Friday, 29 April 2011

#ELTchat Summary: Revisiting Dogme – Thoughts After IATEFL & the DOGME Symposium

New to ELTchat?

If you have never participated in an
#ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT. Over 400 ELT educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions!

Unfamiliar with the terms Dogme or teaching unplugged? Try this article.

Photo by me
Ever since the term was first appropriated by Scott Thornbury back in 2000, the subject of Dogme teaching never fails to provoke strong and healthy debate in the ELT community. The ELTchat on Wednesday 27th of April was no exception, especially since we were lucky enough to be joined by Luke Meddings, co-author of Teaching Unplugged. Also participating was Jeremy Harmer, who I think it’s fair to say is perhaps more sceptical about the Dogme approach, as well as an interesting mix of unplugged acolytes, Dogme doubters and those who just wanted to know what the fuss is all about.

The subject had been previously discussed in ELTchat, but it was felt that after the recent symposium at IATEFL Brighton, the subject was ripe for discussion again. In truth, there was a not a great deal of reflection on that event, but that did not detract from what was a lively and fruitful debate. The main topics of conversation were:

- Dogme is impossible without a significant amount of experience: should we train teachers to ‘unplug’ from the beginning of their careers, and is it even possible?
- Is Dogme a method, an approach, or just a rehash of old ideas such as Richards and Rodgers approach scheme or Communicative Language Teaching?
- The difficulties in persuading an institution to ‘allow’ Dogme teaching.
- Do we need to ‘unplug’ all the time in the classroom, or does Dogme allows us to combine methods and approaches?
- Is it possible to have a dogme coursebook?
- Does dogme work in a an EAP setting? What about ESP, ESL or with lower level learners?

Memorable tweets:

@Marisa_C: .... no evidence that teaching to plan is better if inexperienced.
@Shaunwilden: I dont disagree with dogme but i think too much is made of it. That confuses teachers and clouds what it is.
@JoshSRound: Many institutions only use course books, so new teachers will always have to fit into the 'way things are done' - they can't challenge the set-up
@Theteacherjames: I think people need to abandon the idea that Dogme is an all or nothing method. To me, it's an approach that puts students at the centre.
@LukeMeddings: Dogme isn't a method - it's a framework approach - and thus can't be all or nothing - it must be situated, adapted
@danhummsoriano: My problem with materials is that teachers seem to rely on them rather than springboard off them. Hence the birth of Dogme.
@LukeMeddings: I've seen studentss who didn't want to be there (or were there without much spark) come alive through being participants in learning at last.
@sandymillin: It’s not just teachers who are uncomfortable with change. Many students aren’t. Lesson needs structure or they wonder what point is
@Harmerj: Dogme is 'conversation driven, materials light, deals with emergent language' (Teaching Unplugged p21) That's prescriptive methodology!!
@chucksandy: My grandmother was a Dogme teacher in a 1 room school house in the 1920s. She didn't know the word, but knew good teaching.
@gknightbkk: When I started teaching, not thinking on my feet got me fired
@englishraven: Unplugged CATERS to bringing in interesting information and prototypical texts (just not always OURS) :-)
@willycard: #DOGME is like this #ELTchat: 1 idea + good questions = 1 hour of engaged people negotiating meaning. Next: get all the language and work on it!
@Marisa_C: I think that in terms of materials design Dogme materials will be possible only in fully digitalised format
@LukeMeddings: We overestimate the value of branded materials and underestimate the potential of ordinary people
@Harmerj: I think good teachers have ALWAYS been unplugged at times. I can't think why they wouldn't.
@teacherdude: The beauty of cheap, new technology and the internet means that Dogme approaches can be used in myriad of innovative ways
@Harmerj: Getting students to engage with text (or any kind) isn't dogme! It's critical thinking, normal!

… and perhaps most memorably.

@chucksandy: Also, pre-dogme / unplugged, we used to call it going in naked but ready.

I’ll never think of dogme in the same way again!

The idea of teaching unplugged greatly appeals to me because I love its focus on the learner. To teach like this, the teacher has to free themselves from their ego and allow their students to take their rightful place at the centre of the syllabus. As a self confessed Dogme fan, it was great to get the opportunity to discuss this with my peers. Nobody can argue that it is an idea that hasn’t been thoroughly picked apart and mulled over, and yet its ideas and influence remain, and show no sign of abating.

Useful Links:

Scott Thornbury was kind enough to respond to some of the issues raised in our ELTchat. You can hear his fascinating views below:

What do you think? Leave a comment!

