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Has dogme come home?

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Just got back from Glasgow – a city that shimmers with the energy of regeneration and that can be justly proud of its new self. I was there for the annual IATEFL conference and although engaged thoroughly, the courage required to take up the challenge of presenting was something I lacked this year. I took the time rather to reflect very actively on what I witnessed.

Adrian Underhill started the ball rolling with his heart-rending lament on having the Reflection Blues. This set me on my somewhat solitary course as I followed some of the new young lions and filled up on wisdom from the sages.

Something which was voiced in a talk by Geoff Hardy-Gould, and which resonated strongly with me was the swelling call to teachers to be courageous and by extension to make our students courageous about the language they use and goals they set themselves. Duncan Foord proposed that today’s adult learners need coaching rather than teaching. Indeed, it’s time to think about the learning that is happening and not the teaching that is taking place. Coaching sets goals and pushes students to achieve more by charging them with the responsibility of managing their own learning and development – demanding more of them and ourselves.

Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield challenged us to take language learning out of the sanitised atmosphere of the “parsnip-free” classroom to the down and dirty of the protest, Human Rights, critical thinking, subversive opinion and the scarily unconventional. Challenging? Certainly. Courageous? Definitely. And why not…..

Willy Cardoso flew straight to the heart of the matter and tackled teacher training. What informs it and how is it delivered? Scores of young hopefuls show up at various places across the world to be put through their paces to gain the CELTA or TESOL. How many of them actually question the theory that informs these courses? Is there a theory informing them at all, in fact? How many of these bright-eyed trainees – or trainers, for that matter -challenge the content, the objectives or even the validity of the certificate itself as a passport into the classroom? Isn’t it time to challenge these institutions? Are they perhaps pedagogically sound but “dinosaurian”, to quote Paul Seligson?

Anthony Gaughan asked us to re-examine seven “sinful” practices that these courses have banished. Are drilling and repetition, reading aloud and correcting as evil as they are made out to be? Can they in fact be challenging and highly effective, if deployed imaginatively and creatively?

And as to my own love affair with dogme. What of it? Its appeal remains magnetic and its followers loyal. There were a couple of talks dedicated to dogme: young teachers like Adam Beale risking exposure, distilling his practice down to its essence and sharing his reflections with us. Interestingly, dogme-speak popped up in many places: “Conversation-driven”; “emergent language”; materials-light, authentic, student-centred, needs-based classes are no longer derided as iconoclastic and left to the unplugged phalanx to champion. Some years ago having a dogme attitude to teaching WAS the challenge. It called to it the courageous and the critical. Validating one’s teaching through intensive self-reflection, having the courage to be well-prepared but without a plan, critically assessing mainstream practice and challenging the status quo are grist to the dogmetician’s mill.

Yet these seemed to me the emerging themes at IATEFL this year. Has dogme come home? Is that good thing?


3 responses »

  1. Was not aware that reading aloud, drilling and correcting had been outlawed. Since when? By whom? Haven’t we all learned by now that you never chuck anything out, as you never know when it’s going to come in? Only one immutable rule as far as I’m concerned: never do anything yourself if the students could do it. Otherwise, do what works.

    Chez nous it is taken as an earnest of great seriousness of purpose to write the lesson aims on the board at the start of the lesson. This is apparently favoured by the Briddish Fucking Kyncel, who are coming to re-inspect in June. The practice makes bugger all difference that I can see, and puts a damper on improvisation. Sometimes I do it and sometimes I don’t, and nobody notices one way or the other

    • ‘Ullo! Lovely to see you encore! Yes indeed, I was informed of this at IATEFL. You see, I’m officially A Bad Person, because – sshhhhh! – I didn’t go through the CELTA/CertTESOL mill (thank God by the sounds of it – they are truly frateful experiences). I went directly to DELTA, which was in and of itself not the most thrilling experience of my life and certainly didn’t Make Me A Better Teacher. BUT, I did get the impression from the dreaded Assessed Lessons that drilling was verboten – TMTT (Too Much Teacher Talk – who the hell else is going to be a model for Correct English if not the teacher – stupid?) Anyway – Lesson Aims on board at the beginning of the lesson? Okay and what if the lesson doesn’t go in that direction? The Briddish Fecking Kynsel needs such a shake up. Which seemed to be the general consensus about the CELTA/DELTA, Cert and Dip Trinity/ Cambridge duopoly that rules the roost in terms of EFL teacherly type qualifications.

      Courage in the face of and all that. But I’m afraid very often the general attitude is Keep Calm and Carry On, which does not ring changes or in fact Get Things Done.

      • I came back after 15 years in Greece in 2006 with something of an inferiority complex, thinking ELT in England would be quite a long way ahead of what I’d been used to dealing with. Instead I found it dull and complacent. Greek ELT in general is a total bloody mess of garbled understanding and clashing egos, but our TT / EAP centre in Athens was a little gem of integrity, academic rigour and innovation, probably because we knew we were pitted against such odds. I didn’t realise until I got back here just how bloody good we had been, doing dogme long before Scott Thornbury thought to name it. Last time I saw my colleague who owns the place, she was saying how much she wishes she’d got her finger out in the early 90s and published something about the approach. She had intended one day it would be the subject of a PhD, but commitments and finances never allowed it.

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