A Dogme aproach to coursebooks: Part One

In 1995, two Danish film directors – Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg – created the Dogme 95 manifesto and said their vows of chastity. These were rules that they claimed they had introduced in order to stimulate a return to filmmaking based on traditional values of story, acting and theme. The idea was very much a rejection of the increasingly Hollywood-influenced approach that made liberal use of special effects and technology. Launched at an event in Paris intended to celebrate 100 years of cinema, the concept attracted a lot of publicity, with its insistence on a deliberate move away from post-production, from soundtracks and from visual trickery, generic predictability and so on. Dogme 95 promised nothing less than a way to reengage audiences sated and bloated by years of overproduction.


It was, however, three more years until the first two films bearing the official Dogme seal of approval were released – Festen and The Idiots. Interestingly, neither film adhered strictly to the ten tenets suggested in the original manifesto and a mere five years later, after the 31st film was officially verified by the original board as Dogme-valid, the movement was essentially dead in the water. Today, filmmakers inspired by the original idea can submit a form online and tick a box which states they “truly believe that the film … has obeyed all Dogme 95 rules as stated in the vow of chastity”. In other words, the revolution has become merely an opt-in badge of convenience.


You may of course be wondering what any of this has to do with ELT. Well, in 2000 Scott Thornbury launched his own attempt at revolution: Dogme Language Teaching. Initially intended as a partially tongue-in-cheek attempt to restore the communicative aspect to communicative language teaching and to reject the over-reliance on the seemingly endless material churned out by publishing houses, all of which were seen as a barrier to real communication between the social agents present in the classroom, Dogme has become the dogma that refuses to die – the methodological flag of resistance for countless teachers and the subject of much heated debate both in its defence and in opposition to its admittedly somewhat fuzzy precepts.

Scott Thornbury

Chief among these precepts are the importance of teaching being driven by conversation, the importance of a focus on emergent language and the importance of not allowing material to block the channels of communication between teacher and students. There is also a focus on interactivity, engagement and dialogue, scaffolding and what Thornbury terms ‘affordances‘.

In the 13 years since Scott’s original opening salvo, Dogme has come to mean many things to many people, perhaps unconsciously echoing the way Dogme 95 has ended up becoming an opt-in concept. Self-proclaimed dogmeticians blog furiously about so-called teach-offs where a teacher shackled by a coursebook struggles in vain against a teacher liberated from such chains and thus able to truly tap in to their students’ wants and needs. Apparently. Or is Dogme really about replacing materials with found objects and the conversations that may – or of course may not – emerge around them? Can Teaching Unplugged really involve plugging in and turning on? Are videos and Internet-sourced material allowed within a Dogme approach? If so, can some materials be deemed to be more Dogme-friendly than others? Or are all such approaches heretical and a digression from the one true path?

It has long been assumed that this approach – or group of sympathetically related approaches – is by its very nature anti-coursebook. Indeed, one of Scott’s original ten commandments insisted that “students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks”, a statement that always struck me as slightly odd coming, as it did, from a man with his own name on several ELT coursebooks!

That notwithstanding, what I aim to do in this post, is not so much to pick holes in Dogmethat’s something I’ve already done in some detail earlier on this blog, after all – but rather to explore ways in which the main principles behind Dogme can actually inform both the way we use and the way we write classroom materials. I will be considering what a conversation-driven approach to teaching might potentially look like, how scaffolding might best be realized, what kind of affordances teachers might best avail themselves of, how and when we might focus on emergent language and how coursebooks can still be seen as materials light!

So let’s begin with the idea of teaching being conversation-driven. I think few people here would argue that in General English classes in particular it is the spoken language that is most desired by students and is most central in terms of placing students in the correct level. We’ve all met plenty of students whose written work or paper test scores may well be perfectly decent but who’s speaking condemns them to a lower level than maybe they’re happy with. The ability to speak and listen well is at the root of linguistic competence. However, in what might be termed a ‘pure’ Dogme approach, the conversation either emerges organically from the class and is then mediated by the teacher, who has to be incredibly alert and incredibly adept at paraphrasing, guiding, extending and so on, or else it develops in response to some kind of task – materials by default if you like – designed to get (or keep) students talking. The first strategy is risky and leaves the teacher at the mercy of the talkative or uncaring student who wants to discuss last night’s football match or engage in direct one-to-one with them; it also relies on endless reformulation and as anyone who does a lot of this knows, it’s all too easy to jump on something familiar when it comes up and then spin out a little teacher-driven section based on something we’ve taught before. The second strategy is bitty, gimmicky, recipe-driven and assumes that discussing, say, a sugar lump found on a chair is somehow more ‘authentic’ or worthwhile than discussing questions in a coursebook or a particular kind of conversation. And in both instances, the world is reduced to the here-and-now; students only get to learn how to say better things they need at the moment of communicating. There’s little going on that factors long-term needs or more abstract, less immediately pressing concerns into the picture.

None of which is to say that I don’t think we should be aiming to teach conversation. I just happen to think materials can help us do it better.  Interestingly, the Common European Framework also seems to be insisting far more of our teaching is focused directly on teaching particular kinds of communicative competences – or can-do statements – and thus provides us with a guide to what are widely deemed the most useful conversations students should learn how to produce and process at each level. When you consider that for A1 students, say (or Beginners, if you prefer) these conversations include things like ‘CAN understand straightforward explanations of the members of a host family and the layout of the house’ and ‘CAN go to a self-service or fast-food establishment and order a meal, especially where the food on offer is either visually illustrated or can be pointed to’, you realize that these conversations are highly unlikely to just develop organically, especially in classes of this level. As such, if we want our students to converse well and we want conversation to drive our teaching, material designed with these goals in mind can surely help us.

