Designing activities, choosing a coursebook, creating handouts. Every teacher has faced difficulties when it comes to the selection of classroom resources. But what if we make our lessons more focussed on the students and less focussed on materials?
Dogme ELT is an approach to teaching – also considered a movement – that supports the view that teaching and learning should be based on learners’ interests and emergent needs, rather than a syllabus prescribed by a course or coursebook. In this post, we’ll talk about the background of Dogme ELT, describe the foundations of this movement and discuss classroom implications.
The Dogme ELT approach emerged in 2000, following an article by Scott Thornbury in which he criticizes an overdependence on published coursebooks and the overuse of materials. In his article, Thornbury claimed that the materials overload hindered real classroom communication (Thornbury, 2000) and the core of classroom instruction should be based only on “resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom and whatever happens there”. This material-light, learner-focussed approach stemmed from the realisation that teachers were too concerned about presenting grammar and “covering” units of the coursebook, but ended up overlooking learning opportunities that occurred spontaneously in class.
Characteristics of Dogme ELT
Dogme ELT shares and restores characteristics of different approaches to teaching:
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT):
Like CLT, Dogme is also characterized by a focus on interaction between learners and teachers and the learners themselves. The interaction is mediated through talk and facilitated through scaffolding. Both CLT and Dogme place importance on communication with an aim at social interaction.
Task-based learning (TBL):
In TBL, the context for the use of language is developed naturally and students are free of language control, which generates more opportunities for free use of the linguistic resources that they already have. Language emerges from students’ needs and those build a springboard for learning opportunities, as opposed to pre-selected items by the teacher or a coursebook. Similarly, the learning outcomes in the Dogme approach derive from learners’ emergent needs – the idea is to build knowledge together, and not to have the teacher pass on the contents of a coursebook. A major difference between the Dogme and TBL, however, is the methodology employed in classroom practice: while TBL is largely associated with the performance of tasks, Dogme relies on conversation that occurs naturally amongst teachers and learners.
Humanistic Approaches to Teaching:
Humanistic approaches to teaching support the importance of learner-centred instruction and emphasise that learning only takes place if learners are involved in the process. This notion that student-generated content is the core of instruction in humanistic approaches is in line with the belief that learners’ contributions should be the basis of the lesson, although we cannot state that the Dogme ELT approach bases its philosophy in humanistic approaches.
In Teaching Unplugged, Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury state the precepts that lay the foundations of the Dogme Approach and, thus, establish grounds to classroom activities and procedures:
The Dogme Approach is conversation-driven:
This comes from the belief that conversation is not a product of learning, but necessary for learning to happen. Conversation allows learners to come up with coherent ideas, and not isolated sentences that might not be relevant. A focus on conversation is believed to better prepare learners to use language in real life: they are more likely to produce utterances in the full context of a conversation than produce a series of pre-fabricated chunks or structures in isolation.
A conversation-driven approach may also help students learn through interaction and build knowledge together.
The Dogme Approach is materials-light:
Although much has been said about the Dogme approach being anti-material and anti-technology, Meddings and Thornbury state that “what it rejects are those kind of materials and aids that do not conform with the kind of principles” which are the basis for the Dogme approach. They claim that most coursebooks provide learners and teachers with texts that are aimed at reinforcing a grammar syllabus but neither promote communication nor engage learners. In this sense, Dogme ELT defends a critical look at materials and assessment of whether the materials, resources and coursebooks adopted are culturally appropriate for learners and relevant (both in terms of cognitive and affective needs). As an alternative to published materials, Dogme advocates the adoption of student-generated and locally-created content.
The Dogme Approach focusses on emergent language:
In Dogme, it is believed that, if provided with the right conditions for language to emerge – interaction, collaboration among teachers and students – it will. The teacher’s role is to help learners engage with emergent language – that means the teacher should facilitate the analysis, manipulation and practice of language, without having established grammatical or lexical items prior to the lesson. To achieve this goal, teachers should be able to set up activities that are language productive, identify learning opportunities in learners’ output, and give them the chance to retrieve, recycle, record and review language.
Classroom implications and challenges
Teachers and learners’ expectations:
The idea of a fixed syllabus and adoption of a coursebook when learning a language is widespread all around the globe. Both teachers and students expect a course designed on the basis of materials and coursebooks. In some contexts, like exam preparation classes, this is even more desired, as an organised syllabus might “guarantee” that learners will reach their goals and be successful.
Dogme’s criticism on published materials has definitely contributed to a reflection on the effectiveness of their exclusive use in the classroom and, from my personal point of view, has encouraged publishers and writers to rethink the accuracy of the language presented, the authenticity of spoken and written texts, and the cultural relevance of the topics presented. Yet, it is important to remember that no coursebook is a perfect fit for a learner/group of learners without the intervention of a teacher.
Teacher training and development:
One of the challenges posed by Dogme ELT is “the element of surprise”: since there is an enhanced focus on emergent language, the teacher needs to be even more prepared to teach lessons “without previous planning”. The use of the inverted commas here is to show that although there is no formal lesson planning for Dogme lessons, that does not mean that the teacher does not need to prepare for the lesson. Knowledge of the learners and a high level of language awareness, as well as knowledge of teaching techniques and a wide repertoire of classroom activities are essential for the teacher to be confident when employing the Dogme approach in lessons.
I hope this post was helpful! Remember to leave a comment and give us feedback and suggestions for future posts!
Meddings, L and Thornbury, S. (2003) “Dogme still able to divide ELT”. The Guardian
Meddings, L and Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching Unplugged. Surrey: Delta Publishing.
Richards, J. C. and Rodgers, T. S (2015) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thornbury, S. (2000) “A Dogma for EFL” in IATEFL Issues 153. February – March 2000.
Andreia Zakime is an Academic Coordinator at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, a CELTA tutor and one of the co-founders of What is ELT?