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Dogme ELT
by Małgorzata Bryndal
- 1

Clov: What is there to keep me here?
Hamm: The dialogue.
Samuel Beckett, Endgame


The following assignment explores a recent methodological proposition in TEFL, known as Dogme ELT. In Part I of this assignment, Dome’s theoretical background and practical applications are presented. This is followed by a short discussion of my professional interest in this approach and a final section listing the set objectives for the experimental lesson and the ways of measuring the outcome of this experiment. Part II includes a detailed lesson plan with a commentary and a retrospective evaluation with an action plan for future professional development.

Dogme ELT’s theoretical basis.

Just like many other language teaching methods and approaches in the past (cf. Richards & Rodgers, 1986), the philosophy of Dogme ELT has originated as a reaction against current trends in the language classroom. Its proponents, Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, fighting against the omnipresent culture of grammar-driven, level-oriented course books, have called for material-free (or material-light) teaching, unburdened by an excess of materials and technology (Thornbury 2000 & 2001, Thornbury & Meddings 2001). Inspired by the Dogme-95 film group, whose intention was to rid film-making of an obsessive concern for technique and to rehabilitate a cinema which foregrounds the story and the inner life of the characters, Thornbury (2001) has adopted their name and adapted their vows of chastity arguing for leanness and rigour of language teaching practice (1). The resulting Dogme ELT is pedagogy restored to its pre-method state of grace, focusing on the social nature of learning and social purposes for which languages is used. It is pedagogy of bareessentials (or poor pedagogy, cf. Thornbury & Meddings 2001), where the sources of all materials are learners themselves and learning is grounded in the experience, beliefs, desires and knowledge of the people in the room (Thornbury 2001). This is what makes it humane and relevant. After all, language is not only grammar, language is a socio-cultural artefact. As Stevick (1980) pointed out, successful language learning depends less on materials, techniques and linguistic analyses and more on what goes on between the people in the classroom.

Dogme ELT opposes material-driven teaching not because published language materials and available technology are intrinsically bad, but because they have the power to inhibit the necessary conditions for language learning. The masses of photocopies, flashcards, OHP transparencies, videos, CD-ROMs, textbooks, etc., suffocate real learning opportunities, real communication and the inner life of the student. As Woodward (1991) puts it:

“…content is very distracting. We all tend to be blinded by content. Students, when asked what they learned at school that day, are very likely to remember interesting flashes of parrots and desert islands rather than the main learning point the teacher was trying to illustrate.” (Woodward 1991, p. 66)

Dogme ELT views language and language acquisition as an emergent and complex phenomenon, socially motivated and dependent on the concerns, interests, desires and needs of the user. Engaging learners in a L2 dialogue fosters L2 acquisition in the true Krashen sense of this notion (Krashen 1981). It happens at the background, emerges slowly, without ostentatious learning taking place. Therefore, any attempt to control it from the outside (for instance by means of a prescribed textbook) is futile. The worst scenario in Dogme ELT is to allow imported grammar-driven materials to rule teaching and learning, and in effect, reduce our learners to passive consumers of “grammar McNuggets” as Thornbury calls them (Thornbury 2000 (i)). Feeding our students with discrete units of grammar, irrespective of their own learning needs and styles is similar to Freire’s banking model of education: teachers make deposits of information which students are to receive, memorise and repeat (Freire 1970). The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop critical thinking, creativity and communication skills.

The abundance of teaching materials results in our treating the language as something coming from outside, rather than something coming from inside, i.e. a tool for self-expression. By bringing the socio-cultural aspect of language back into the forefront of teaching, Dogme ELT captures language as a means for self-expression. Language learners are, after all, individuals and their learning goals are defined by what the learner wishes to express. This means that they have their own unique and personal learning syllabuses. Therefore, Dogme ELT forbids any pre-selected syllabus of grammar or lexical-notional items. Instead, language learning is to happen through social interaction and dialogue. A course syllabus must be negotiated with the students.

The concept of dialogue as an essential prerequisite in learning has its roots in dialogical pedagogy (Freire 1970) and informal education (Jeffs & Smith 1996). It allows learners to take ownership of their learning and share responsibility for what is being taught in the lesson. Dialogue helps Dogme ELT to achieve the same goals that ‘conventional’ teaching achieves through the more closed varieties of interaction, characteristic of transmissive teaching or even the communicative approach. Emergent in its character, dialogue tends to be unpredictable, and if placed at the centre of Dogme lesson activities, may pose quite a challenge for teachers, especially the less experienced ones. It requires them to 'go with the flow’ and show the capacity to respond to situations and students’ experiences, to shape the language that emerges from participant-driven input, output and feedback, and most of all to see an opportunity to teach. This is a reactive focus on the learners’ language, where language is as much the process as the product of instruction (Thornbury & Meddings 2001 (i)).

1. See Appendix A for the list of Dogme ELT Vows of Chastity.

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