neon jesus

(My contribution to the #dogmeme, with advance apologies to Karenne Sylvester)

Teachers have a lot of people telling them what to teach, and how to teach it. Governments looking for cheap votes. Parents who want to abdicate themselves from the responsibility of raising their own children. Administrators who need to hit targets, meet budgets and check boxes. Publishers with units to shift. That is exactly why I engage in my own self-initiated professional development. When I visit conferences, talk to other teachers, blog, tweet, and do all that other stuff I want to hear what I could do. Or what I might do. Or what may, perhaps be worth thinking about. Sure, tell me what works for you…. but let me think about it and see if it works for me, please.

I am broadly sympathetic to the basic concepts of dogme. I certainly agree that coursebooks and pre-planned curricula built around grammar mcnuggets can be very restrictive, and that teachers should exploit emergent language, teaching affordances and other human unpredictables as best they can. I am not sure that this in itself constitutes a method, however… it is at best an approach. And if you are talking about the more rigorous, chaste versions of Dogme that might be called a method, then I am not really interested. I want to plug things in and interact with ideas from outside the classroom. I see it as equally restrictive to tie oneself to or deny yourself materials. This is the religious fervour to which I refer.

And as for the evangelism?  I believe that classroom methods are a negotiation (implicit or explicit) between the teacher, the learner (s), the context and the moment. For that reason, I believe that unplugged teaching has a very important role at the right time, with the right participants, in the right situation…. but it is not the only way. If I were teaching advanced adult learners in small classes in Europe, I imagine a techno-dogme hybrid would be fantastic. But actually, very, very few teachers, in the wider world of English Language Education, are teaching in such a context. In fact, very, very few know what Dogme is, or ever will. And we bloggers and tweeters, we conference goers, the movers and shakers, sometimes need to remind ourselves that we are not typical, that we are lucky to have some choice about how and what we teach. Teachers can be afraid, tired, confused, or just plain uneducated. Like students, they need nurturing, not hectoring. So let’s not assume that anyone who doesn’t teach Dogme is too self-interested, too stupid or too lazy to try it.

Is ignorance always a sin?

An audio version of the video interview we did at the JALT conference in Shizuoka, Japan.

Download Here


Window-dressing vs. Cross-dressing in the EFL Sub-culture. (The article I referred to in the interview… revived by the magic of twitter)

The New School– Online MA programme which Scott Thornbury (amongst others) is teaching on.

Scott’s own website, where you can see his edited plenary slides and plenty more.

There has been a lot of discussion of dogme around the blogosphere recently, triggered by the tenth anniversary of the movement. Not all of it kind….

Romantic Comedy with a Sinister Twist. A Marxist Critique of Dogme ELT. « Marxist TEFL Group

Critical DOGME or DOGME with Sympathy for the Critical? | Critical Mass ELT: Reflections on the World of English Language Teaching

D is for Dogme « An A-Z of ELT

But let’s not forget the prestigious ELTON award!

An Interview with Scott Thornbury from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Scott was giving a plenary at the Japan Association of Language Teachers national conference in Shizuoka this weekend, as well as a couple of presentations, but was kind enough to spare me half an hour or so for a chat. We talked a grammar, Vygotsky and socio-linguistics (inspired by James Lantolf, who was also speaking at the conference), technology, textbooks, testing and, of course, dogme. Like his fellow Kiwi Paul Nation, he is a thoroughly nice chap. If you want to pick up some of Scott’s books (and I really recommend that you do – he has a great talent for bringing complex concepts to life)  you can get them through my store and contribute a few pennies towards the running of this site at the same time….


Window-dressing vs. Cross-dressing in the EFL Sub-culture. (The article I referred to in the interview… revived by the magic of twitter)

The New School– Online MA programme which Scott Thornbury (amongst others) is teaching on.

Scott’s own website, where you can see his edited plenary slides and plenty more.

Apologies, as usual, for the racket in the background and the occasional cropping of vital body parts.

Are all the debates about the best way to teach driven by the needs of individual teachers? For example, if a particular teacher can’t get out of bed in the morning, thinks youtube is an emergency plumbing service, and is fluent in the learners’ L1, what are the odds that the class instructions will be given in Spanish and taught with pencil, paper and whatever the teacher can find in his pockets? For the sake of balance, I should point out that his colleague down the hall can’t speak a word of the local lingo and stayed up till three last night playing “Xylagore IIX – Revenge of the Gigamarths” online, and that’s what his students will be focusing on today (and woe betide anyone who utters a word in “the foreign”).

Both teachers can find research by the bucket load which shows they are pedagogically sound. But perhaps they (and I mean we) ought to admit that they are working backwards. That is, they teach how they LIKE to teach and then select the information that supports them.

But here is the big question*. So what? Doesn’t a happy and enthusiastic teacher beat one who is fighting to teach against type, against her inner beliefs? Is it more important to be comfortable, than “sound”? Do the debates over the use or non-use of certain techniques, methods or tools actually matter?

*I know, there are four questions. But basically it is one question written four times for dramatic effect.