Scott Thornbury

About the Author

1. Where were you born?

I was born in Rotorua, in the North Island of NZ, in 1950, and was brought up in Hamilton, on the Waikato River.

2. Did you always live in New Zealand during your childhood?

Yes. When I was 20 I joined my family in Australia, who had moved there three years earlier.

3. Where and what did you study at the university?

I studied arts (English and Drama) at Flinders University, South Australia; in 1991 I completed an MA in TEFL at the University of Reading in the UK.

4. When did you first get interested in “transformative pedagogies”?

I suppose I was always interested in an alternative, more humanistic education, especially since reading Earl Stevick’s A Way and Ways in around 1980. I was also influenced by reading Teacher, by the visionary New Zealand educator, Sylvia Ashton-Warner. A political dimension was added by reading Paulo Freire, critical theorists such as Girault, and “subversives” such as the late Neil Postman (his book, with Charles Weingartner, called Teaching as a Subversive Activity, I read around 1986 and it was very influential).

5. How did you conceive the idea of a Dogme Pedagogy or Teaching Unplugged?

This grew out of a frustration with the way the so-called communicative approach seemed to have been betrayed and hi-jacked by globalised ELT publishing initiatives, such as the extraordinarily successful Headway series (1986). I had “grown up” as a language teacher in the mid to late seventies and experienced the transition from a very form-focused, regimented kind of teaching (the tail end of the audiolingual method) to the (at the time) totally liberating communicative revolution, with its emphasis on authenticity, meaning, interaction, and so on. As the director of studies in a large school in Cairo, in the late 1970s, I tried to implement these principles. This, combined with my reading of Stevick, and the influence of Krashen (particularly the notion of “comprehensible input”) impelled me in the direction of a view of teaching that sought to provide optimal conditions for “acquisition”, that is a language-rich, meaning-driven, learning environment – not one driven purely by a grammar syllabus and a “focus on forms”. So when, as a teacher trainer on the Diploma programme that I helped set up at International House, Barcelona, in 1986, I saw how NON-communicative the “Headway classroom” had become, I – and my colleague Neil Forrest – set about trying to “de-toxify” language teaching, and to restore the “big C” communicative approach. One of the blocks to effective communicative teaching seemed to be an over-dependence on materials and aids, and so we tried to encourage our trainees to “make more out of less” and to cultivate a learning context that foregrounded what the learners bring to the classroom. (This also reflected my own experience teaching in Egypt, where materials were extremely limited, at least initially, and where I learned to be very resourceful). The analogy I drew between the “Dogme 1995” film collective, and our own teaching training agenda, was accidental, but somehow it captured a feeling that was simmering at the time.

6. Was this idea conceived before writing your article A Dogma for EFL in 2000?

To a certain extent, yes. I had read an article by Adrian Underhill several years earlier, in which he talked about how liberating it was to abandon the coursebook – from time to time. (Curiously, Adrian has forgotten where this article first appeared). Postman and Weingartner (op cit) had also lashed out against text books. I had also written an article, the year before (also published in IATEFL Issues), about the way grammar equated with power in language teaching, and this paved the way for the Dogme article.

7. Did you ever imagine the outcome your idea would have in so many people around the world?

No, not at all. Never! As I say, it was an idea whose time had come, it seemed. But if it hadn’t been for Luke Meddings (in the UK) and David French (in Poland) – both of whom got in touch with me almost immediately, nothing might have come of it – it was David’s idea to start the on-line discussion group, and it was Luke’s idea to host the first “dogme” workshop in his school in London. The rest, as they say, is history!

Published Titles

Scott's Recent Blog Posts

  • The “Robinson Crusoe” Method

    There is nothing new about Dogme: teaching without materials has a long history. In fact, you could say that teaching without materials is the archetypical or default method of teaching languages...

  • Learners who are shy to speak

    What do you do in the event that many of the learners in the classroom are shy to speak? My response to this question elicited some responses, in turn, from some trainee teachers in Seville.

  • Where’s your evidence?

    A common criticism directed at Dogme is that there is no research to support the Dogme approach. Is this true?

  • Dogme in transition?

    Is Dogme in transition? How does Dogme take account of developments in techology, and are these compatible with a Dogme approach?