There are two choices if you want to go down the road of focusing on conversations like these: either you get students to try them first, then teach the gaps, then get them to try again – an approach some call Test-Teach-Test, that other see as Task-based Learning, but which has also been claimed as Dogme . . . or you write material – or use material that’s been written – to present core lexis and grammar that will be useful in these conversations, to present model conversations students can hear before attempting them themselves and so on. I know which one I think works better! If you believe, as Dogme‘s original tenets seem to, that scaffolded conversations are important, and that teachers and learners need to co-construct knowledge and skills, I’d argue that material can frequently offer superior scaffolding myself.

Now possibly a teacher could conceivably flip the kind of material that a coursebook can provide scaffolding with when trying to encourage conversations like this, and could build up to the final conversation through a series of teacher-led tasks that encourage students to generate language that is then reworked or reformulated, but it seems like a demanding, actually very teacher-centred way of doing things when material could carry some of the weight of this load for all concerned.

So, materials can clearly be conversationally driven and classrooms using materials can be too. However, if we’re serious about our teaching being driven by conversation, then I think we need to always be looking for opportunities to allow conversations that suggest themselves to take flight and to flourish. In a sense, we need to take on board Scott Thornbury’s sixth commandment, which he dubs affordances and describes thus: the teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.

Now, in what you might call a classical Dogme sense, this has widely been taken to mean picking up on things students are trying to say and helping them to say it better – whether that be by immediate reformulation or via subsequent boardwork or even by noting student utterances down and later sending them individualized voice recordings or notes via email. That’s all well and good, and I’m all for teachers doing more of this kind of working from what students are trying to say when engaged in meaningful communication – and will return to this shortly. However, surely the notion of ’emergent language’ could be taken to mean NOT ONLY language – or gaps in language – that emerge as students engage with speaking activities or slots or tasks, call them what you will, but also language that ’emerges’ from materials; language that is embedded in exercises or texts that has the potential to come out and be explored and discussed if the teacher is perceptive enough and sufficiently focused on language to ensure this actually occurs. I’ve taken to calling this kind of language ‘ambient language’ because in the same way as ambient music is music that floats in the background of our lives and may only really be noticed if we force ourselves to actually pay attention to it, this is language that tasks don’t usually force a focus onto, but which can be brought to the fore should we so desire it to be.

By being aware of the ambient vocabulary that lurks within exercises, we can move towards two or three Dogme-friendly goals: we can take advantage of the opportunities to teach and explore new lexis that the material affords us, we can frequently engage the class in further speaking – speaking that relates very directly to particular items of language – AND, by ensuring that we exploit the language on the page in any particular exercise, we thereby end up doing more with less – rather than the less with more phenomenon that seems to have been one of the original things Scott was railing against, as teachers all around him found themselves drowning in a sea of supplementary materials, or else ended up hooked on an endless string of things-to-do without much aim. This, in turn, ensures that whilst our classes may be materials-light, in that we may not cover countless pages of photocopiables or even of the coursebook, we still operate in a language-heavy – or rich – environment!

Let’s just consider what all of this might mean in real practical classroom terms, then. Let’s look at a specific piece of material.


The exercise you see here on screen is taken from an Intermediate-level coursebook, from a double-page spread that scaffolds and supports students as they learn how to better talk about their feelings. It’s exploring how we use copula verbs – like look, sound, and seem – to initiate conversations about feelings. On a very basic level, it’d be quite possible to ‘teach’ this exercise just by telling students to do it and by then eliciting answers and writing them on the board, before moving on to the practice sections in B and C. However, doing this makes us little more than glorified human answer keys and fails to take advantage of the many ‘affordances’ offered us here.

Firstly, there’s the ambient vocabulary: while the main focus of the task is clearly on the copula verbs and the adjectives used with them in 1-8, (adjectives which are all recycled from a previous vocabulary exercise) for me, when I’m planning a class, my eyes are also drawn to items like broke down, throw up, really behind with work, I don’t get, the spa, split up, upset and so on. I start thinking about what I’ll say about each one as I’m eliciting the answers from the class, whether I’ll add extra examples on the board, what I might ask students about each one – and which words might lend themselves to subsequent speaking slots.

With my current class, which is almost all female and quite well travelled and moneyed, I might, for instance, think spa is worth exploring. So I’d elicit Number 7? Right. F. I think her week in the spa in Prague really helped her. Yeah, what is it, a spa? OK, yeah, it’s like a health club where you can have beauty treatments and go swimming and that kind of thing. So, just quickly in pairs, three things you can get in a spa. Students then brainstorm ideas, which I listen to and try to reformulate onto the board, an act that in itself will recycle and refocus on grammar that’s already been touched on before, like have / get passives. As such, we might end up here with something like this on the board:

I spent the weekend in a spa. It was great.

I had a massage, which was very relaxing.

I had a body wrap. It’s supposed to make you look slimmer!

I had a body scrub to get rid of all the dead skin.

I had a facial.

I had my nails done.

The words I’ve underlined I would probably leave blank as I was writing these sentences up on the board, which I would do whilst listening to what the students were saying. After a few minutes of pooling ideas, I’d stop the group, say “OK, now let’s look at how to say a few things you were talking about better” and then run through the boardwork.

Obviously, students might also ask how to say other connected things, especially if they have experience of these places. Once we’d rounded up on all of this, I’d finish off by going through exercises B and C below and moving on. Obviously, this way of working the language that’s there takes longer and focuses on more than just the words present on the page. Its starting point is thinking about what students might want to SAY – or might heard said by others – using the words that are ‘floating free’ in the material. It works the content more deeply that simply checking answers (and maybe glossing or briefly explaining) words that crop up would do; it allows far greater recycling of grammar; it breaks the class up with lots of little bits of talking and it allows plenty of space for personalization and entertaining sidetracks, humour, anecdotes and so on to emerge.

So I’ve already talked a bit about how coursebook materials can themselves be conversation driven, and how teachers can utilize coursebook materials in a way that increases the potential for conversation in the classroom if they focus on emergent – or ambient – language in class. This latter approach will ensure that materials used in the classroom are explored more thoroughly, from a language point of view, and that the classroom becomes, therefore, relatively materials light. The language that’s already present forms the basis of subsequent exploration and exploitation, and students themselves are used as resource as a matter of course, thus minimizing the need for extra supplementary materials.

One other way in which materials can be exploited and conversation can be fore-fronted is obviously simply by the teacher using the speaking that is generated by materials as an opportunity to explore language on the periphery of what it is that students are able to say. The idea that somehow materials oppress students into silence or deculturalize them or fail to engage them in meaningful communication, and that somehow discussing found objects or photographs ensures more ‘authentic’, whatever that means, conversation in class is a pernicious one, I would suggest, and one that needs to be resisted. The questions we should be asking ourselves as teachers are much more to do with whether or not the conversations we do encourage students to have in the classroom are purposeful, interesting, related to the business of everyday life and – importantly – connected to other input they’ll receive across the course.

Take this exercise, for instance, from an Upper-Intermediate book.


This has always led to fascinating exchanges of opinions and ideas and plenty of anecdotes, especially if I begin by modeling what I believe the answers to be for the UK. As my students talk in pairs, I pick up on things they’re trying to say, but can’t quite yet, or hear things that I think could be said better. I use their talking time to get boardwork up and we round up by looking at the boardwork, eliciting gaps, giving students time to record and ask questions about what they see. In Teaching Unplugged, Scott and Luke recommend ten strategies that teachers can use to help students engage with emergent language, especially once it’s been reworked or reformulated, and I see absolutely no reason why repeating, recording, researching, reviewing and recycling, for example, cannot happen with language that emerges in response to coursebook material. Here, incidentally, is what ended up appearing on my board the last time I did this speaking in class – and all of this then fed directly into what followed, which was a listening from the coursebook where students heard five news stories related to five of the topics they’d previously discussed.


Much of what Dogme seems to have unleashed is a bitty, recipe-heavy smorgasbord of speaking activities and while speaking in class is all well and good, it seems to me at least to make more sense if the speaking is interspersed with other work on texts of different kinds – spoken and written, with connected language work, and if all of this can be made to cohere and hang together, both thematically and linguistically, thus ensuring greater coherence and continuity for students.

In this sense, there is clearly one of Dogme‘s original ten commandments that I find myself UNABLE to agree with or condone. The idea that students are most engaged by content they have created themselves seems spurious and unverifiable at best, and it’s hard to see how texts created by the students could be able to offer up language beyond their current level, unless they were reformulated by the teacher . . . which is exactly what students have already done here – created their own spoken texts BEFORE then hearing scripted texts slightly above their level – and, of course, they can then also be asked to record or write their own news stories or experiences later as well, which can uploaded to the Web or shared in class and so on.


20 responses

  1. Don’t fight it, Hugh. You know that inside you’re really a dogme-lover 🙂

    1. I’m not sure I’d go THAT far, but I’m interested in the debate, and like many many other teachers, feel that much of what I actually already do in my classrooms is very much in keeping with some of what Scott was talking about in that original article.

      I have actually come to think that really it’s a shame that there’s not been more attempt to unpick what seem to me to be the TWO main strands of Dogme and to explore their very different implications in more detail: on the one hand, there’s a focus on methodology, which I would like to think I’ve tackled at least in part above (the bit of Dogme that makes lots of people roll their eyes and just say “But isn’t that just good teaching?”) – and then there’s a critique of materials, and it’s been this area that I think has been far more poorly explored and considered.

      I saw Scott and Catherine Walters do the ELTJ debate about coursebooks at IATEFL in Liverpool last week and Scott was doing his usual comic rhetorical flourish of showing some hilariously bad and mad old coursebook examples from his collection and claiming that coursebooks don’t focus on spoken grammar or cover more negative topics like unemployment.

      Now, as someone who essentially STARTED writing coursebooks out of frustration with a lot of what I was having to use, I have sympathy for Scott’s critique of things like Grammar McNuggets, but get very frustrated that the fact things like INNOVATIONS do actually feature a lot of spoken grammar that had been previously overlooked alongside negative stuff like the economic crisis, bribery, corruption, and so on continues to go unnoticed or unappreciated by the Dogme head honchos. It seems that it’s simpler to make sweeping generalisations and adopt extreme postures than to acknowledge the fact that coursebooks – and not only mine, I should hasten to add – have moved on somewhat since the initial critique.

      I also think this side of the debate hasn’t been explored sufficiently because in all the talk about methodology that Dogme does fairly well, there’s not been – to my mind, at least – enough discussion of what actually makes good material. If you want spoken grammar, great, so do I. Let’s talk about what kind, how it might best be gotten to the students and what kind of material might best facilitate this.

      So unlike with the hardcore anti-coursebook stance that Scott and, to a greater degree, Luke insists on sticking with, I’m quite happy to retain baby whilst ditching some bathwater, and explore what Dogme may have to offer. It just would, as I said, be nice if the reverse were also true!

  2. Has anybody considered how useless the Dogme principles are for the many teachers out there like myself who primarily teach one-to-one? Let me just give one example: I once had a rather unmotivated kid – about eleven, maybe – who was one of the first kids I was asked to tutor. The only thing I could find that inspired him in any way was fishing, which he was passionate about. If all our lessons had remained fish-driven, I doubt that much useful language would have emerged.
    If you just have two people in a classroom, you need more material than just the things that interest or inspire your student.

