Unplugged or Dogme?

I’ve been reading lots of excellent posts about teaching unplugged, dogme, coursebooks and others in the blogosphere recently. There are also a couple of challenges around that I’m looking forward to having the time to participate in. One of the things that called my attention was the focus that people have given to the name dogme. All right, I’ll have to admit that the very first time I heard the name it didn’t really strike me as something I’d be dying to get to know. The immediate association I made was with the word “dogma”, most specifically a religious kind of dogma. Needless to say, my initial reaction, prior to learning about the rationale behind it, the word dogme wasn’t exactly appealing. It’s also true that I hadn’t heard of the Dogma movement by Scandinavian film-makers, and if that had been the case, I’d probably have looked at it from a different perspective.

What's in a name? (photo by Andrew Fogg)

However, I don’t think we should judge a book by its cover – how about giving at least the very first chapter a chance to fend off any initial preconception? So, I did decide to give Dogme a chance to defend itself, and it was then that I decided to become an “active lurker” (is there such a thing?) in the Dogme Yahoo Groups. I must say that what I found enthralling about it was the discussions taking place regarding how to best cater for our learners need. This was what stuck me as the most interesting thing in dogme discussions – and not the current (heated) debate regarding coursebooks. I’ve already talked a bit about coursebooks in the previous post, and there are lots of great comments there in case you’d like to take a peek.

I have to confess that until a while ago I had only thought off doing away with coursebooks for private classes, or classes with very few students. You see, the thing is that I’ve always been taught by means of a coursebook. Looking back, many teachers did use the coursebook only as a resource, but it was always there as a reference for me, as the student, to feel a bit more comforted that if there was anything I couldn’t really grasp in a class with 50 other teenagers, I always had the coursebook author to enlighten me with his wisdom. It was in language classes, with fewer people in class, that I felt things were slightly different.

First of all, there’s the reason why we choose to study a foreign language. This has always been the same reason why the approaches and methods to language teaching have changed throughout the years. The minute it’s easier for people to actually travel abroad and engage in real conversation with foreigners, the more apparent the need for an approach that goes beyond reading and understanding what you’ve read. And so it’s been until we reached what’s known as CLT, and this is what still guides us in many of our principles relating the field. Where are we at right now? Well, if I had to choose anyone to quote from right now, I guess I’d go with Brown and say we’re headed towards an era of an ecclectic approach to teaching.

What’s the most important thing here? Is it the name or the set of beliefs that teachers have about language teaching and learning? I see language as a way to communicate, and I liked it when Jeremy Harmer cited both Karenne and Petra in his workshop in São Paulo (Braz-TESOL) when talking about what makes us feel that we can speak in the target language. how do we know we’re ready? When is it that we know that we’ve learned the language? I agree with the point mentioned regarding an urge to speak. This comes from within, when we’re exposed to certain situations that instigate us and makes our brain cogs rotate. This is why it is so important that classroom activities have some intrinsic communicative value. If I ask a Brazilian to talk about skiing, he might just answer it automatically using chunks from the book that will soon be forgotten once the lesson is over. On the other hand, ask pretty much any Brazilian to give their opinion about the national football squad during the World Cup and you’ll see a group of engaged people trying their best to get their message across and, why not, persuading the other people in their room of their opinions.

To be fair, I’ve said here that I like to think of myself as a dogmeist many times. This doesn’t mean I’m in favour of labels, nor does it mean I’m against technology, coursebooks and any other thing like that. I definitely don’t see Dogme as a solution to all that’s bad around the globe in the ELT world. It’s important for us to keep an open mind and a watchful eye for everything that’s taking place around us. Stephen Bax once mentioned that we should abandon CLT in favour of CBT – Context-based teaching. This makes a lot of sense, and I choose to take in whatever is good from that article and incorporate into my teaching. Nonetheless, what this shows is that we’ll always see people bashing current methodologies, pointing out flaws, and offering suggestions – and there’s no other way to evolve if this is not the case. If proper teacher training is something we should work on, then teaching teachers how to reflect upon their practices and also how to think critically about what they read should be at the top of the agenda.

Dogme, teaching unplugged, teching with technology, an ecclectic approach, CLT, the Lexical Approach, Audiolingualism, you name it. The important thing is that teachers really, I mean, really learn about these methods and are capable to keep an open eye to what’s going on in the classroom. There’s something good that can be used in any classroom at any given moments. I learned to like the word dogme, and I identify with the socio-constructivist view behind it. I also agree that language is conversation driven, and there are many different forms of conversation out there. I believe that being materials light means a lot more than coursebooks or no coursebooks. What I’ve noticed more often than not is that less is usually more when it comes to learning.

