Dogme in transition?

Friday 1 May 2009

by Scott Thornbury

Welcome to Teaching Unplugged on the Delta Development Blog.I’m Scott Thornbury, co-author, with Luke Meddings, of Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Teaching. Our book attempts to articulate the theory and practice of the “Dogme ELT” movement, now in its tenth year. (To get a flavour of what Dogme is all about, visit the discussion list. Over the next four weeks, I will be using this blog to review the development of Dogme, and to discuss its present significance, as well as responding to comments and questions that arise. Later in the year, Luke will take over and will continue the dialogue.


First some caveats!  Because Dogme has been a collaborative, eclectic and evolving experience, the book represents only a facet of its diversity, and does not pretend to be THE definitive dogme book. In fact, it’s unlikely that such a book will ever materialise. For a start, dogme is not a method, in the sense of being a codified set of practices that purport to be maximally effective in a wide range of contexts.  Dogme is more an attitude, or a set of beliefs and values, whose realisation in practice will vary from person to person and from context to context. (In our book, we’ve tried to show how dogme might apply to specific teaching situations, such as teaching one-to-one, exam classes, young learners, and so on. But these are not prescriptions, simply suggestions).


What’s more, dogme – if it is to have any future relevance – will continue to evolve and transform itself. A recent poster on the list asked:


“Is dogme constantly in transition or are we taking what was once a set of basic principles and altering them to fit a new paradigm?”


My answer might be: a bit of both. That is, there is a set of basic principles, but these are being adapted (rather than altered) to fit new contexts and circumstances.  A good instance of this is the emergence of the concept of Dogme 2.0, i.e. the fusion of Dogme principles with the kind of technologies that simply weren’t around ten years ago. On this website for a virtual learning environment  Howard Vickers reviews some basic Dogme principles, such as 


  • Learning happens most directly through interactivity …
  • Learning takes place through communication and conversation, through which language emerges…
  • Content should engage learners to enable learning


and concludes: “…perhaps we are looking here at an opportunity for the Dogme ELT approach to evolve into a “Dogme 2.0”, where the “2.0” tag represents the ability for students to engage, interact and create online.”


I particularly welcome this attempt to map Dogme principles on to online learning, not least because it gives the lie to the (widely held) view that Dogme teachers are unreconstructed Luddites, resistant to innovation and technology.  In fact, a very long time ago (in Dogme history) I posted this quote from a paper by Mark Warschauer:


“For electronic learning activities to be most purposeful and effective, it would seem that they should (a) be learner-centred, with students having a fair amount of control over their planning and implementation, (b) be based on authentic communication in ways rhetorically appropriate for the medium, (c) be tied to making some real difference in the world or in the students’ place in it, and (d) provide students an opportunity to explore and express their evolving identity”.


(Warschauer, M. 2000. On-line learning in second language classrooms: An ethnographic study. In Warschauer, M. and  Kern, R. (eds) Network-based Language Teaching: Concepts and Practice, CUP, p. 57)


It seems to me that these are all Dogme principles, but they are not always principles that proponents of certain technologies seem to subscribe to.  This is why I reject the claims made by proponents of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) for example, the typical use of which seems to fail on all four counts.


So, yes, Dogme is in transition, and always has been – which is, I trust, one of its strengths.




21 responses to Dogme in transition?

  1. Rob says:

    Is to too early to claim Dogme has staying power? If not, then this may be attributed to it’s non-method status, ie lack of a ‘codified set of practices’. Quite simply, Dogme emerges/is emerging much as does grammar (depending on one’s view of SLA).

    Therefore, it seems of the utmost importance that Dogme remain adaptable. I was apprehensive about the Teaching Unplugged book, fearing that it might solidify and ‘dogma-tize’ what has always been somewhat of a public good or renewable resource. Having read the book, I am relieved to see that Scott and Luke have managed to keep the ‘long conversation’ alive.

  2. Scott says:

    I am relieved that you are relieved, Rob. Admittedly, planning the book involved a fair amount of soul-searching: would this be the death-blow to dogme? should we attempt to incorporate all the many dogme “voices”? is a dogme book a contradiction in terms etc? It’s early days, but the response has been good so far, which suggests that the book was timely. As to whether dogme survives it, in its present incarnation, who knows? There have been several times when the discussion site seemed to have quietly expired, only to rise again, phoenix-like, reinvigorated by some new voices or new themes. And it seems to have out-lived some of its fiercest critics on the Guardian ELT site – although this might goad them back into action!

