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Dogme ELT
by Małgorzata Bryndal
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The emphasis on dialogue does not mean that Dogme ELT focuses on spoken language only. Dialogue is understood in its broader sense here, as a meaningful exchange that is seen as a springboard to practise any language area or skill that can be captured in the language emerging from that dialogue. Teachers must ensure that lessons are language rich, but language must not be used for display (metalanguage), but for meaningful communication, relevant to students’ learning and socio-cultural context (cf. Thornbury 2001). Without satisfying students’ social needs and looking into their inner lives, we cannot satisfy their pedagogical needs.

A Dogme ELT classroom is similar to an informal education classroom, where the primary goal of the teachers is to facilitate learning (and not just to operate learning materials). The nature of the student-teacher relationship is rid of the traditional student-teacher, them-and-us division. Both students and the teacher in the Dogme ELT classroom are members of a small culture with local needs and local concerns, and learning potential. It is then logical that the texts and topics they require should be locally generated. This might mean the students themselves choose their topics and texts. (Thornbury & Meddings 2003).

Student is foregrounded at all times, being the source of all language emerging in the classroom. Language practice activities are more direct and relevant for the students: they are asked to talk about themselves and their experiences. The focus on their interest increases their intrinsic motivation, whilst the interactive activities push learners to produce more accurate and appropriate language, which in turn provides input for other students (cf. Hedge, 2000). Language is not a subject in itself, but a medium for other subjects, so there is potentially an inexhaustible supply of topics that may prove of interest to students (Thornbury & Meddings 2001). They are encouraged to communicate in English, but the use of their first language is not prohibited if it facilitates acquisition at the time.

Teacher’s task in the Dogme ELT classroom is to scaffold this emergent communication process and teacher’s authority derives from his/her ability to manage and facilitate the social processes out of which and for which language develops. Rather than preparing lessons and taking students through a list of items on the plan, the Dogme teacher should prepare for the lesson that will be co-written by the people in the room. Dogme ELT teacher is:

  • a skilled linguist, who knows how language works and how to exploit it as a tool in learning and teaching (as it emerges in the classroom dialogue);
  • a caring observer, who shows a lot of interest in his/her learners and has the skill to manage the classroom diversity, and
  • is an activist, who shows interest in the world and even willingness to change it (cf. Meddings & Thornbury 2003).

The principles and techniques of Dogme ELT are idealistic and very humanistic. Dogme ELT elevates student-centred lessons and the idea of student autonomy to its most desirable state. All things considered however, Dogme ELT applicability raises my concerns. Though the teacher’s profile in the Dogme ELT classroom is low, there is still a lot of responsibility on his/her shoulders in terms of appropriate needs analysis, course design, accommodation of diversity in the classroom and reacting to the emerging language on the spot, which could prove to be an insurmountable task for an inexperienced teacher. Even in its material-light version, applying Dogme ELT is quite challenging. Reflecting back on my own teaching experience I am positive, that this methodology would not attract my attention at the beginning of my teaching career, as like many other teachers, I would simply not be able to deliver a lesson without a carefully prepared plan. Moreover, the decision about rejecting resources should be an informed one, underpinned with previous experience of using them, which (inexperienced) teachers might simply not have. Also, banning the use of grammar-driven teaching materials (or any other materials for that matter) is more likely to make a bad teacher into a worse one, than it is to improve already good ones, so we should really be careful not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Finally, we should not forget about students’ expectations and learning habits. While it is true that when some students come and ask for a course, they come to learn English, not to do a book, it is also true that others demand a book. They grew to depend on it (just as teachers did) and they like the culture of the textbook. My experience with Polish, Pakistani and Chinese students, taught me that they are used to working with language as an external subject distanced from themselves. They do not like the ‘unmasking’ that is involved in using the people in the room as human, personal subject matter. They are not used to student-centred lessons, and expect teacher to provide them with ready-made “grammar/lexis McNuggets”. Too much student autonomy makes them feel uncomfortable and left uncared for by the teacher.

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