    1. For once, I think I actually disagree with this, Amanda.

      I think that it was actually one-to-one teaching that really taught me how to reformulate, how to get students to do what they needed to do in English and to then recast their output better in order to create something like a phrasebook of English for their own personal needs. It actually seems far easier to me to do this in this kind of context, where the needs are often far easier to define than they are in a larger, more General English class, as students in one-to-one are often business folk.

      I’m sure you’ve read the wonderful Peter Wilberg book on teaching one to one that came out years ago on LTP, right? That’s where I think I first encountered this whole idea of working from the student.

      Thinking about it, this led to a talk I did ages ago – and may yet resurrect as a post one of these days – called something like TEACHING WHOLE CLASSES ONE-TO-ONE!

      At the same time, in situations like the one you describe, it can be tough, yeah, where few apparent needs or interests are apparent.
      There’s only so far that you can go with fishing – or any other narrow-focus obsession.
      And yes, part of the role of the teacher – and of materials – is to take students beyond and outside of their current realms.

      I’ve often thought that it’s a flaw with the Pure Dogme model for larger General English classes too, in that – no matter how much Dogme folk may wish students were interested in all manner of things – they often aren’t that interested in much else outside of shopping and football, for example, and it can be hard getting them to talk much about other areas.

      Which is yet another reason why being led by LANGUAGE INPUT first and foremost is the way to go!

  3. And yet…and yet…I think it is worth considering why Dogme has stood the test of time: there seems to be an implicit message that perhaps the Dogmetists just don’t know how to exploit book-based material and I am sure that you would agree that this is unlikely to be the case.

    Dogme came out over a decade ago and reassured teachers that they didn’t need to feel constrained by the materials that were being presented with. This was actually a huge relief to many people, strange as it may seem. Somebody who seemed to know what they were talking about was telling them that there was a perfectly justifiable ideology that lay behind what some considered to be heresy.

    You could perhaps acknowledge that the term “affordance” is borrowed from cognitive psychology and, in the case of Dogme, from Leo van Lier’s work. Rather than “emergent language” being an affordance, an affordance is what gives rise to this emergent language. I doubt that there are any Dogmetrices who would seriously deny the affordances presented by published coursebook material. And before this is seized upon as evidence of how Dogme has eaten itself, I doubt that there have ever been more than a handful of such miscreants.

    The issue that Dogme has seized upon and which people have taken up with commendable sustainability is the quality of affordances offered by published coursebook material. You quote some material which looks good, but the truth of the matter is that coursebook material tends to be anodyne and inauthentic, based upon a scientifically unfounded curriculum and dull. I will not be the only teacher in the world who has seen or heard students despair at yet another unit on Crime and Punishment, Law and Order, Narrative Tenses, the sodding Environment. Nor am I the only teacher in the world who looks at how a unit is based around questionably-selected grammatical features, nor at how a text is exploited with some rather unimaginative comprehension questions, nor at how a listening is dispatched with some insipid questions and the audioscript is squirreled away in the teacher’s book. Many teachers who embraced the concept of dogme did so because they were already abandoning the coursebook because it was so dire.

    In contrast, working with whatever the students bring to class is often a lot fresher. My understanding of dogme is that it is predicated on a belief that language learning is often exponential: the student who can explain her views on abortion in class or discuss the ways that different cultures have measured time throughout the ages is quite likely to be able to order food from a fast food menu (especially if they are allowed to point at the pictures). They don’t actually need to be taught to use the right language that means that their Big Mac is gherkin-less: they need to be taught how to exploit the affordances in order to accomplish their goals. Of course it is possible to get students to produce through social interaction a text that is beyond their current language level (all the more so when the teacher is doing their job of helping them with this). The idea that they might find the content that they have generated themselves to be more interesting than the prefab stuff they get in a coursebook hardly seems to be spurious (although I will concede that it appears to be an unresearched claim).

    Perhaps what winds most people up about dogme and anti-dogme is the all-or-nothing approach that people take: if you like dogme, you are an acolyte, a slave to the guru, a follower of the commandments. Although Hugh’s message is that dogme and materials can love one another, there is a whiff of snooty dismissal in the rhetoric with which “self-proclaimed dogmeticians” are characterised. know that I take more exception to the implication that dogme is somehow wrong and that therefore those people who think it is somehow right are all useless teachers. Unlike Amanda, I don’t think that dogme is useless for the many teachers out there teaching one-to-one; I think it is probably useless for Amanda and other teachers who do not see how they can use it to help them teach one-to-one. There are many teachers who would argue that dogme is probably the more effective approach to one-to-one teaching. They might find a coursebook useless (but what this would really mean is that they do not see the affordances that Amanda might).

    In any event, I think that dogme suffers mostly from a lack of clarity. It means many things to many people and to dismiss it unequivocally requires the setting up of straw men (straw people sounds a bit OTT). You seem to be mostly against gimmicky, recipe-driven, unplanned, unbalanced teaching that is all about allowing the most garrulous students to talk about sugar lumps on chairs. You seem to be mostly for working with the language that emerges from student interaction with published materials and exploiting it so that it goes beyond what a rather unimaginitive teacher might be tempted to do. I doubt that any self-respecting dogmetist would disagree.

    PS. I am sure that Scott sometimes wishes that he had never ever written a coursebook – if for no other reason than to avoid implications that he is somehow hypocritical and/or inconsistent. I wonder if it might not be fairer to consider how many coursebooks he has written since he published his Vows of Abstinence article? By my reckoning, it is a very round number indeed.

    1. Wow! What an epic response. I’m slightly over-awed by the depth and thought that’s gone into this one, and not sure I’m fully up to the job of responding, especially as I’m still really coming down from IATEFL! That said, I’ll do my best. Here goes.