  3. Anthony says:

    First of all, congratulations to Luke and Scott for writing this book, and hearty thanks to Delta Publishing for putting their support behind it. I recently wrote a review of “Teaching Unplugged” in which I suggested: “the very existence of such a book begs the question: how would current teacher training and notions of good teaching practice need to change in order to make Teaching Unplugged the norm rather than the exception?” For me, the question of whether Dogme has “staying power” is bound up with this question of its ability to find a place in initial teacher training. We know old habits are hard to break, and this applies to habits of mind (i.e. attitudes) as well. To make a significant impact on the teachers of tomorrow, Dogme principles and practice need to become more strongly embedded within initial training courses: without this, the hegemony of materials-driven teaching will continue, with Dogme continuing to be seen as a radical (chic) alternative practised by non-conformist experienced teachers. I’m being deliberately provocative here but would like to know what other readers think in response.

  4. Rob says:

    Well Anthony, if I count as an ‘other reader’ in this case, I’d like to say I support your ideas and would be overjoyed to see dogme find a place in teacher training. I’ve imagined how it would be to run such a course, with me as a trainer of course. Scott and others are surely including dogme-type concepts and activities in their training work, but a full on dogme course is inspiring. Why don’t we start one up? Would they come?

    The book does seem to be growing in popularity. I’m surprised to learn that some people have such a hard time getting their hands on it though.

  5. Anthony says:

    I’d say you certainly count, Rob. My colleagues and I are overhauling our initial teacher training course to take more account of dogme principles. We are also taking more account of them while conducting in-house teacher observations. This is very exciting and daunting at the same time: I’ll keep you posted. I’m not sure what a “full-on dogme course” would look like yet, but I’d love to find out. I’ll get back in touch when I’ve got some ideas together. Meanwhile, hope you enjoy the other posting “where’s your evidence?” – just skimmed it and found it interesting!

  6. I’ve always thought of Dogme, the Dogme list as a place where a number of like-minded, not identically-minded people were prepared to examine in public their beliefs and practices about teaching EFL , to examine them critically, to describe what they did in their classrooms and to share all this and invite constructive, supportive criticism.

  7. James says:

    The dogme idea is great but what is new about it? There have been many people promoting the idea of ‘using the participants as a resource’ going right back to John Heron (Human Potential Research Project, Surrey Univ. 1973) and others like Adrian Underhill who took his ideas forward. I feel that Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings have picked up on these ideas and now, thanks to the internet, have been able to create a ‘discourse community’ around their spin on established ideas which is now going into a book. I hope they will share the royalties with their faithful followers!

  8. There’s nothing new under the sun, James. You’re right – in our introduction (p. 7) we point out that “these beliefs and practices … draw on a rich tradition of alternative, progessive, critical, and humanist educatonal theory”. Among the many educationalists whose infuence we acknowledge in the book are: Paulo Freire, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, Neil Postman, John Wade (who wrote ‘Teaching without Textbooks’ in 1992) as well as writers and researchers within the ELT/TESOL field: Earl Stevick, Michael Breen, Leo van Lier, David Hall, and Claire Kramsch. Adrian Underhill’s article on doing away with the coursebook is out of print, but I acknowledged it in my “biography” on this site, along with many of the names I’ve just mentioned. Dogme has NEVER claimed to be new or original. Just different from the current orthodoxy.

    • stani says:

      ““Is dogme constantly in transition or are we taking what was once a set of basic principles and altering them to fit a new paradigm? My answer might be: a bit of both. That is, there is a set of basic principles, but these are being adapted (rather than altered) to fit new contexts and circumstances. A good instance of this is the emergence of the concept of Dogme 2.0, i.e. the fusion of Dogme principles with the kind of technologies that simply weren’t around ten years ago. On this website for a virtual learning environment Howard Vickers reviews some basic Dogme principles, such as
      Learning happens most directly through interactivity …
      Learning takes place through communication and conversation, through which language emerges… Content should engage learners to enable learning and concludes: “…perhaps we are looking here at an opportunity for the Dogme ELT approach to evolve into a “Dogme 2.0″, where the “2.0″ tag represents the ability for students to engage, interact and create online”.

      I agree there is nothing new under the sun. However utilizing any idea in a fresh and new aproach is just a way of life. Change is the only thing that must continuously happen. the concept applies not just to esl but could be extremely helpful when dealing with adult learners. Adults have tendency to be set in there ways therefor actively engaging them in activities while emersed in the language of any subject just seems like good ole common sense.

  9. Anthony says:

    Responding to James and Dennis:

    James – as far as I can tell, the Dogme online community created itself (rather than Meddings and Thornbury creating it). Thornbury just wrote an article which galvanised people internationally (in a way that earlier advocates for materials-light, conversation-driven and affordance-oriented teaching also sought to do). The only differences are that Internet technology and positive advocacy have allowed the message to become influential enough to leverage a broad publication. As a(n) (albeit minor) contributor to this discourse, do I feel exploited and in need of a royalty share? Grow up. There are bigger things to worry about, honestly. I’m happy that Meddings and Thornbuty have put the time in to persuading a publisher to give widespread voice to my concerns, and to put the effort into articulating it better than I could, and providing me with a simple to reference resource full of ideas in line with my thinking – far from feeling exploited, I’d say it’s a bargain.

    Dennis – I understand your point but what is the consequence? That Dogme should ignore its self-evident origin as a political movement (in the “lower-case” sense of political as an socially motivated attempt to influence the status quo)? Engaging in the Socratic exchange that you present is fine, but surely there is something more judgmental at the heart of Dogme? Being provocative again (just tell me to get back in my box if need be…)

  10. Anthony says:

    For Dennis: further to last post of mine – I actually mean that your stance (valid though it is) does seem to evade the fact that Dogme was conceived (it seems to me) as a challenge to the status quo. In this sense, while seeking individual development and change (a shift in personal beliefs and behaviours through reflective discourse), Dogme as a “movement” also seeks to exert pressure on the wider community in order to effect change on that level. What do you think? Have I misread the intention of your post?

  11. Jon M says:

    Going back to Scott’s original point about “Luddites”, I think a lot of teachers do resist technological innovation, and with good reason. Getting familiar with new technology requires access to the equipment and plenty of free time to figure out how it works. Lots of teachers lack one or both of those resources. Other teachers simply aren’t particularly interested – their minds don’t work that way. And fair enough. Nobody would suggest that such people can’t teach just as effectively as their geekier colleagues.

    So I hope discussions about involving IT in the Dogme approach won’t appear to newcomers to be a main issue. That might put some off, and that would be a shame.

  12. Rob says:

    Like the good Mr. Dennis Newson, I used to believe Dogme to be a group of like-minded individuals. Nowadays, I think it’s fair to say Dogme is more substantial than that, even more than just a resource. But that is my personal view of Dogme, a view towards which perhaps only a few of the more radical thinkers on the Dogme might be inclined.

  13. Susan says:

    I decided to try out some of the activities described in Teaching Unplugged, with my classes this year and would like to share some of my experiences from a practical point of view.

    The My Name activity has been very productive with my intermediate/ upper intermediate learners and really got the introductory sessions off to a good start. I used My English in the same sessions, and this, too was well received-although students tended to fall back on learned responses to the ‘it helps when…’ part of the task.

    I noticed that, when I passed around specimen copies of a course textbook that I wanted to get their reactions to (New English File), instead of staying with me on the contents pages (I have hopes of involving in actively planning their own learning) they all turned to lesson 1 and started the first exercise-clinging to the textbook like it was a life raft.

    I think we have to take into consideration the average student’s degree of ‘institutionalization’; schooled in a passive receptor mode, the active participation demanded by dogme technique can be a big ask.

    Has anyone else noticed this?

  14. darridge says:

    Above where it states Howard Vickers reviewed basic Dogme principles, it said:
    “Content should engage learners to enable learning”

    but wouldn’t:

    “Learners should engage content to enable learning”

    be more appropriate when discussing technology and dogme? After all, dogme is about using what lies within learners and building knowledge collaboratively by participating in making relationships. Part of this must include the relationship with technology, as in WE control the technology, not it controls us. Web 2.0 is about user generated content, so by definition content is a user specified thing – and why would a user choose something that they couldnt engage with? Technology as a teacher tool only works if learners can see it as a tool too – so why not let them choose it and how to use it.

  15. Barbara Bianchi says:

    I went to one of Luke’s presentations (in Scotland) of this book and the thinking behind it…

    It was an epiphany!!! For the FIRST time in my life, having attended course after course in which it was hammered in my head that what I was doing in my language classes was all wrong, that I had to have lesson plans tattooed on the back of my hand, and that structure is everything… for the FIRST time, someone (and not just anyone, but Scott Thornbury & friends;)) was offering to the world what I believed in as a teaching theory, practice and, even better, movement!!!

    Was I asleep for the last 10yrs?? Maybe so, but so were (and are) most teaching-training practitioners :)

    Thank you Scott & Luke :)

  16. […] A – Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury Carol Read’s ABC of Teaching Children Word Spy Categories A-Z Tool Kit A – Z for […]

  17. […] Dogma in Transition? by Scott Thornbury […]

  18. […] 14.    Meddings & Thornbury 2009, p. 12. 15.    Thornbury, Scott (2009-05-01). “Dogme in Transition?“. Delta Publishing Blog. Consultado el 2009-06-23. 16.    Maley 2003, p. 190. 17.    […]

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