I’ve always felt that dogme, a genuinely learner-centred approach that turns top-down orthodoxy on its head, is intrinsically linked to teacher development. It may now be true to say that teacher development must be linked intrinsically to dogme, if the latter’s gradual evolution from a critique of materials overuse into a framework teaching approach is to be consolidated – and there are three themes in particular that interest me at present.
First, I’m keen to move away from ‘dogme moments’ as a thumbnail or shorthand for unplugged teaching. The phrase is a useful way of conveying to people that all teachers experience moments of spontaneity, but it is sometimes used as a way to co-opt dogme into the existing paradigm: ‘We all do this from time to time – so what’s new?’ What’s new is that such moments are only the start: we experience them, and seek to integrate them, as flow – a classroom experience in which communication and learning opportunities continually prompt and feed one another. This demands much of the teacher, but is it more than we demand of our learners?
I’m not convinced that it is. SLA theory indicates that learners employ multiple cognitive processes when using a second language: three constructs, for example, are associated with the key notion of attention – capacity, selection and effort. These are the very same processes, or qualities, that a dogme approach demands from us as teachers.
Finally, I am still inspired by Scott Thornbury’s work and in particular by the ways in which he has linked dogme practice to socio-cultural theory; it is this, and the attendant focus on emergent language and co-constructed learning, which persuades me that dogme ELT has matured into an approach. It also places dogme in a broad educational context, where exciting parallels may be found: the idea, for example, that Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) justifies ‘performance before competence’3.
Of course, these areas are inter-related – like teaching and learning, like teaching and teacher development. The ZPD provides us with a rich metaphor for bringing teacher activity closer to learner activity. Rather than distancing ourselves from the complex processes that learning a second language entails, we should get closer to them.
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Luke Meddings has been teaching, writing and training in ELT for 23 years. In 2000 he co-founded the dogme in ELT group with Scott Thornbury, and in 2009 their book Teaching Unplugged was published by Delta. In 2010 it won a British Council ELTon Award for Innovation. His current interests include the application of unplugged approaches, the ways in which English changes in different contexts (and the implications of this for teaching), and music.
As one could expect, a very provocative post, Luke.
The notion of “dogme moments” is rather too close to that of “grammar McNuggets” for my liking, as it suggests (as you recognise) that natural human interaction and exchange are the norm in ELT classrooms any anything else is an exception. Maybe, maybe not, but surely we can suggest instead of a depersonalised, syllabus driven “learning experience”, a richer, more human, responsive vision as an equally likely and attainable norm? Why would anyone (learner or teacher) resist such a vision?
You make a fine point that the three characteristics of SLA are also those of unplugged teaching. I would go further and say they are the three primary qualities of any teaching in action. In other words, true teaching cannot exist without these being present. Anything else is just show: teaching-like behaviour.
Co-opting Vygotsky is arguably problematic, but if you just take it at the level of metaphor, then the idea of bootstrapping (which entails grasping the learner’s “bootstraps” – i.e. starting where they are and pulling them up from there, rather than starting from an arbitrary point decided by a syllabus which only roughly (or not at all) matches the people in the room) is a fine analogy for what effective teaching is – or can be, especially in teh field of working with adult learners in an EFL context.
Thank you for this stimulating set of posts, which I have joined all too late.
Hi Luke and Anthony,
This is probably very very late but what the heck!
I seem to have been trying to understand and replicate these ‘dogme moments’ since I first started teaching mexican students who would suddenly spring to live and create a natural and thrilling communication class. This was because they were interested in something or the class suddenly became important to them. Until I came across your book I tried and failed to recreate this environment but now have had some success.
You’re right (Anthony too) that we’re not after snippets or moments but a while class that flows and develops. Lively students who are interested, engaged and positive means they and will learn and improve but as you say it demands more from the teacher. But so does planning from a dull book, photocopying, doing PPT and thinking “how will I trudge through X, Y, Z without boring everyone to death?”
For myself, I’ve found that the basic concepts of Dogme and your, Scott’s and Anthony’s reflections and ideas have really made me reassess my whole teaching approach. Student-centred communication is a great rule of thumb to build or assess any lesson on as in general it will decide how engaged students will be.