      Don’t think I was really suggesting that Dogmetists don’t know how to exploit coursebooks – more just that if you really are interested in things such as affordances and emergent language and engagement and so on, then it seems preposterous to imply or assume this can only be done without the ‘shackling’ of coursebooks. These issues seem to me to be far more about what makes good teaching good, and as such why not explore how they apply to materials use as well as non-materials use. Maybe even see whether one might facilitate them more than another, etc. It may well be the case that the Dogme massive are excellent at doing the kinds of things I’ve outlined in the post, but if they are, they’ve tended to keep very quiet about it!

      In terms of Dogme’s longevity, I still feel – as I’ve doubtless said elsewhere in my earlier series of probably rather more hostile posts on Dogme – that much of this is down to the fact that the initial ten commandments are so open to interpretation and so fuzzy that they’ve taken this long to be opened out and considered from a range of different angles. When we’ve reached a stage where we’re seriously being told than one of the best ways to teach unplugged is to plug in, you do start to feel it’s running the risk of falling into the NLP trap, best epitomised by a comment made by a speaker I saw at IATEFL a few years back: “If it works, it’s NLP!”

      I mentioned in my response to the first post that I think it’s a sahme that the two really divergent threads of Dogme have become blurred into one with time and agree that the initial critique of materials was a timely and worthy one. As writers, me and Andrew (Walkley) were thinking similar things ourselves around that time, and using that sense of disconnect and dissatisfaction to help us construct something better for classroom use. In the end, though, what’s emerged is largely just an extension of the adapt-reject-select ARSE curve – or the kind of random pick and mix patchwork approach adopted by many post-CELTA teachers. Not much has really contributed to a serious discussion about what kind of materials might actualy work better in class, and how teachers might best use them! Which seems a shame to me, and a bit of a lost opportunity.

      Of course, it may well be that some of these discussions HAVE taken place in pubs or on closed Dogme chatboards or what-have-you, but I’ve not seen any sign of it in conference presentations or related published writings.

      Point duly taken about the more subtle definition of AFFORDANCES you outline.

      I also suspect you may well be right in terms of there not being “more than a handful” of pure Dogme teachers out there.
      Certainly only a tiny, tiny percentage when compared to the vast bulk of the world’s English teachers who use published materials.
      Given this, it still seems saner to me to try to discuss what kind of materials might work better and how teachers might better use them than to suggest they ditch books altogether and go straight into the deep-end, but that’s just me!

      I hear you loud and clear on the fact that if coursebook material IS to be used in the ways I’ve outlined above, it needs to have been written with extra language and potential ‘bouncing-off points’ built in. In other words, lexically rich material. I also agree that there’s not that much of it out there, and that too much stuff is still anodyne and based on the same endlessly predictable grammar syllabi. The stuff I’ve mentioned is from our OUTCOMES series, by the way.

      In terms of units called things like LAW & ORDER, surely it depends on what’s in them; what kind of conversations the material encourages students to have; what lexis is covered; what speaking is explicitly – and implicitly – made possible within it, and so on? If they’re teaching mugger – mugging, burglar – burglary it’s pretty dire; if they’re helping students see models of conversations about crimes folk have read or heard about in the news and then giving them space to have their own similar ones, surely it’s a whole different cup of meat?

      In terms of the comments about texts, well then surely it’s a matter of what makes good texts for class, and how might we best exploit them. My worry is that because there are plenty of bad examples out there, the baby gets chucked out with the bathwater and Dogme simply bans texts – causing teachers to not really learn how to think more about better exploitation of texts; or else we’re encouraged to simply zap content in via the Web, in the assumption that ‘authentic’ is by default ‘better’ and again without much discussion of how to avoid the trap you describe of “a text exploited with some rather unimaginative comprehension questions” or “a listening is dispatched with some insipid questions”. If not this, then what – and why I guess is what I’m asking.

      That’s all I’m able to manage on this one tonight.
      I’ll probably return tomorrow and add a few more thoughts and ideas after further consideration.


      1. Hi Hugh
        I appreciate the time that you have taken in answering my points. I think we are largely sharing the same ground. I most certainly agree that Dogme suffers from its broad church approach: personally, I would like to see it become far more fundamental, if for no other reason than to test the idea that perfectly good teaching can emerge from a classroom that operates in accordance with the ten commandments. It is almost as if Luke and Scott’s original challenge has been taken up by people who have concluded that Dogme may be alright on occasion, but you obviously need materials as well. If this is the case, then Dogme ELT doesn’t really exist beyond some sort of vague aspiration. There was talk at one stage about how Dogme 2.0 might look – there’s certainly an interesting concept there as the internet and the invasion of the Devices means that what is available in the classroom is much more considerable than we might ever have imagined back in 2001.

        Dogme, I think, operates/operated as a useful dialectical force and deserves some credit for providing a diverting obstacle in the flowing river of ELT. We can hypothesise about what might have been had Luke and Scott never issued their challenge. By doing so, they started a debate in our field about the role of materials and it was a debate that was clearly waiting to be had. It then became a debate about the role of digital technology. At the moment, I am not sufficiently immersed in it to say if there is any sort of debate there; however, debates that I think are waiting to be had are:

        1. whether language teaching is about knowledge or skills;
        2. how we might realistically (as opposed to conveniently) assess language learning;
        3. whether we should be breaking language learning into skills and chunks;
        4. whether or not there is any sense whatsoever in alleging that we teach reading and listening;
        5. how teachers should be trained;
        6. whether teachers are better served by being seen as linguistics experts in a classroom or teaching experts in the field of linguistics;
        7. whether or not there is any value in such overused terms as “communicative approach” and “tasks” (and “dogme”);
        8. what and/or where the evidence is that supports some of the current practices of teachers in language learning classrooms;
        9. where ELT is positioned in the world of education (if, indeed, it is positioned anywhere);
        10. not about whether Dogme works (most educational interventions show some positive impact upon student learning); but about the size of the effect that Dogme has.