What really matters to me is that I know why I’ve chosen to do a certain activity in the lesson. And, yes, I don’t equate unplugged to unplanned. Much on the contrary. Planning means thinking about your learners needs and the lesson outcomes. The most important part of planning for me is thinking about objectives and reasons. WHAT do I expect them to learn, and WHY will I do / did I do this in class. Planning doesn’t necessarily mean having lots of handouts ready, and all activities sorted out before you actually meet the students. But carefully thinking about your learners and your learning objectives definitely help me teach unplugged and focus on emergent language a lot more easily than if I just come to the classroom completely unprepared.

Finally, I kind of learned to like the word dogme, but it’s not the label, it’s the rationale behind it that I find appealing. Has it always existed before the word was ‘coined’? To be honest, that doesn’t really matter to me. Does it have sound arguments to support its points? That’s what I care about. Is the the final answer to everything we may come across in a language classroom? I really doubt it. The real answer we should look for is for this question, “What is your personal view of language learning and teaching?” It is only upon answering this question that we can start unfolding other possibilities.


10 thoughts on “Unplugged or Dogme?

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  2. Hi Henrick,

    Enjoyed this balanced view of the current topic we´re all discussing. I agree with you, we need to put learners´ first and I also agree that unplugging requires as much, if not, more planning than being plugged in (sort of Matrix-like feeling here as I write…funny…). But above all, I’m 100% with you on the thought of: why we do what we do in class – that is our driving force really, and that does allow us to follow any approach, method or so on which most suits us at any given moment.
    Thanks again for sharing.

    • Hi Valéria,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well. The idea of unplugged at times may come across as unplanned, but that’s not how I see it. Perhaps we could even say that little preparation is required, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that planning is not going to take place. And I guess the best way for us to put our students first is by learning more and more so that we can always try different things in class if what we’re doing doesn’t seem to work. Being resourceful is key. 🙂


  3. Hi ya Rick,

    I must say I’m one of the few people who enjoys the word dogme, I think because I came across it being used in my field of ELT to describe the field I had really wanted to enter, i.e. film. So the name in a way was a door opener for me.

    But I think that all these labels for all these methodologies are really lots of smoke and mirrors and I would rather concentrate on what’s happening and not happening in the classrooms, I personally resonate strongly with dogme, and am glad to meet other teachers who do too. I resonate strongly with Scott and Luke’s early articles and glad to meet other teachers who did too.

    At the end of the day, the challenge it’s about talking about our teaching and what it means to us, how we approach it, where we are going and what we hope to get out of it… and definitely not really about what we name the thing!

    Added this post to the intro to the series, looking forward to more if you get the itch to do others… there will be lots of hard q’s coming on up!


    • Hi Karenne,

      Now that’s something I didn’t know about you. I mean, there are lots of things I didn’t know, but this is a fairly interesting piece of information. 🙂

      I can’t see it any differently from you. What matters is what’s going on in the classroom – it’s only by the use of what we may learn from theory that we’ll be able to turn a class around and get those students who aren’t participating much, or those who are facing enormous difficulties to overcome their adversities.

      Oh, and the only chance for me not to participate in the challenges is if I have absolutely no time to think about them. Thanks for adding this post to the series. 🙂


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  5. Hi there

    I found this post through your Wordle post and just wanted to say how helpful I found it. In particular your perspective and focus on the learners themselves.

    I liked this comment The most important part of planning for me is thinking about objectives and reasons. WHAT do I expect them to learn, and WHY will I do / did I do this in class. For some reason it really made me consider, in a way I haven’t for a while, my planning.

    In UK Further Education we get hit over the head with the learner… everything must be learner centred, learner driven, every management decision is supposedly made with the learner in mind (when often it is simply an excuse) It’s got to the point where the phrase just drifts over me. But the sincerity in your post and the way you express yourself here has been so helpful.

    I’ve never come across the eclectic approach to teaching or context based teaching but I like the sound of both… another avenue of exploration and your final question is excellent … something to ponder on. Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Anna,

      I guess some people overhear certain conversations and simply start repeating the only one sentence they’ve heard. This seems to happen quite often with those who make the decisions. In addition to the learner-centeredness mantra, we can also add the one of autonomy and independence. Well, yes, we do need to aim at fostering independence, but repeating this over and over again won’t do the trick, right? This requires training as well. I’m pretty sure the idea of autonomy just drifts over lots of teachers, just like the idea of what CLT is. Perhaps people think it’s a beautiful thing to say, right?!



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