About the Author
1. Where were you born?
I was born in London, in 1965. I grew up in East Sussex, England.
2. Where and what did you study at university?
I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University. But it wasn’t modern English Language – it was Anglo-Saxon. I didn’t learn about English grammar until I trained to be a teacher – I somehow missed the ‘grammar’ year at school. I did learn a little about how English has always been a rather untidy sort of language derived from both Germanic and Latin sources, which is why we usually have several different words for the same thing. Linguists have been trying to ‘tidy it up’ for centuries, without much success. After university I did a CELTA course at International House in London, and then I did a DELTA ten years later. Like lots of native speaker teachers, I learned my grammar in the classroom – as a teacher!
3. When did you first get interested in “unplugged” teaching?
It was probably after seeing a talk by Jimmie Hill on the Lexical Approach in the early 90’s. I remember him saying, what learners want is words. Coursebooks were very grammar-heavy in those days – it was the high tide of Headway – but I had a feeling that this focus on rules wasn’t helping the learners. The Lexical Approach promised to explore the living language from a learner point of view. Like me, some colleagues were very excited, but some people thought it was a crazy idea – it was quite controversial. I found that the way to give learners more words was to talk with them, becoming an active participant in conversation about their lives, and then to record and analyse the language that arose from our conversation. That’s really the basis for dogme, though I didn’t know it at the time.
4. How did you come across the idea of a Dogme Pedagogy?
By reading Scott’s article in IATEFL Issues. Like lots of people, I’d been experimenting in the classroom but I wasn’t always able to explain clearly to other people – such as Directors of Studies – what I was doing. That’s why it was such a relief when Scott came up with this analogy for our classroom experiments. And a kind of ‘dogme vocabulary’ has developed from there, that’s one of the things that this book does – it gathers that vocabulary together and summarises the basics of a dogme approach: one that is conversation-rich, materials-light and focused on emergent language.
5. As well as being a teacher, you’ve been a school manager and journalist in ELT – what role have you enjoyed most, and how has this varied experience affected your approach to Dogme?
There’s nothing like being with a class that is fully engaged, with laughter and learning in equal part. But working on the EL Gazette gave me a kind of crash course in the development of modern ELT. I was able to meet and interview many of the seminal figures from the 60’s onwards – people like Louis Alexander, John Trim and Randolph Quirk – through to people like Jeremy Harmer and the Soars, whose books I had grown up with as a teacher. And I broadened my horizons by covering the work of authors like Stephen Pinker and especially David Graddol, whose books should be required reading for all English language teachers! Managing a school was a real challenge – I realized that the strengths you have as a teacher aren’t always helpful in management. But again, it gave me a different perspective.
6. What do you do outside ELT?
As well as teaching and writing about ELT, I work in qualitative media research. The fields aren’t entirely dissimilar and I use lots of classroom techniques when I’m managing group discussions. But it has also given me plenty of new ideas, some of which I have fed back into Teaching Unplugged. I think it’s good to get experience of more than one field, especially when there are aspects that overlap. Apart from that, I write music. I don’t know what the overlap is there!
Dogme in English Language Teaching
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