25 May Great Trends in TEFL: Dogme. Face to Face with Its Founder: Scott Thornbury @IH Bucharest
“Teaching should be done using only the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom – i.e. themselves – and whatever happens to be in the classroom.” (Scott Thornbury)
Author: Ilinca Stroe, International House Bucharest
Coursebooks, student’s books, workbooks, teacher’s handbooks, resource packs, class CDs, student’s CDs, activity books, grammar books, practice CD-ROMs, photocopiables, transparencies, visual aids, video clips, cuisennaire rods and the plethora of Internet resources, from online crossword makers to grammar quizzes. Somehow all this paraphernalia of language teaching recalled, at the turn of the century, the manifesto launched, five years ealier, by Danish film-maker Lars von Trier: Dogme 95. Posited against “big-budget, hi-tech, Hollywood-style” movies, Dogme 95 was all for authenticity – no props, no artifices, no special effects.
“A Dogma for EFL”, published in 2000, called for a “rescue action” in English teaching: ELT was “drowning in an embarrassment of resources”. There was “an over-dependency on manufactured materials” and the “culture of the coursebook”, with its contrived texts, characters and listenings, and its ideologically charged (read Britain-centred, native-focused) content was stifling authenticity in the classroom. “Where is the inner life of the student in all this? Where is real communication?” the article lamented. Given the “often expressed desire of both teachers and learners to create more opportunities for ‘real language use’ in their classrooms”, it was time to declare “war on materials-driven lessons”, time to profess a “rigorous rejection of the non-authentic” – it was “high time Dogme-type principles were applied to the classroom”.
That founding article and a subsequent one titled “Dogme: Dancing in the Dark?” (2005) set out those principles with clarity and appeal:
Teaching should be centred on “the local and relevant concerns of the people in the room”, not on the author-concocted contexts, stories and characters in coursebooks.
Learning is “a social and dialogic process where knowledge is co-constructed”, rather than imparted by a lecturing teacher or “imported” from coursebooks.
Classes should be freed from “third-party imported materials” (textbook readings/listenings, photocopiables), as that empowers both teachers and learners to generate class content themselves.
The content “most likely to engage learners is the one supplied by the people in the room”. That is, the learners’ “beliefs, knowledge, experiences, concerns and desires” – all, “valid content” in the classroom.
Interaction between the teacher and the learners, as well as between the learners themselves is the “direct route to learning”, since it produces real language and occasions authentic listening/speaking practice.
The teacher’s prime responsiblity is to nurture a class dynamic which is “conducive to dialogue” and which directs learners’ attention to emergent language.
The students should be “frank but considerate”, “independent but cooperative”, “speaking willingly to particular listeners” (the other students and/or the teacher) “about things that matter to them”.
The target language should emerge from the “learners’ communicative needs”, and teachers have to work with the “raw material” of the learners’ output. Reactive teaching takes precedence over proactive teaching.
Coursebooks should be “low on text” (with only relevant readings included, which learners should approach critically in order to “unpack [their] ideological baggage”), they should have “no recorded listening” (as listening should be “live and interactive, integrated into speaking activity”), and they should treat grammar “as an extension of lexis”, with learners acting as “language detectives” to notice patterns and chunks with speaking-generating power.
The controversy is still very much alive and kicking in the world of ELT about Dogme. Those contesting this approach have labelled it “purist”, “simplistic” or even “romantic”, as it pleads for a return to the classroom with just a teacher, students, desks, chairs and a blackboard (“no props”, remember?), but where a lesson infused with “a classroom culture” (as opposed to a “coursebook culture”) takes place somewhat Socratically. Another criticism tagged “dogmetists” as hypocrites, because while they subvert the “coursebook culture”, they publish books on Dogme, or do use tech “props” such as online resources.
The fact is, a one-page article published in 2000 by one man has been reshuffling priorities in the world of ELT ever since, and it has generated a methodology and novel teaching practices. Above all, it has helped keep debate, reflection and (re)thinking alive in our field. That one man is Scott Thornbury. An impressively influential English teacher with over 30 years’ experience who has published a good number of innovative works such as The New A-Z of ELT, The CELTA Course Trainer’s Manual, How to Teach Grammar, Teaching Grammar Creatively, etc.
Scott Thornbury is coming to IH Bucharest online, to deliver a (most probably) exceptionally inspiring webinar: “’Grammaring’ activities”, on 27 May 2020, from 12:00 to 13:00 (Eastern European Summer Time), on Zoom. You can register in a minute, by filling in a form and submitting it. Click here, do it, and share in a world-class trainer’s expertise.
International House Bucharest runs regular CELTA courses for teachers of English at its Teacher Training Centre, as well as training events online, onsite or at partner locations. To sign up for a course or event, contact [email protected].