By George Chilton – with thanks to Neil McMillan for his thoughts and edits
Just to break with tradition – this is not a lesson plan.
I’ve been reading the Dogme debates and commentaries with interest recently. I am following the opinions being offered closely, as I believe that testing and questioning pedagogical methodology and approach is key to realising systemic progress in TEFL – and debates like these have the potential to generate a movement toward more effective ways of teaching.
In my opinion, an approach should be seen as a tool: you wouldn’t take a claw hammer to fix a window, nor would you approach every single class in the same way. So why you’d decide to be a purist of any kind is beyond me. I therefore tend to think that a mix of approaches, of classes, of structures and tempos is the way forward. Pure Dogme might have the students itching for a gap fill, and static textbook materials will likely have the students staring out the window in the hope that something current flies in. We’re all well aware of the dangers of extremism in any form, how it stymies growth and threatens self-reflection. So why bring it to the table in our professional lives?
Chia Suan Chong’s thought-provoking run of posts, documenting a teach-off between a Dogme versus a course-book based series of lessons, has encouraged a lot of enthusiastic reflection on the part of teachers in both camps.
However I feel that some of the players are not being all that fair to one another, being rather negative, and possibly even blind to the potential that “opposite” or other out-of-fashion approaches offer. Self-proclaimed “Rants” by Hugh Dellar of http://hughdellar.wordpress.com and ripostes in the comments by Anthony Gaughan show an engagement and desire to reach a conclusion, but also seem a little sour; “I think one of Dogme’s fatal flaws is the absolute prioritization of the here and now over any possible future. It’s like a child’s view of the world!” says Dellar, rather ironically forgetting that ranting itself is a somewhat childish thing to do. Perhaps, though, that’s just the way I’m reading them. They might all be friends. I just wonder where they fit on the friendship graph*.
So, in the immortal words of Popeye, I tell you, I can stands it no more; what’s with all this dissing?
I can’t put it any better than Phil Wade when he questions, very sagely;
“We should be developing whatever kind of teaching we do and helping our colleagues do the same. I really don’t understand why there is so much negativity and why people want to spend hours criticising Dogme and pointing at certain groups or members. What do they expect in return?”
Other than to say – it’s easy to knock something and much, much harder to try to improve on it – I’ll leave that question open.
We can safely say that nothing is perfect, and every approach and methodology has its failings, so when one invests everything in one to the cost of all others, it’s the students who are going to lose out in the long run. We need to continually develop our pedagogical ideas in order to develop professionally, and – more importantly – to meet learner needs.
“As ‘Dogme vs CB’ takes up more and more cyberspace we slowly forget about the Silent Way, about TPR or NLP, about Audiolingual or Grammar Translation, all methodologies which have offered us something and continue to do so if we leave ourselves open to third and further options. Which, let’s face it, most good teachers already do.”
(Neil McMillan, 2012)
When planning a class we take into account cultural background, students’ ages, interests, language learning, personal and professional ambitions, level, personality mix, among many other things.
Unplugged courses tend to use the students as resources, and so focus the content in a much more personalised way.
Course books, on the other hand, are static, and cannot hope to provide a one-size-fits-all umbrella course; it falls to the teacher to make the material come alive. Yet, these courses do have structure and follow a syllabus – which for some, especially those teaching exam preparation classes, is essential.
Dogme can be accused of having very little cohesion between classes, with the course having far less structure, and at times being unpredictable, especially when it comes to language points and grammar. Retrospective syllabi are ideal tools for reflection and learner progress records, but aren’t so hot when it comes to laying out a realistic plan based on your learners’ course expectations. One of the major criticisms is that it also doesn’t tend to work with lower-level groups. I’m not sure even the most hardened Dogme prof would head into a beginner class armed only with a charming smile and hope that the conversation would flow.
As I’ve mentioned, I don’t fly one particular flag when it comes to teaching English. Like a piece of fluff nestled between two toes, I’m neither a Dogme purist nor a course-book fan; I sit somewhere halfway between the two. I unplug and plug in equal measure. That has had a decided effect on the classes I’ve taught and the lesson plans I produce and feature on the blog.
Also, having never taught a hermit, I’ve come to the conclusion that communication is at the heart of language learning, and I think that in order to find the ideal approach to ELT we need to think of questions that we must ask ourselves and our students in order to find the ideal approach and methodologies.
One of the most positive and encouraging aspects of the Dogme debate has been to see the numerous blogs reflecting on the lessons, the conversations, the questions and the positive to and fro between teachers. Dogme is not something that I would describe as being “new”, “maverick” or “experimental” – it’s just another way of approaching a class, like it always has been.
If it works with a group, great – if it doesn’t try something else. Every class is different, as is every teacher. I’ve both had and observed some amazing classes using coursebooks; classes which have been engaging, with multi-faceted opinion driven conversations. The same goes for unplugged classes –and I think perhaps those teaching unplugged/Dogme classes should revisit books occasionally– and those relying on the books should try something less prescribed now and then.
So long as the students come away with something they’ve learnt, have used English and bring it with them again to the next class, then that’s a success.
- Dissing dogme or just hissing hogwash? (jasonrenshaw.typepad.com)
- Teaching unplugged: Two bubbly generalisations to be careful of (jasonrenshaw.typepad.com)
- T is for Teacher development (scottthornbury.wordpress.com)
Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Thanks for this. I couldn’t agree more. I think there are plenty of ways of using published materials in a more unplugged way, if that’s what you want to do. And equally, for a confident and accomplished teacher, pure dogme can be a great way to teach. Ultimately, it’s much more about the quality of the teaching than it is about which side of the divide you’re on, isn’t it?
Hi Rachael, thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂
Exactly – I think that it’s down to the teacher to make sure the course suits the students and that the quality of teaching is high. As you say – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a dogme class, something more materials based, or something different altogether; if the students are learning, motivated and there’s a good atmosphere you can’t ask for much more.
Great post and thanks for the mention.
I think the Dogme issue has gathered momentum because those issues have become important. For instance, I have spoke to at least 5 DOSes in the past year who’ve been interested in teachin with a speaking-based approach, who have thought books were either unsuitable or too expensive and who wanted specialised classes around their students. 2 of these now don’t use books solely because of the price and that teachers follow them and forget about the students. That isn’t the fault of the publishers or authors. The price is a matter for smaller schools, certainly but having trained and qualified teachers should solve the other.
Anyhow, when I mention the D word nobody has ever heard of it but these directors are living the Dogme dream. Call it Good Teaching? No. Call it the modern reality for small schools?
In fact, one place has asked me to pool together enough online resources to run courses on with an eye to creating my/our own stuff later on. this is the road many schools have followed and may be the future. One course I’m doing is discussion so I’m think how I can build up online materials to foster that without having a set lesson and Q+A/HEad down on ipad lessons.
No problem! There’s an angle I hadn’t thought of. I suppose it makes a lot of sense for schools to be avoiding the extra costs involved in buying text books. It’s also a little easier on the students if they don’t have to buy their own copies – they’re looking at paying at least €60 for a student’s book here in Spain on top of course fees – and that’s expensive, especially at the moment.
Are you setting up a class blog for your discussion group? I suppose you could always reinforce the discussion with Q&A reflections afterwards – or by asking the students to vote on a discussion topic ELTChat style? I’ve not run a class like that – and I tend to avoid blended learning course because the prep ide of things gets a bit out of hand, unless you’re really organised – and I’m not!
Well, I was going to write a full response but I I think I’ll just use the comments instead. George has summed up my stance in the quotation he used (not from anything published, simply from an email exchange between us) so I’d just like to add a couple of points.
At bottom I think the whole DOGME versus CB debate centres on a murky distinction and effectively blinds us to other methodological possibilities in our teaching. Like whatever generalising and grandifying binary opposition, it starts to fall apart as soon as you pick away at it. So while Dogme could be broadly categorised as an approach – the bastard child of Task-Based Learning and a school of film-making with a somewhat puritanical twist – Coursebooks are NOT “an approach”, they are simply collections of materials that might embody, or even be open to, any number of approaches.
In other words, setting up the ELT version of Dogme against coursebooks is a bit like setting up the film version of Dogme against a warehouse full of props, pre-prepared scenes and sets, lighting rigs and other Hollywood magic, rather than against the approaches or methodologies which may deploy such materials.
Not that CBs are without their own agendas, of course. Hugh Dellar’s books represent the lexico-grammatical approach writ large, English File is the classic structural syllabus disguised as a communicative approach, Global is the same thing disguised as a highbrow topic-based syllabus, and so on and so forth. Many of them seem to do the same thing and go the same way, but it ain’t necessarily so. To use a coursebook in your teaching doesn’t imply following a way of doing things. There is no satisfying CB equivalent of “Dogmetician”, and it’s not just because the letters don’t fit right.
On that, I’ve had enough of such self-aggrandising terms. It leaves me with the same feeling I get when I hear so-called ELT gurus comparing themselves to jazz musicians. We are all but humble teachers, whatever methodologies we apply or materials we use, and our main job is to help our students, not show off our technical wizardry. And unless we motivate those students to apply themselves to learning and doing what they need to learn and do, it won’t particularly matter which approach we use or what name we give ourselves while using it.
I agree, the idea that the teacher could see themselves as some kind of jazz musician or star of the show worries me a little! It somehow suggests that students consume without engaging.
Sorry to quote and pre-empt your reply, it was more succinct than anything I said.
Thanks for this great post, George.
You’re welcome Eric – I just found you on Twitter.
I have a couple of questions about books in general:
1)Why do they have so many instructions?Is it so that teachers don’t need to give any?
