A rose by any other name…?
Dogme has been getting a lot of coverage recently. Yesterday it featured highly at the IHDoS conference, which I and many others followed on Twitter thanks to those attendees such as @shaunwilden and @chiasuan who did a fabulous job of tweeting the event as it happened. (You can also read a great summary from @mcneilmahon of the day’s events here.)
Unsurprisingly, not everyone sees this coverage as a good thing, and there are many people out there who harbour reservations towards Dogme / unplugged teaching. One Tweet I saw expressed the hope that Dogme wouldn’t dominate the panel discussion at the end of the day. This is, of course, absolutely justified. We don’t attend (or ‘tweetend’?!) conferences to only hear about one subject. That’s boring, unhelpful and can often seem like preaching to the converted whilst the others leave the room to make a cuppa.
That said, when there’s a new kid in town, especially one who is seen as fairly controversial or simply a fraud, I believe we should lend some time to its analysis, break it down and see what it’s made of, challenge it, confront it, test it, question it. Without this process of enquiry, how can we know if what we are dealing with is worth its weight in board markers, or is in fact not the game-changer its proponents would argue, but rather an existing method/technique/attitude that has been given a (new) label.
But what does it mean?
I have read and been part of many conversations online about what Dogme really is. The first issue seems to be whether we call it a method, an approach or, as I believe Anthony Gaughan first said (correct me if I am wrong here…) an attitude.
“A method is a system for the teaching of a language that is based either on a particular theory of language or on a particular theory of learning, or (usually) on both.” (Thornbury, 2006:131)
“Approach —> Method” (Thornbury, 2006:14)
So let’s, for arguments sake, take these as one and the same, because, as I perceive it, the idea of attitude is where the interesting distinction lies.
As there is no entry in the A-Z of ELT for “attitude” in terms of teaching, let’s take what it says about learning -
“Your attitude to language learning is the way you feel about it”. (Ibid:20)
Change learning to teaching, and perhaps this provides the reason for Dogme as an attitude?
In light of this, I can see Dogme as a method/approach in that it is based upon the theory that the people in the room should be the centre of the action, that an overload of material can stifle learning, that the learners’ interests should drive the lesson etc.. However, I also see it as an attitude in that I feel differently about my teaching, and about the learning which takes place in my lessons, than I did before going unplugged. By this I mean that I don’t start my lessons with the thought “We’ve got a lot to get through.” I don’t get annoyed when the topic changes course and takes us down another path. I am open to suggestion, to interpretation, to ideas, to change. When I was attached to a bunch of photocopies or a book, however much I would like to believe that I was student-centred, I strongly think I am much more so now.
Scott Thornbury defines ‘Dogme ELT’ as
“the name of a loose collective of teachers…” (Ibid:70)
But surely it’s more than this now? Or is it? Does it need to be more than this to be worth the time spent discussing it?
So what does Dogme mean in the classroom then? Beyond it being student-centred, materials-light and conversation-driven? Surely this can be done when using a range of other methods? (Is that what makes it an attitude then…?)
There have been many conversations online, and I am sure in staffrooms, pubs and corridors, about what a true Dogmetician does that makes them so different. The actual catalyst for this blog post was a reply to a comment I made on Neil McMahon’s blog last night.
“Whether this means I’ve done Dogme or not I really don’t care.”
Who does care what we do in class is called? Why does it need to have a name at all?
Labels enable discourse. We can’t go around using long-winded terms such as “teaching without coursebooks and dealing with emerging language whilst …” etc.. etc.. This would be like referring to Audiolingualism as “teaching using habit-formation, lots of drilling and a strong focus on accuracy”. A name helps us categorise, but that doesn’t mean we have to be so dogmatic about it.
Surely, just as a teacher using Desuggestopedia may decide not to use posters on the wall that make the room conducive to that method’s beliefs about learning, a Dogmetician can enter the room with some paper once in a while? If not, why not? Who says?
Is Dogme being criticised and scrutinised more than we do other methods? I mean, if we look at so-called Communicative Language Teaching we see this idea of student-centredness often realised as a cover for rather uncommunicative classrooms where the book leads the way and teachers often exclaim things like “I just can’t get them to speak!” So this label of “communicative” is actually false, no? Therefore, why insist that Dogme teaching has to be something so tightly defined that no one can put their own stamp on it? Are we, in this world of ELT, too caught up on labels, terms and definitions? I would hazard a guess that yes, we are.
Dale Coulter commented in his IaskU interview with Chiew Pang recently that Dogme is what the teacher interprets it as. Adam Beale, Chiew and I recently discussed this topic on Adam’s blog because he was worried that his (very interesting) Dogme experiment wasn’t actually Dogme anymore.
Shouldn’t we be intent on providing the best we can for our students, in their context, with their needs, rather than jumping around pigeon-holing things to the point that good teachers become worried about what it is they are doing?
I have rambled, now it’s your turn…
I look forward to what transpires below…
Thornbury, S. 2006. An A-Z of ELT, Macmillan.