        I’m stopping at ten because ten was enough for Moses and it was enough for Luke and Scott. But I think that the Dogme camp and the Materials Camp need to follow your example and acknowledge that the dichotomy is a false one: we are really searching for the same thing: what works best in language teaching? How can we recognise good practice? What should we be doing to best serve our students? I suspect that the answer is not about whether we go into class weighed down with materials or carrying nothing other than an aspidistra; the answer, I suspect, lies somewhere -as always- in the question: what is good teaching?

      2. Lordy Lord. Stop it already with these mammoth responses.
        You’re killing me here.

        Nah, seriously, It’s a real pleasure to see such thoughtful, detailed responses to what I’ve posted.
        As such, I always feel a proper response is the least I owe you in return.

        The Dogme 2.0 seems to be where Luke is going with his new ventures with Burcu Akyol.

        They did a talk called UNPLUGGED AND CONNECTED (I guess they couldn’t very well call it UNPLUGGED AND PLUGGED IN, could they!) along these lines. I won’t go into detail about it, other than to say that if you’re going to talk about tech, you should at least understand the sites you’re recommending, and I’m sure the overview of Scoop.It that they give here really does, but anyway . . . my real beef with this is that if you’re going to claim that technology exists in the classroom because students have smartphones or whatever, then you may as well just go the whole hog and claim that coursebooks exist in the same way there, because it’s a school and in classrooms books are relatively naturally occurring objects!

        If you’re buying into the idea that you can be both unplugged AND plugged in, then really it just becomes a discussion about materials – why certain ‘zapped-in’ content may – or may not – be better suited to certain classrooms than published materials – and methodology, in terms of what teachers do – or are able to do – with materials / content zapped in like this. Those are interesting discussions to have, so I’m not averse to them emerging!

        In terms of the debates that the Dogme umbrella has sparked, the very fact we’re still here debating this stuff means there’s legs there, for sure.
        As I said before, I think many of us reached a point of frustration with the status quo in the late 90s – and that this frustration continues.
        There are a range of differing opinions about how we best move forwards and Dogme has one take on things, some of which I think is helpful, some less so.
        I tend to have another, by and large, which is more interested in the nature of the input students receive and what the teacher then does to explore language.

        In terms of the debates I think there are to be had, I broadly agree that at least these ten are all still up for grabs – and of course, probably always will be, even long after we’re all gone! There are also obviously others like “If we are using reading texts, what kind work best and why? And what might we best do with them?” “Does reformulation essentially end up with teachers repeating themselves, based on prior experience, for much of the time, no matter how good you may at it?” and so on! As I’m sure you’re aware.

        Thanks for the ideas, anyway.
        There may well be future posts here on some of these questions, so keep your eyes peeled!

    2. Hi again –
      Before I move on to look at your response to my response (to your response to my initial post!!) and thus get trapped ever further in the unending hall of mirrors, I thought it best to finish off this one first, as there were a few other bits and bobs I wanted to say in response to this epic comment!

      I still disagree with your comments about students necessarily being more engaged by texts they’ve created than those they may find in published materials.
      As I said, via interaction with other students and with reformulation by the teacher, then of course students CAN end up creating texts that are better than those they may initially have been able to manage. If you substitute ‘texts’ for ‘utterances’, then this is very much what happened with the boardwork about social issues I showed above. That said, if these are the ONLY kinds of texts students get exposed to it, the universe shrinks to an unhealthy degree, I feel. How does one always know what one might be interested in? Just this morning, I’ve listened to a fascinating radio show about companies that prey on the vulnerable and buy their properties at cut prices, using a range of dirty tricks . . . and something on clapping and the vast range of different functions it serves. Neither of these were things I had any previous knowledge of or interest in, and certainly not things I myself would’ve said I wanted to talk about – until after I’d heard them! Isn’t this at least one of the functions of education? Add to this the fact that scripted texts in a coursebook are often written with recycling / pre-cycling of language in mind, are graded appropriately and written to stimulate debate and discussion . . . along with the fact that despite our best attempts, students often actually DON’T enjoy doing things like collaborative writing. All too often, you set it up, explain its benefits . . . and then watch as very quickly writing pairs end up doing two separate pieces! Finally, there’s the fact that ONLY student-generated texts (the scrapbooks instead of coursebooks approach Scott and Luke seem to now be advocating) is very teacher-centred, very reliant on teachers being incredibly adept with and sensitive to language and basically just endless TBL with added recasting! And to close this one, as I also said above, you can use a coursebook well and yet STILL have space for students to create their own texts, which are then reworked, performed, blogged, or whatever!

      What else? well, I agree that a Dogme – or, as I still prefer to think of it, really – a talking-to-your-student-and-reformulating-what-they-need/want-to-be-able-to-say-into-better-English approach can work incredibly well in one-to-one classes. As for the dismissive thing, regard it as a defense mechanism! I’m so fed up of hearing the Dogme hardcore tar all coursebooks with the same brush, make slick sales schpiels about how Dogme will ‘liberate’ teachers and students alike from the ‘shackles’ of the coursebook and so on and have come to really resent the constant rhetorical positioning of coursebook writers and those who use their wares as the oppressors, the fascist bad guys, those unable to listen to students, and so on, that yes,m there may well be a trace of anger in the kicking back there. The evangelical language leads to a cult-like status and closes down rational debate, alienates – or of course converts – people and posits its proselytisers as some kind of gurus. And as anyone who’s ever heard Sexy Sadie by The Beatles and who knows the inside story of how the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi behaved should know, NEVER trust a self-appointed guru!

