea about group dynamics, and even less of them an interest (but that’s another subject) – somehow those classes that just don’t get on are not their problem, and shouldn’t interfere with the material they are meant to cover. (Ok, that’s a little over-generalised and cynical, but no less true for that 😉 )
    And to a certain extent I think coursebooks do contribute to that, with their linear approach emphasising rationality – “teach this and students will get that”: seeing language learning as cognitive not social. How often do we see students completing exercises simply as ‘examples’, and pairwork is often reduced to asking a series of meaningless questions merely to practice – not to actually enquire after the person who asked them. A great example was in Chia’s teach off, where the situation above really happened to her.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply. I have to say, though, that I fear this may well be another example of the kind of pro-Dogme post that gets the backs up of almost everyone else in the teaching professions. You seem to somehow be implying that Dogme teachers have a monopoly on the creation of rapport and a good atmosphere in the classroom, and also that any teacher who uses a book is somehow inevitably crushing their students’ life spirit. As I said earlier, why should an ongoing conversation led and directed by a teacher be the only thing that can allow for the creation of rapport? Why is it less plausible to you that a good teacher who can, say, exploit a vocabulary exercise extremely competently, using the students whilst doing so, adding extra examples and leaving space for interaction and personalisation by students, is just as much of a rapport / respect / mood enhancer? Indeed, given students’ previous experiences of classrooms and what they are perhaps primed to expect to occur in them, in terms of social practices, why is something that diverges so profoundly from those previous experiences, something which may on occasion resemble far more a morning’s coffee in a cafe, automatically lead to better group dynamics?

      I also think you miss the point – perhaps willfully (?) – about “Now we’d better back to page 86” – and the point really is that conversations fizzle out. It’s not in the nature of conversation at the best of times to roar onwards for ever, and it’s certainly not in a classroom where students all have their own ideas about what the learning of English will involve. All moving back to the book implies is a recognition of the fact that a speaking slot has run its natural course, that feedback has been given, time has been allowed for questions, and that life rolls on. Nothing more, nothing less.

      Just for the record, by the way, none of this is in any way implying support for those teachers, whoever they may be, that you describe: the ones who are quicker to blame classes than themselves, the ones who struggle with class dynamics, etc. Though again, I fail to see why this should be the preserve of one approach to teaching. Surely it’s equally possible for a teacher to attempt a Dogme-style class, to find it falls flat and to then blame the students? Or does Dogme have a monopoly on teachers who would never think such thoughts?

      Finally, your claim that coursebooks proceed in a rational and linear manner is an example of exactly the kind of thing I’ve been ranting about thus far – a broad brush stroke that tars all books equally. What we’ve been doing with Innovations and Outcomes is attempting to break the recent dominance of the atomistic grammar building block approach to syllabus and rethink how material might be put together. There’s coursebooks and then there are coursebooks.

      Besides, why should coursebooks be any more guilty of a ‘teach this and then students will get that’ approach? The notion that learning the present simple will lead to the past simple is, whilst obviously highly flawed, not that qualitatively different to any teacher in any situation believing that learning something they’re teaching will lead to students being able to do something else, in a sense. Oh, and since when was learning a language NOT cognitive? It’s obviously also social, but surely it’s not an either / or choice here?

      I hear you on pairwork frequently being a fairly meaningless activity, and have tried my best to avoid this in my own writing, but even having said this, I’m not convinced there’s no place for the automatic, the drill, the form over meaning focus on occasion in teaching. Finally, the degree to which an exercise in a book serves simply ‘as examples’ obviously to some degree depends on the book and on the exercise, but to a higher degree depends on the teacher and what the teacher does to activate and exploit that language with their particular group of students.

  7. Hi Hugh
    I’ve carefully and with great interest read your post and all the comments – took me a good hour or so – and actually started feeling a bit sorry for Dogme and its supporters.

    I recall very well Luke Medding’s plenary at TESOL France and our chat about it afterwards. Even back then I realised that our criticism of Dogme was built around different arguments. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with it and I like authentic materials and whizzing videos into the class – and you should see disappointment on my students’ faces when I don’t. I also very much in favour of the test-teach-test model or TBL framework where you get students to do something first before feeding in the language – as I’ve already discussed in my own blog post prompted by your earlier one. My main grouch about Dogme is that they seem to state the obvious and stake a claim to what any (good) teacher should do anyway.

    But not to worry – you’re actually better off here because you go for the fundamental principles Dogme ELT claims to be founded upon and provoke lively debates with Dogmeticians – they like it conversation driven don’t they? 🙂 I am, on the other hand, the kind of the Dogme critics that Dogmeticians detest most – the ones of “what’s new? we’ve been doing it all along” variety.

    LEO

    1. Hi again Leo –
      My real beef with Luke’s Paris plenary was simply that it was a fairly random selection of speaking tasks, all of which came from him. Of course they involved talking, some of which was quite interesting and went somewhere, some of which wasn’t – and didn’t. I’m obviously not averse to talking occurring in class. Just please don’t pretend that conversations at least as interesting can’t happen as a result of a coursebook being used – or that the imposition of these tasks onto the students somehow mans your teaching is ‘conversation driven’ and ‘student centred’.

      It worries me that your students look unhappy when you’re NOT whizzing videos and authentic texts into class, by the way.
      I would argue that this must mean there’s something missing the rest of the time, though obviously I cannot peer into your classroom and tell you what!

      Test-teach-test is fine as ONE paradigm among many, but why elevate it to the status of holy grail?
      Why should it be seen as innately superior to teach and then test?
      I also, as you know, think more and better input that will help students do tasks well can be got to the students through coursebook material than simply be relying on the teacher to input it all after a first test task!

      I’d also argue that plenty of good teachers do loads of things that Dogme DOESN’T talk about, like handle vocabulary exercises really well, deal with grammar exercises in a deft and subtle, light way and so on! Basically, all the things good teachers when using published materials!

  8. […] believe exist at all times, perhaps with a little shaking and stirring, in their classsrooms, and I’ve already blogged at some length explaining why I feel this is something of a […]

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