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.