      That said, in a sense, what Dogme offers is one way out of the unsatisfactory status quo that many of us feel still prevails. That’s fine and folk are entitled to go down that route out if they believe it’s the best road available. I’m certainly not saying that makes them ‘bad’ teachers or bad people. Indeed, some of my best friends . . . etc.
      All I’m saying is that I don’t think that’s the best way forward and think most teachers would be better off not going down that road.

      The ‘self-proclaimed Dogemtician’ jibe was probably a cheap one, and for that I apologise.

      It was aimed at Chia, who I know and admire and have a lot of respect for in many ways, but who was the first person I’d encountered (actually, thinking about it, maybe the ONLY person!) who called themselves this. It just seemed slightly sinister to me, in a kind of BELIEBER kind of manner! It was as if the cult had spread and now the followers could opt in and give themselves this tag. It was then followed shortly afterwards by folk at conferences talking about ‘Dogme moments’ – to basically mean letting students talk a bit and then doing some feedback on their output. Whatever the movement, I just feel we ought to resist this kind of appropriation of practice.

      What else? well, yes, the lack of clarity is an issue – and one I’ve blogged about before. It’s also obviously the strength of the umbrella term in that the vagueness allows a multiplicity of interpretations and keeps the thing on people’s lips. As for dismissing it unequivocally, I honestly don’t think I am. As I hope I’ve shown, much of what it originally discussed is basically what I see as being good classroom practice – and practice that is in no way incompatible with coursebook use.

      It is, as you noticed, very much the “gimmicky, recipe-driven, unplanned, unbalanced teaching that is all about allowing the most garrulous students to talk about sugar lumps on chairs” that I think is damaging, though it’s also clearly one inevitable end point of the whole construct too.

      If as you claim, most self-respect Dogmeticians (that bloody word again!) would support the idea of “working with the language that emerges from student interaction with published materials and exploiting it so that it goes beyond what a rather unimaginitive teacher might be tempted to do” then great. We have common ground and can agree on something.

      Which is always nice.

      Finally, despite the quip, I’m obviously not stupid enough to believe that Scott having written coursebooks invalidates any of his arguments. Of course, you could argue that having been through what he has, he’s better positioned than most to comment truthfully on the machinations of the industry. I just sometimes fear that his own experiences were so bad that he’s ended up conflating them into all coursebook experiences, when the reality is different writers have different experiences and not all books / end products suffer the same homogenisation as his work may have been subjected to.

      I’m also interested to see where other Dogme followers will end up, as there’s a very real risk of painting yourself into an ideological corner.
      It’s quite some feat of rhetoric to end up persuading others – and yourself – that after years of touting a materials-free approach, the new app / website / online workbook / photo-copiable / coursebook you’ve been involved in is actually valid.
      Maybe they’ll avoid those pitfalls, but life being the slippery moral and ethical slope it is, I suspect plenty won’t.
      Let’s see.

  4. Hugh are there any good materials which you recommend? I agree with you that having stimulating and language rich materials is a good springboard for quality speaking but I find a lot of the extra listening materials we have in our library dry and contrived. Unfortunately we already have a coursebook set in our school so I can’t request a set of Outcomes, which I really liked the look of by the way. I just wondered if there’s a book which you like that has lots of interesting listening material and lots of room for good language, vocabulary and discussion and little explicit grammar.

    1. Hi Jo –
      Nothing I can think of off the top of my head, sadly, but then I’m not massively up on books that focus predominantly on listening, as most of what I use is four-skills based.
      Obviously, and I can see you saw this coming, the main thing I’d recommend would be OUTCOMES or INNOVATIONS, as they were written very much to be as full of the kind of features you describe above as possible. Oh well.
      Do let me now if you come across anything else that you rate, though.
      There must be supplementary stuff out there written from a mainly lexical point of view, surely?!

  5. […] In 1995, two Danish film directors – Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg – created the Dogme 95 manifesto and said their vows of chastity. These were rules that they claimed they had introduced in…  […]

  6. […] In 1995, two Danish film directors – Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg – created the Dogme 95 manifesto and said their vows of chastity. These were rules that they claimed they had introduced in…  […]

  7. Hi Hugh

    I read your Dogme-coursebook story with interest. I myself am in a rather paradoxical situation here, as I also posted in a reaction to Scotts blog post R is for Representation (http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/r-is-for-representation/).
    Being both a coursebook author and Dogme adherent some people might feel I’m naive trying to reconciliate the best of two worlds or maybe even opportunistic to try and make money through coursebooks and at the same time publicly denouncing their use.

    I do, however, regularly see that coursebooks and curricula become the alpha and omega of teaching and that (some) teachers all too easily ignore the actual learners. I am not blaming teachers, because, probably worldwide, it’s the “system” that directs people into doing it that way. In many countries the importance of curricula is overemphasized and also creates tension and fear among teachers. The administrative workload and the many new assignments and responsibilities that have befallen on teachers also have their influence in this. The easiest thing is often to use a coursebook and navigate through it with the help of the teacher’s manual. It might be a way of survival and the coursebook can be a useful buoy for teachers, as it can also be for the learners.
    As I wrote on my own blog “It will (even) prove very useful if it, for instance, answers (some of) their questions, or neatly structures the information they had just gathered themselves.” (“It” being the coursebook and “them” being the learners)
    My conclusion in the post was “So try not to impose the coursebook as a Bible on your pupils. Interpret it, like a director does with a script, an actress/actor with her/his lines, … After all, “the play is the thing”.”

    I do not see Dogme and coursebooks as opponents. Dogme can (should?), however make us critical about the coursebooks we use and especially how we deal with them, how let them function in the specific classroom situation.