So, how can you join in #ELTchat???

First of all, you don’t need a Twitter account to follow #ELTchat. Simply go to and search for #ELTchat on Wednesdays at 12pm and 9pm London time respectively. Want to know when this is in your part of the world? The times for the next two #ELTchats around the world are here and here.

But you don’t want to just follow, do you?

Go to, sign up for an account (if you haven’t already got one). Then, on Wednesday join in the discussion by adding the hashtag #ELTchat to your tweets. For more information about ELTchats, including opportunities to propose your own questions and vote in polls to decide what will be discussed go to Full transcripts of discussions (and much more!) can also be found on the #ELTchat wiki.

What’s a hashtag? How do I follow them? Listen to Shelly Terrell’s informative video:

Thanks to Mike Harrison for 'lending' me the last part of this summary.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

IATEFL 2011 - A Summary in Springtime.


I wrote most of this post last Wednesday but I needed a week to sit on it, just to dwell on it a bit longer...

It's a funny state, feeling tired and energised at the same time. It's how I feel now, writing this on the Eurostar, winding its way from London to my current hometown of Brussels. I'm actually in the tunnel right now, and it's not half as interesting as I expected. Exactly what I was expecting is another matter of course, especially since it isn't made from glass and the view isn't much to write home about.

Anyway, I'm feeling this way because I am returning from my first IATEFL conference in my lovely original hometown of Brighton. I'm tired, because frankly, it's intense. Three and a half days of sessions until six o'clock. Every aspect of English language teaching available for discussion. Dozens of people to meet, from the lowly, everyday teacher (I can say that because I am one) to the high and mighty or, as they are otherwise known, the published authors. And then it's off to the pub until late, when we go our own ways and reconvene for the morning plenary at 9am. Who wouldn't be tired after a weekend or so of that?

And I feel energised, for exactly the same reasons. All those sessions and all that fascinating and useful information and experience to draw upon. New research and opinion to challenge our beliefs. A reminder that sometimes the old ways were not too bad, and that sometimes things need to be ripped up and you have to start again. And the people, all those wonderful people, who, for a Tweeter like myself, are suddenly avatars come to life. Their kindness, intelligence and enthusiasm for their profession is reason enough to go.

Now I'm not much of a note taker, I prefer what I call 'the cream rises to the top' approach. My theory is that if I take reams of notes, when I return home, I'll take my carefully crafted notebook and place it gently on a shelf, where I'll never look at it again. I prefer to think that those ideas that are really profound and worth remembering are going to pop into my head just when I need them. So far this technique has been pretty successful for me, but the sands of time affect us all, so I'm naturally concerned that at some point my ability to recall those nuggets just when I need them will diminish, and I'll have nothing to fall back onto. So this, the day after the conference has finished, is my halfway house solution, a summary of what I saw, plucked from my still reliable brain.

I started with Peter Grundy's plenary and a reminder of how the importance of the complex context that 'known' words and phrases can present themselves in.

Then Ceri Jones unleashed the power of images, and showed us that there is so much potential when using pictures in the classroom. I loved the ways she used the shadows, imagined what was outside the frame, got students to record and present their own images and encouraged exploration, debate and used their full power for dynamic and effective classes.

Philida Schellekens presented recent research that suggests that the reading sub-skills (skimming, scanning, meaning from context etc) are not as effective as previously considered. It may be more effective to teach them at a later date. Asking them to skim and scan before reading in detail is artificial and possibly irritating for the students, as they just want to get on with reading it 'properly'. I loved having my beliefs questioned in this way. 

Jamie Keddie led us in The Authenticity Trap. Has the march towards authentic materials had a cost? For publishers, maybe. The wealth of genuine materials not created for an ELT setting is too great nowadays to ignore. The trap is feeling that they cannot somehow be adapted and that they are sacrosanct. Jamie effectively showed how this is not the case, and how even difficult cultural concepts can be explained by the teacher and then engaged with by the students.

Karenne Sylvester, Tara Benwell, Peter Ryley and Berni Wall presented The Blogging Symposium. They showed us how the opportunity for teachers to blog is great, and the networks that it can provide offer support and inspiration that can be difficult to find in other situations. This was amply demonstrated by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan's testimony. Furthermore, the chance for students to blog provides them with a way of interacting with English language culture and each other in an equally beneficial arrangement.

On Sunday, Sue Palmers's plenary created a fascinating portrait of our contemporary society and the potential damage it does to children. However her criticism of screen based media could have mentioned content (surely different types of content have different effects, and therefore differing levels of damage?). 