2)Why do so many have space at the back for note taking or L1 translation?
3)Why do the students need the tape scripts?
4)Why are many marketing their books as self-study and for class use when it is very difficult to have one that does both?
5)What happened to long texts and listenings like in Old Headway and Business Class?
Not sure who your questions are addressed to, but I can give you my thoughts as someone who writes them.
– I think the instructions are there so you can see at a glance how the activity is meant to work- obviously you can ignore them and do it differently. Also, I think for some NNS teachers who are teaching in English, they can be quite helpful.
– I haven’t actually seen a book with space for note-taking or translation- which ones are these? And why would it be a bad idea?
– I think transcripts are a brilliant source to use for a variety of activities- dictogloss, work on connected speech, reading while listening. I’ve mentioned them a few times on my blog (shameless plug)
– I agree, don’t think it’s possible to have a book that really works for both. You need to have a lot more on the page for self study.
– Another good point. I think it’s good for students to have longer listenings. Not quite sure why we don’t….maybe because a lot of books are consciously or unconsciously modelled on exams? Or maybe the majority of teachers don’t actually like them. In my experience, publishers are pretty pragmatic- they do a lot of talking to teachers in focus groups, through feedback on drafts and visiting and observing classes so they can find out what people want.
I think newbie teachers can occasionally rely on these instructions a little too much and move through the books somewhat robotically; I know I was guilty of that before an observation and dissection or two.
I’ve not noticed the space issue – but then I’m not very observant. I think I’d use it for vocabulary collection, perhaps, or for grammar examples.
I’ll agree with Rachael and say I like the tapescripts – especially in books like Ready for FCE, where as a post-listening questions activity you can highlight distractors, find new collocations, reinforce vocabulary – do some re-writing of dialogue with lexical chunks, etc.
Question 4 – only because they see it’s another way to make money – I can’t see any other reason for that. It should really be one or the other. Self-study books aren’t very good in the classroom, but if they can get individuals to buy classroom materials, then that’s extra €€’s I guess.
Question 5. I’m too young to answer that question 😛
thanks for the comments. I’ve noticed in many books, like the new Cambridge Prof series, that less than half the books are the traditional book. The rest is extra info, tapescripts etc.Then you have the extra stuff online. Would we be best just going all digital or buying all the extra stuff and being able to download/use online as many student packs (we could pick and choose elements) as we want week by week?
I suspect that’s probably where we’re going, and think, as a teacher, that that kind of flexibility would be great. No more cutting and pasting with a photocopier!..but I think there are still a lot of teaching contexts where teachers and students want actual books.
BTW I’m quite surprised at books where less than half is the actual book..that would take me so much less time to write (joke)
A pick and mix set of digital modules? Could be interesting. I think I’d go for it. It would make a lot of sense – it wonder if prices would then go up though? Or perhaps publishers would stipulate that you can buy X number of units for X price – and keep it economical. Hmm. Maybe that’s one direction in which these fabled interactive-textbooks will go.
I agree that in many cases actual books are essential – especially when the price, lack of technology is an issue. Apple apparently announced their ibooks (textbooks) will be available at $14.99, but then there’s still the issue of buying that iPad!
I’m interested in seeing where we end up next in terms of teaching approaches now that tech in the classroom is beginning to catch up with other industries. We’re definitely on our way to being more incorporative – we adapt our approaches according to the students’ needs – and their lives are being digitised in all sorts of ways.
I guess it might work on a certain number of licenses per year..but I’m no expert in this kind of thing.
I’m sure there’s going to be more of a digital shift..but think it may well take a while to go fully that way around the world.
If we remove all the ‘fluff’ ie exercise instructions, added photos/images/big titles/repetitive warmer questions etc and just left the essentials ie texts, some questions a grammar/language summary box then added space for group/class-generated work and gave the teacher more materials and choice to add via the projector/online to be able to craft lessons then would that be more Dogme?? I think this is where we’re headed with all the downloadable supplementary stuff. Hmmm.
interesting! When it comes down to it, I think it depends on what the teacher does with the material. I’d say I’ve definitely had dogme-esque classes when using text books, but it was luck. If the students ran away with the material, debated a question point unexpectedly then I let it run – in those cases I take notes, look at errors, extrapolate language use and other potential functions, that kind thing, but those classes are great but few and far between with text books (for me at least). That’s what promoted me to start introducing authentic materials, or just go in bare into the room (figuratively, you understand – though that would be one hell of a “subversive” warmer that I don’t think even Lindsay would try).
I’m not sure it’s the look and feel of the material that counts. Maybe it’s as you say the number of instructions in the books that seems to limit us. I’d like to see a book as you suggest. I’m not sure how popular it would be, but i’d certainly try it! Do you think all images are fluff, or can they be useful? Personally I’d say it’s half and half – but the lower the level the more important they are.