    1. Hi Bruno –
      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.
      Interesting to hear your thoughts.

      I’m not totally sure what coursebooks becoming ‘the alpha and omega’ – or ‘imposing the coursebook as a Bible on . . . pupils’ actually entails in terms of classroom practice, though.
      If all you mean is that teachers start on page one and keep going, well so do I!
      That’s generally how I run my own classes.
      We use coursebooks – generally (though not exclusively, I hasten to add!) ones I’ve written – and we work through them.
      This in itself is neither good nor bad teaching, surely, just as only using materials copied from other sources or brought in via tech is inherently good or bad per se.
      Surely what’s really important is what we Do with what we have, how we mediate the content, how we bring it to life for our students, how we give them space to ask questions, to use the new language to word their own worlds, and how we then respond, what we then do with their output.

      I salute your attempts to bridge the Dogme / coursebook divide, and obviously agree that at least some of the ideas that have coalesced under the Dogme umbrella clearly have relevance for the way in which utilise classroom material. Given that the vast majority of teachers around the world continue – and WILL continue – to use published materials as the backbone of their courses, you’d think it was something those at the forefront of Dogme would have more interest in discussing.

      Sadly, my impression of late has been that the olive branch proffered has been very rejected and there’s more mileage in adopting a more extremists stance.
      Sad, but I fear true.

  8. Hi Hugh

    With ‘the alpha and omega’ or ‘Bible’ I mean that the coursebook/curriculum becomes more important than the learner. I see the course book as a means and not as an end.
    I don’t believe that there is an ideal, tailor-made one-size-fits-all coursebook that fits every teacher and learner on the planet. Coursebooks can (should?) be a useful tool to help us reach goals with our learners, however.
    I consider it important that the learners bring their own texts/stories to the classroom, but I also feel for Michael Lewis’s stress on input (“Listening, listening and more listening…”) in The Lexical Approach (1993). I think, basically, what it boils down to, is that there’s room for dialogue, that what we teach links with the learners’ worlds, interests, needs… If learners can engage in what happens in the classroom, if they feel involved, experience usefulness and relevance (and hopefully also a lot of fun), then I think we’re doing the right thing, be it with a coursebook or without.
    I have never really considered Scott as an extremist, though. Scott and Luke once stated “Dogme’s quarrel with materials is not that materials are bad per se, but that, more often than not, they simply get in the way.” (HLT magazine, November 2003) and on IATEFL 2010 Chia Suan Chong said that ““Dogme is interesting indeed, but it’s also what a lot of teachers already do without labelling it as such”. (Her interesting talk is still available at http://chiasuanchong.com/iatefl-2010-presentation/)
    I could not make it to IATEFL (sunny Spain was a alternative I could also live with), so I can’t judge what routes Dogme seemed to be taking there. As I’m meeting up with Chaz Pugliese tonight, the topic will probably be unavoidable.

    1. Hi again Bruno –
      Thanks for this. The follow-up responses are always fascinating to read.

      I know what you mean about coursebooks sometimes being used to the exclusion of the students, where teachers are so focused on getting through the materials, proceduralising the book, that they leave little space for real human interaction. And, of course, there is still plenty of material that requires little from students apart from practice of fairly mundane discrete grammar-oriented questions and spoken run-throughs of comprehension questions. If that’s what you’re talking about, then I obviously agree. I was probably guilty of that kind of teaching myself in the first few years. If what you mean, though, is (and I must say, there’s not much to suggest this IS what you’re saying) that working through a coursebook is in and of itself a bad thing then I’d disagree.

      I think it’s vital that students get space and opportunity to tell their stories and word their own worlds, of course.
      It’s just that in my experience they tend to actually do this better if they’re given meaty material to bounce off!

      When it comes to students bringing their own TEXTS to class, I’m much less sure. I’d need to see a detailed description of how that might play out to be convinced of its value – certainly to be convinced that it’s more worth time being spent on that classroom material might be.

      I basically agree with you about good teaching essentially involving involvement, dialogue, a connection with students’ realities, and so on.
      And of course these things CAN all happen in a pure Dogme class.

      What is MUCH harder to ensure, though, is the subliminal stuff coursebooks can provide, such as attention to particular language that is just hard to get to or focus on otherwise; built-in grading and tons of recycling, which is often then picked up on and developed further online or via workbooks, etc; a whole host of other lives, accents, stories written specially for the language learner in the language classroom; and so on. All of which good books can provide.

      I think I’ve maybe just been soaking up more Dogme-related stuff that is healthy over the last year or so, and have been increasingly bothered by the rhetorical discourse used. Scott and Luke both use very emotive language when describing both coursebooks AND Dogme – there is, as I’ve said elsewhere, plenty of talk about LIBERATION, FREEDOM< SHACKLES< SLAVISH DEVOTION and so on. In his IATEFL talk this year, Luke essentially claimed that his approach had much in common with Arab Spring activists; the whole Teach-Off construct was predicated on the assumption – and soaked in the language of – liberation struggles. All this grates, as it posits writers and coursebook users as oppressors, a positioning I resent, and even more contentiously, posits materials-free teachers as the great bringers of freedom. I just feel we should all be very wary of such marketing, manipulation of language and rhetoric. It's divisive, self-serving and unnecessary.

      Although, of course, before anyone points it out, I'm sure I've also been guilty of it myself on occasion!

  9. […] the first part of this two-piece post, I basically ran through the talk I gave at IATEFL Liverpool this year, in which I explored some of […]

  10. […] In 1995, two Danish film directors – Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg – created the Dogme 95 manifesto and said their vows of chastity. These were rules that they claimed they had introduced in…  […]

  11. […] Meddings, L. Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Surrey: De… […]

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