As always Russell Stannard gave us some great ideas for how to integrate technology into our classroom. Russell always manages to find technologies that embellish our teaching experience, and I'm grateful to him for the work he does in sharing these great resources. He was followed by Ken Wilson, who is surely one of the most entertaining speakers on the ELT circuit. He told us about 10 things he thinks he knows about teaching and learning and it's hard to disagree with such an engaging and experienced speaker. His thoughts about translation in class (a little doesn't hurt) were food for thought.

I followed this by attending Raymond Sangabau's account of his teaching EAP in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was amazing to hear someone who has only been teaching for one year and who has 300 to 350 students at a time. A real reality check, it reminded me of how most of us are in a privileged position to the majority of teachers around the world. Janet Bianchini then gave us some fun ideas of how to tackle that often thorny subject of idioms. That Sunday ended with Pecha Kucha evening and it's hard to summarise how enjoyable this evening was. The presentations by Bethany Cagnol, Petra Pointer and host Jeremy Harmer in particular will stay with me for a long time. A great evening and a great format.

Monday began with a plenary by Tom Farrell who reminded us of the importance of reflective practice, something that all teachers and schools need to take more seriously.

He was followed by Jim Scrivener's warning about the dangers of modern reading and how technology has changed our reading habits. Gavin Dudeney continued on the hot topic of technology in the classroom by talking about how mobile devices could be used in various ways to add to our classes. This afternoon concluded with the much anticipated Dogme symposium. With all the main players in attendance, it was a fascinating and insightful discussion and there were too many issues for me to deal with here. This is something I will definitely be returning to in a future post.

On Tuesday, Ingrid Wisniewska gave us some great ideas of how to develop our one-to-one lessons, continuing on from her excellent book for Cambridge on the same subject. Carla Arena presented on how she has created a social network of sharing and development within her school in Brasilia. An inspiring and remarkable piece of work, I was impressed by the way she looked outside ELT to deal with her particular problem. 

It was appropriate that the final presentation was also on the subject of technology and this was presented by Sue Lyon-Jones on her plan B and how to deal with technology when things go wrong. It was useful and sage practical advice from someone who knows. All of this it was all wrapped up by Brian Patten in his plenary session with some wonderful poems which displayed a great mixture of nonsense and romance -  a great way to end.

And in case you're wondering the picture refers to another happy memory - beating English teachers at Scrabble. Priceless...
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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ideas From The Guardian: 24 Hours In Pictures

Photo by me.
I’ve been reading the Guardian newspaper ever since I was a teenager, and though I can no longer pop to the newsagent to pick one up, it is still my main source of news and comment. From the news articles to the various podcasts, I don’t think I could live without it. It’s the only newspaper that I know of that has a TEFL section, which should make it popular with us teachers too.

One of my favourite pages is 24 Hours in Pictures. Every day they publish a collection of around fifteen recent images. This includes pictures from current global events, as well as other notable images. It’s a great resource that can be used in a variety of ways, including as a conversation starter. Below is an example of how I used the page in an upper intermediate and above lesson about photography:

1) Begin with a general discussion about photography to gauge the level of interest and knowledge about the subject.

2) Go through the pictures and discuss them, concentrating on the technical aspects of photography rather than any issues raised. This is an opportunity to introduce some relevant vocabulary, such as composition, framing, use of light, portrait, landscape etc.

3) Then ask the students to choose their favourite image. They then explain why they chose this one in particular.

4) Ask students to imagine that they are a judge for a news photography competition. They have to give a prize to the best news photograph. What criteria would they use to decide on a winner? Hopefully they will use some of the qualities mentioned in point 2, as well other things such as capturing a moment etc.

5) Show the clip from the BBC Culture Show below. I stop the clip at the 3 minutes 45 second point, but you could show more if you wish. The chances are you’ll need to play the video more than once, even if your students are very advanced, so decide how you want to structure their tasks. For my upper-intermediate student, for the first listen, I just asked her to summarise the main idea.

6) For the second listen, I asked her to listen again and note down anything the judge says she looks for in a prize winning photo.

7) The students then compare the list they made at point 4 with the judges criteria.

8) If you want to do some language work based on things that came from the video, you could do it at this point.

9) Finally, you could finish by discussing the issues raised in the photos.

Possible follow ups activities:

- Homework: Ss uploads one of their own photos to and describes what is happening and why they like this photo so much.

- These articles can be used for further reading on the subject.

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