This was originally posted on January 13, 2013 at

In 2000, Scott Thornbury wrote an article for the IATEFL magazine on how he thought there was an over-reliance on course books in ELT – and materials in general – and how we had somehow lost touch with what students really expected from us and needed to learn in English courses, and how we therefore should strip ELT back to basics, to “restore teaching to its pre-method “state of grace” – when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest, and most prototypical of situations.”

What I wrote then below was having this original article by Scott Thornbury in mind. There will be (a lot) more on Dogme in the future.

I take issue with many of the ideas in Thornbury’s original article about Dogme:

– “…we are copiously resourced. (…) there is an embarrassment of complementary riches in the form of videos, CD-ROMs, photocopiable resource packs…” – This article was, if I’m not mistaken, written in 2000. 13 years later I believe it’s safe to say the ’embarrassment’ would be even more overwhelming, and if we consider the Internet alone the amount of materials – both made for ELT and especially what is not – is extravagant, so much so that I believe Scott must cringe every time he goes online. (lol). Well, I can’t agree in any way that any of this is an ’embarrassment’ at all! Having an almost limitless array of materials to choose from is something to be thankful for, and I think it actually makes for classes which are (or potentially can be) richer, more varied, more interesting and more successful. The issue here, in my opinion, is that of teacher development. Teachers (and therefore teacher educators) have to understand, I think, that it is not only because something is available that it should be used, but that the opposite is no more true. Instead of banning photocopies (which is ludicrous), limiting deductive grammar explanation to 5 minutes (arbitrary) and having teachers make do with “the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom” and so on, I believe what we have to worry about as teachers (and as teacher educators make clear for trainee teachers) is (among others) making sure we understand our objective should be to help learners achieve whatever aims they have with language learning, respecting their learning preferences and trying to – as much as possible – help them become more autonomous; if (when!) a video, Twitter discussion, Jing recording, Facebook group discussion, PowerPoint presentation, OHP, realia, song and the like will help, then we should obviously use them!

– “No recorded listening material should be introduced into the classroom: the source of all ‘listening’ activities should be the students and teacher themselves…” – David Crystal says here that “if the aim of ELT is to produce students who are able to encounter the English-speaking world with confidence, then you can’t avoid bringing global English into the classroom”. I agree with Crystal. According to Dogme, however, students should only be exposed in the classroom to the teacher’s accent and those of his peers. How about – as it’s sometimes the case in Brazil and I’m sure in many other places – students whose only contact with English is with the very inaccurate interlanguage of his non-native teacher? But even when the teacher in question is a highly-educated, Diploma-certified, experienced New Zealander native speaker, how about doing a listening activity where teenaged students have to answer questions while watching an interview with the band One Direction? Is that to be avoided? Won’t students enjoy that? Isn’t enjoying tasks important? How about music? Can anyone say music does not (have the potential to) promote learning and acquisition? Should the teacher, God forbid in my case, sing?

– “The point is to restore teaching to its pre-method ‘state of grace’, when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students…” – Honestly? Why? What does this ‘state of grace’ even mean? Pre grammar-translation? What was there? Is Dogme chatting only? Or is it basically rehashing Community Language Learning?

Despite all that, I like some things about Dogme a lot. I think it has helped teachers in general understand that there’s more to teaching than blindly following course books, and that doing a gap-fill activity with a song every class might not actually be accomplishing much, if anything. It has steered ELT’s focus – partly at least – towards what makes language programs work, and towards learners and their needs, from, I think, an excessive focus on flashy course books and materials (not that there’s anything wrong with ‘flashy’), methods and recipes. While doing all that, however, I believe Dogme has not only thrown the baby out with the bathwater, but went on to drown the poor baby afterwards. Scott says in the video that Dogme had a minor importance in the history of cinema, and I think it won’t be very different in the world of ELT.

Finally, I have used many of the activities suggested in ‘Teaching Unplugged’ in class, some very successfully. Most proved useful and memorable, effective and motivating. But so is using music and videos, PowerPoint and (though I don’t care for them much myself) interactive whiteboards. In the same way I would never teach a course by using only drilling, or only PPP, or by teaching only what’s in the course book, I would never teach a course based 100% on Dogme, and I think, for example, courses such as a CPE preparation are simply impossible with Dogme.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions!

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