By Teachers, For Teachers
In an article published in 2000, Scott Thornbury called into question English language teaching's (ELT) over-reliance on published materials in classrooms, which Thornbury argues may actually make learning the language more difficult. The article quickly found sympathizers, who voiced similar concerns about language learning principles they considered to be restricting students' communication time with an overzealous use of published materials. Their counter-proposal took the form of Dogme ELT, a materials-light approach to teaching, driven by the people in the room, their lives and their language.
These three ideas became the language learning pillars behind the approach with the publication of the first Dogme book, Teaching Unplugged, in 2009.
(Meddings & Thornbury, 2009:7)
Dogme is an approach to teaching that goes beyond the traditional way of considering the language classroomin three important ways. First, students' language needs and their interests take the place of materials containing prescribed language points to be delivered by the teacher. Second, grammar and vocabulary work arise naturally during the lesson, but do not drive the lesson. Third, the classroom becomes a no-go zone for the English language textbook. In other words, Dogme puts the learner back at the centre of the language learning process.
The thinking behind this move is that students can recall and internalize language with more success if it is immediate and relevant to them. Practitioners of Dogme say that ELT classrooms had experienced an invasion of materials in the form of copious photocopies, workbooks, tapes, tape-scripts, flashcards, transparencies, and technological gimmicks. They argue that students, however, find personalized contexts much more engaging,, so teachers should strive to encourage students to find their own reading and listening texts in addition to the conversation they provide.
Some Theoretical Aspects
Some of the linguistic theory behind the approach is as follows:
Dogme involves putting the learner back at the center of the language learning process. Previous communicative language teaching methods relied on teacher or syllabus decisions regarding classroom content, with a traditional table-and-chair layout to the classroom and rigid lesson plans. Dogmeticians, on the contrary, generally express a preference for more equal, circular seating( giving students the power to decide the day's language focus or topic for class) and using very few materials—many opt for board pens, a pen, and some paper.
Such a minimalist pedagogy undoubtably puts more strain on what Thornbury refers to as “inflight teaching skills” (Thornbury, 2010), which tend to be masked by the use of ELT materials. It requires the teacher to listen very carefully and make on-the-spot decisions regarding language focus, skills focus, and practice activities. What’s more, teachers lacking classroom experience could find such a task overwhelming and therefore may choose to shy away from putting their necks on the line.
Nevertheless, a well-prepared and earnest attempt to teach in this way pays high dividends for both parties involved. On the teacher's side of things, there's a lot to be said about the confidence boost you can get from the knowledge that you can use your teaching skills to deal with students' difficulties learning English on-demand. On top of that, you might just find out something brand new about your students, so why not give it a try?
And of course, my own blog, www.languagemoments.wordpress.com
Thornbury, S., & Meddings, L., Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching', DELTA Publishing, 2009.
Thornbury, S., Doing a Dogme Lesson, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ZPlrMajDA 2010
Thornbury, S. A Dogma for ELF, IATEFL Issues 153, Feb/March 2000