There was a children’s book I used to (ok… I still do) love, in which a young boy has a pet dragon.
Despite the dragon eating and sleeping in their house, the boy’s parents refused to acknowledge its existence, constantly reiterating the mantra “there’s no such thing as a dragon!”
Well, the dragon starts out small but gets bigger and bigger… and by the end of the book, has become so huge that it takes over the entire house… and the parents grow to love it.
This is what I what I mulling over when I attended one of the great events of the The IH DoS conference 2012 – the hosting of a match between two heavyweights, Communicative Language Teaching (the parents!) and Dogme (the dragon!).
Since, and indeed during, the debate itself, the worlds of twitter and blogs have been alive with debate about Dogme, which seems to me to centre around one myth – Dogme doesn’t really exist!
Having just finished a very successful academic year of a Dogme course in my institute (my presentation on this topic from the conference will soon be in the IHWO blog, I believe), my students and I can promise you that there is such a thing as Dogme and until you try it yourself, your doubts are… only doubts.
But first… let’s bring on the Dogme-doubting arguments! These were propounded in Jeremy Harmer’s impassioned talk during the conference as well as a key objection raised by Neil McMahon in his excellent blog:
1. Any text from a coursebook can be adapted for the class by the teacher – students don’t need to bring in their own material.
Sadly we have to adapt the coursebook for every lesson – what a waste of time! But why should we have to if the students can simply bring in their own material?
Well, CELTA, Trinity and whatever other teacher training course we embark upon, teaches us to use a coursebook from the outset. Now that’s what I call dogmatic.
I’m nonetheless confident that teacher training will eventually change once, instead of rejecting Dogme out of hand, people realise that Dogme isn’t about posturing but making teaching easier and more effective.
2. The footballer Fernando Torres “learnt” English by listening to the radio, not by talking.
Right… and what did he do after listening? Stayed silent for the rest of the day during football training? I rather think he used his English when speaking to team-mates, friends etc. i.e. listening and communicating. Very Dogme.
3. Dogme privileges learners with “people smart” intelligence over others, as it’s conversation driven.
I doubt that anyone learns a language to then not speak it… yes we have activists and reflectors, but even the quietest reflector would agree that learning a new language is fundamentally about communication. Let’s not second-guess our learners by denying them this right.
4. Suggesting that a coursebook disempowers students is wrong – many students have learnt brilliant English through coursebooks.
That hardly means it’s the best way of doing it… many students have doubtless learnt great English through Grammar Translation but we wouldn’t teach like that today!
If an approach comes along that gets the students putting their English to work and bringing their lives into the classroom instead of forcing topics on them, why not embrace it instead of criticising it?
5. What if language doesn’t “emerge” – you can’t just say “sorry, it didn’t come up!”
No need to apologise… if you make sure it DOES come up! If you see something that students need to know, either for their own use in class or for the syllabus – add it yourself!
Let’s say the students need to use a conditional and they have no idea how to structure them – well, that’s kinda your cue, teacher…
And if you are following a syllabus (sorry Scott… but really, some of us DO have syllabi to follow!) there is no harm in introducing a text to a class yourself to cover this.
6. If you stray from the “10 Commandments of Dogme”, it’s not Dogme…
Really guys, we’re just splitting hairs now! As early as 2003 (nearly 10 years ago) Luke Meddings pointed out (as if it needed doing) that the commandments had been “tongue in cheek” (who could take commandment 10 seriously?!).
Despite the name, there’s no dogma to Dogme. Luke’s recent metaphor about the “three tent poles of Dogme” (IH DoS 2012) is a perfect description of why Dogme is so versatile: you can use it anywhere, it adapts to fit the terrain and works in all climates.
And what are those three tent poles?
- Materials light
- Conversation driven
- Emergent language
If you look at my above points, I think we’ve covered all of these.
I’m sure there will be people who disagree with the above and who still disagree that Dogme teaching is simple, effective and totally engaging. I’ve crossed swords with both Jeremy and Neil McMahon on this issue on their blogs!
But it’s happening, guys… The dragon’s here and so is Dogme. Here to stay and to help students and teachers alike become independent from the coursebook.
Dogme teaching is simply about allowing the students to bring their lives and concerns into the classroom and letting them use these to learn English. Let’s not hide behind our doubts and miss the chance to give our students such great opportunities.
And let’s not deny Dogme’s existence – that seems just a bit contrary to me – let’s rather see how useful it can be.
In fact, once you’ve tried Dogme, you’ll see that it’s a bit like the old steak (Dogme) vs. Big Mac (coursebook) idea – which would you prefer?
Well, it’s steak for me all the way. And yes, you might catch me sneaking off to McDonalds occasionally… but I’ll feel guilty about it later, ‘cos I’ll always know there was a better alternative in my fridge.