So Dogme ELT was one of the big issues of the conference. Big surprise, I hear you say. Well I’m sorry if you’re tired hearing about it, but it’s not going away. If this conference proved anything, it showed firstly that there are still a lot of teachers who don’t know what Dogme ELT is, and secondly that even some of the ones who have heard of it don’t really know what it is, even though they think they do. More about that later…
Ever since I have become interested in Dogme, I have heard the same old arguments against unplugged teaching and I’m becoming a little bored of them, to be honest. You know them, the old ‘you hate technology’, the familiar ‘you just make it up as you go along’, the hoary ‘what’s so wrong with course books anyway’, and so on. I don’t feel the need to go over these now, I think that they’ve been conclusively disproved or discredited in numerous blogs posts by my PLN and most comprehensively in the Teaching Unplugged book.
It’s when you go to a conference like this that you can end up confronting these prejudices face to face. Martin Sketchley (@eltexperiences) gave a session in Glasgow where he presented his Master’s thesis on Dogme ELT. He posited the idea that, based on his research, a balanced approach between teaching unplugged and more traditional, possibly course book based activities was the most effective way to teach. It was a measured argument, based on his research and a fair conclusion.
I can’t argue for or against Martin because I haven’t read his thesis, but I would like to know how he felt about the talk afterwards (and if you’re reading this Martin, please let me know in the comments section) because I felt his talk was somewhat hijacked by audience. There’s something about Dogme that seems to make the discussion go up a few notches and this discussion was no exception. I thought that it was unfortunate that at times the pitch of the argument became too exaggerated and I felt it made a genuine conversation difficult.
The most telling comment for me was from a teacher who said that before the session she didn’t know what Dogme ELT was and now at the end of the discussion she felt she didn’t know much more. I’m not blaming Martin for that, in that environment it would have been difficult for him to calmly get that across, but I couldn’t help that feel it was a wasted opportunity. What could have been an opportunity for her to learn was instead a chance for her to feel that she had become confused by a heated argument, which can’t be the best way for any of us.
|Adam and Emily in action.|
There was another comment which I also thought was telling. An older teacher forcefully, and to be frank, rudely made the point that since she’d been teaching like this for 20 or 30 years, she couldn’t see what the fuss was about. This is when I refer you back to those tired old anti-Dogme arguments that I mentioned at the beginning. This is another one of those old chestnuts, the classic ‘this is nothing new so what’s the big deal?’ point of view. Adam Beale and Emily Bell‘s presentation the preceding day provided an excellent counter point to this perspective. Adam has been teaching for only two years and decided to undertake an action research project into teaching unplugged at his school in Santander, Spain.
What his research and brilliant blog, where he reflects on his classroom experiences, have shown is that Dogme ELT is eminently teachable by an inexperienced teacher. For Adam to have discovered this way of teaching and been on the journey he has, something important and valuable to him not just as a teacher but as a person, Dogme ELT needed to exist, it needed a name, it needed a community, it needed teachers to call themselves Dogmeticians, it needed blog posts, it needed conference talks and workshops, it needed research and reflective practice, and it needed a book. Without these things he wouldn’t have found it and we wouldn’t have had the great Dogme chats we had in the cafe and pub, important events for both me and him (I hope).
So if you’re not a Dogmetician and you find yourself wondering why us teachers with an interest in teaching unplugged are banging on about it again, remember these things. We still have to face the same accusations and defend ourselves against them. No less than Jim Scrivener accused Dogme teachers as being “unprepared” and most memorably as “wandering naked though the Dogme forest” in his otherwise excellent talk in which he otherwise gave one of the most compelling arguments in favour of Teaching Unplugged I’ve ever heard. If he can misunderstand what Dogme is all about, then we’ve still got a long way to go.
Update: Martin has kindly replied to my post on his own blog: