Any Given Dogma

The title of this posting was first coined by Lindsay Clandfield as Any Given Dogme in reference to his hilarious spoof video (below) of Scott Thornbury, starring Al Pacino. I borrowed it for this post as Any Given Dogma as it's incredibly fitting to the themes within my own article: the results of the SEETA forum on teaching with or without technology and topics recently explored within the dogme yahoo!group.

eucharistRaised Lutheran, junior-schooled Catholic.

Explored Buddhism and Taoism while exploring the Asian world.

Read a fair amount of the translated Qu'ran with one of my Ecuadorian language students because she liked Cat Stevens and was interested in understanding the appeal of Islam... so, pretty much, when it comes to talking about dogmas I can opine with the best of them.

There is a point the Christians fight over with such passion you would think it really matters.

The Eucharist: Wine and Bread or the Body and Blood of the Christ?

Transubstantiation, trans-elementation, re-ordination or just fermented grape juice and baked flour?

Now I'm not going to upset anyone here by telling you what I think because if you're in one of the above camps you know what you think and that's good enough.

Instead I'm wittering on again about the English Language Teaching methodology kicked off by Scott Thornbury.

In my previous post, entitled the Dogma of Dogme, I gave you some of the background to the methodology and also talked about its new bible, Teaching Unplugged.

Dogme has been referred to as a movement, off and on, with Thornbury hailed as its guru (by me including but with respect), has been prodded and poked, deemed impossible, made fun of by a large body of know-a-lots and the-would-like-to-look-like-they-know-a-lots who feebly attempt, at every turn, to show how actually it was so and so who came up with the idea before Scott did.

An exercise in grossly missing the point: akin to quoting Dionysus’ birth story, his 12 disciples and the ability to turn water into wine or the star in the east announcing Krishna, the crucifixion of Horus and subsequent resurrection as … infallible proof the Sermon on the Mount never took place or doesn’t hold any truths.

Yeah? Like whatever...

The methodology of dogme: pray tell, when are we lot going to get around to talking about the how, why, when, where and who it does really work with?

When are we going to start empirically proving it?

Given that dogme is Danish for dogma and dogma is, according to Merriam Webster, a point of view put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds… it really is about time this methodology was put up to the test and not just for a week or two.

Thornbury brought the ways of thinking about student-centered learning together, organized them so there could be a code of tenets, doesn't claim to have been the only one with the idea (you should see the list of sources he has to quote each time he speaks) but basically, is the one that made this way of teaching sexy.

His more fundamentalistic followers do really like to split hairs on what teaching dogme-style actually means, even those of them who are no longer teaching and are rather instead, philosophizing.

Some dogmeists focus on the social change, the critical pedagogy, some the concept of bare essentials and others, the damning of technology and a yearning for a simpler life. Some just claim to live in the same city as he does and therefore have special knowledge into its function and purpose.

For others, like myself, it's a mindset - a way of being in the classroom where my students are the co-creators of our curriculum.

Yet it is actually shocking how often you will see written "well, that's not dogme" about anything not that does not fit into someone's personal take of what a dogme class looks like.

In its most simple form: teaching should be done using only the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom – ie themselves – and whatever happens to be in the classroom.
Teaching Unplugged, Scott Thornbury & Luke Meddings

Whatever happens to be in the classroom – herein is probably the root of the confusion - many of us live in a fairly modern world with technology in our rooms, whether it is in our students’ pockets, in our own, on their desks, on the table or on the wall. Does a classroom not contain books?

Sometimes relying on only that which is within the classroom's walls is not enough to hold a conversation together for hours, consistently over a long period; at times there are external pressures which require thought and consideration like exams or HR requirements; it's probably not a very easy or comfortable practice for the new or set-in-their-style or very stressed teacher and in my own opinion, there is a lack of monitoring (I created conversation control sheets which do the trick).

Here is my student, Phillip, talking about what it means to learn English with a dogme teacher.

Fellow dogmeists: consider yourselves most duly called, what will you be doing this year to prove dogme?

  • will you buy Teaching Unplugged, study it, read Thornbury & Meddings’s articles and put the pedagogy into practice?
  • will you convince your DOS to let you try dogme with at least one group?
  • will you talk to your students, explain what’s going to happen in the class and ask them if they want to try it?
  • will you apply the tenets to exam classrooms? To large groups?
  • will you try it out with the kids? With the teenagers?
  • will you walk into class without being the one in control and allow the language to emerge?
  • will you give up your textbook and just teach?
  • will you record what happens in log books, blogs, ning groups?
  • will you share the process? The progress and/or failure (DogmeYahoo!Group)

I, of course, would not call upon you without subscribing to the same and will be recording a new lot of language students right from the get-go, but as the protest-ant here, I'll be doing this with my dogme 2.0 approach, i.e. following the commandments as laid in the council of SEETA:

Scott Thornbury: "I am prepared to admit that my own position, while intentionally provocative has been dangerously reactionary at times.

At the same time, my main complaint about those who advocate the use of technology in the classroom is that they are seldom very explicit about the learning theory that would ground such use. As Neil Postman wrote (in Technopoly) "To the question 'Why should we do this?' [i.e. introduce computers into the classroom] the answer is: 'To make learning more efficient and interesting.' Such an answer is considered entirely adequate, since in Technopoly efficiency and interest need no justification.

It is, therefore, usually not noticed that this answer does not address the question 'What is learning for?' 'Efficiency and interest' is a technical answer, an answer about means, not ends; and it offers no pathway to a consideration of educational philosophy" (p. 171).

This failure to distinguish between means and ends is why I reject the argument that we should use technology simply because it is here. Or there. Or everywhere. Or because it is fun. Or because not to do so is willfully perverse. Or incongruent. Or hypocritical. And so on. These are arguments not about ends, but about means.

Let me suggest some ends for which technology might be facilitative. To me, there are at least four. For convenience I'll label them DDCC. In ascending order of importance, they are:

  • Delivery: technology should be capable of delivering content in ways that are more efficient, more immediate, more impactful, more customised than many traditional means such as print materials;
  • Dialogue: technology should be capable of providing means for learners to interact with one another and with their teachers, and to do so in a collaborative, communciative way, that might radically increase learning opportunities.
  • Creativity: technology should offer the means for learners to be creative either inividually or collaboratively, using a variety of media and modalities, in ways that enrich their language learning experience;
  • Community: technology should offer the possibility of building extended but close-knit communities of practice among learners and teachers, distributed over time and space and in ways that motivate language learning and use.

To me, then, a technological tool - such as Skype, Moodle, YouTube, Powerpoint, Second Life etc - needs to be evaluated in accordance with its potential to meet at least one, if not all, of the above criteria.

At the same time, the feasability of the technology must be assessed in relation to its costs - in terms of hardware, training, maintenance, built-in obsolesence and so on.

If, in the end, the "DDCC" ends can be achieved just as efficiently and as economically without Skype, Moodle, YouTube etc - then fine.

Let's not be seduced by technology for technology's sake. Language teaching has been going on very nicely, for centuries now, with little more than a few people in a room."

I look forward to many lively conversations on these themes.

And now for fun, the video, Any Given Dogme, starring Al Pacino as Scott Thornbury, directed by Lindsay Clandfield.


Useful links related to this posting:
Dogme, nothing if not critical
Marisa Constantinides, Technology: with or without you

15 Responses to “Any Given Dogma”

  • Glennie Hubb says:
    September 27, 2009

    Dogme convinces - I can't fault it.

    It sounds like a real step forward for language learners - to which few will unfortunately have access.

    A few lucky teachers may also get lucky, if they're self-employed, like Karenne, or work for an enlightened academy.

    For most of us, with Directors of Studies breathing down or necks and weighty and detailed syllabuses chained to our ankles, it just ain't gonna happen.

    We are victims of a deadly pincer movement. On the one side, at least at university level, the age of the self-motivated student has been pronounced to be at an end.

    Students now need an extrinsic motivation - the need to pass the exam. THAT is what will get them working, not an interest in the language. So it is the exam that is to be taught, not the students.

    And don't expect them to be interested unless what you are teaching is clearly focused on them getting that pass!

    On the other side, at least in the EU, we have the market's requirement for go anywhere, 'interchangeable part' employees. Need an engineer? No problem.

    Wherever s/he comes from in Europe his/her language learning will have been carefully controlled to make sure that he has the prescribed skills, the skills that all the other interchangeable parts around Europe are also having forced upon them.

    There ain't much space for students to be talking about what they're interested in and teachers to be taking advantage of expressed enthusiasms to maximise language acquisition. If it ain't on the exam, it ain't happening.

    Still, long live Dogme and the lucky few who can be a part of it.

  • Glennie Hubb says:
    September 27, 2009

    I've noticed one or two people elsewhere referring to the problem of teaching prescribed, exam-driven courses, often with a textbook.

    They suggest 'Dogmetising' the course/coursebook: there are many ways to teach the Past Simple apart from the one in the book; you can always do a bit of the course(book) and then put it away etc. I appreciate these efforts to be constructive, especially when I have been pretty negative (though not about Dogme itself, I want to insist).

    However, if the bottom line for many students is passing the exam, the teacher needs to be brave move away from the 'tried and trusted'.

    Also, already worn from the usual combination of too many contact hours and too many preparations, s/he is going to be frequently in state of tension as to whether the class is moving too far away from the language that students are supposed to be learning by more traditional methods.

    I'm sorry to appear to be so negative, but we have be realistic about the kind of employment conditions most of our colleagues 'enjoy'.

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    September 28, 2009

    Good edutech quality guidelines. Thx :)

  • Tamas Lorincz says:
    September 28, 2009

    Dear Karenne
    First of all, a disclaimer: Not by any stretch of the imagination do I fathom myself as an expert in either either Dogme or using technology. However, I found this post thought provoking and very exciting,
    I really enjoyed reading. I think it's very important what you try to achieve here - I think with considerable success: to get to the bottom of this polarised issue and find out whether it needs to be so.
    You're absolutely right. Technology used for its own sake is no help in making better language learners. I like the “Delivery-Dialogue-Creativity-Community” quartet. Technology should be able to give students a chance to bring real content to the class and use technology to form, research, and later record and demonstrate that content.
    I think empirical proof you demand is too much to expect. Can anyone prove the success of any method? Over what period of time, under what circumstances? It has pretty much been accepted that because language learning can’t be measured in clinical circumstances, there is no way anyone can prove its efficacy. And this is fine. What I believe in (for what it’s worth) is that every learner has a learning style and every teacher has a teaching style and these two have to become compatible in order to achieve success.
    Denying the potential of technology to enhance learning, engage students and energise discovery seems a bit unreasonable. There are teachers who cause less damage by showing YouTube videos for 45 minutes than by teaching for a minute.

  • maipe says:
    September 28, 2009

    Hey - I really like your blog and your understanding of dogme, I just wanted to take issue with one thing, which is to say that for me there's no wrong way or right way to do dogme, as long as you're not hurting anyone. People can opt-in or opt-out as much or as little as they want. It's only one idea about how to teach, which works for some people but probably not everyone, although most people will find bits of it useful.

  • Janet Bianchini says:
    September 28, 2009

    Thanks for making the principles behind Dogma (or Dogme) much clearer. Your video "Straight from the Horse's Mouth" was great and the spoof video was very apt and entertaining!

    I can't imagine me teaching in a completely Dogma -tic way all the time as it wouldn't fit into the average mainstream exam-type curriculum that I often do.

    However, as a change from the more traditional approach, I think it certainly would be appropriate in a lot of general English classes and it has prompted me to give it a go. I have written a set day and time (45 minutes)in my diary to try out this approach next week!

  • Sue says:
    September 29, 2009

    I find myself in broad agreement with Glennie here.

    In theory, Dogme is great; in practice, most language teachers I know are required to teach to syllabuses with very narrow learning outcomes.

    Fast-tracking learners through courses seems to be the norm these days and teachers are often under enormous pressure to achieve high pass rates within a very short timescale. Usually there isn't any scope for veering off the beaten track to explore topics that probably aren't going to feature on the exam.

    I sneak as much Dogme into the mix as I can get away with, which is usually a fair bit (especially if the equipment breaks down! ;-) but on exam-based courses I'm always very conscious of the fact that if the learners don't have something at the end to show for it, they aren't going to be terribly happy bunnies; no matter how much they may have enjoyed the journey along the way.

    The only way to get around it really is to sidestep the mainstream and run your own courses.

    My take on the tech side of the argument, FWIW, is this:

    If technology is available in the room you teach in, and it can be employed in a meaningful way to facilitate student-centered learning, then that would seem to me to fit the Dogme model.

  • Natasa says:
    September 30, 2009

    I love the beginning of your post and the religious parallels you draw. Personally, I avoid calling myself anything ending with an -ist, but I have done my fair share of Dogme so far. There was a time when books were expensive in my country and that was waaay before computers. We had books, but we had to stretch them a little (sometimes over several courses) and most of our teaching was based on whatever the students wanted to talk about (plus the grammar, which was very important in that time). The students did learn. All they want to do nowadays (or so it seems) is to pass the exam. And I can't sleep at night worrying whether I am going to finish everything that's in my curriculum. And so on. If I could only return to the goodolddays! Still, even with the strict curriculum and the strict DOS and the strict students (who want to pass the exam), I still feel there is room for (bits of) Dogme in my classes. But, if I could do it full time? Not sure. Because working without a book can be really scary. What if the students won't talk of have nothing to say?

  • faust says:
    October 02, 2009

    While I admire some of the core ideas to this approach I don't find all it's tenants useful or realistic. I've just recently gotten into the ELT blogosphere and I constantly feel like large parts of the community are based in Europe or the States. This also goes for the writers of our methodology books. I'm not sure how true this is.

    I've worked in the Czech, Turkey, and Vietnam. All developing countries with rigid, teacher-centered, rote-memorization-oriented education systems. Learner styles, culture, and expectations are in direct opposition to communicative approaches of any kind.

    I'm not saying we should abandon communicative approaches like dogme, but from personal experience, I can tell you that these methods are extremely hard to implement in the countries I've worked in unless your school and your teachers are all on the same page. If the school is not encouraging such methods, as they usually aren't, the learners themselves are often resistant to such approaches.

    This past year I taught at one of the worst schools ever. However, it had one benefit: There was no observations or administrative oversight to control my teaching in the class. This allowed me to throw out the book (which was less than useless) and experiment heavily with a number of student-centered approaches I was itching to try out. The exams were also terrible, so teachers were allowed to modify exam scores as well to suit the student, so I had no need to teach the exam.

    I found that, no matter what the students' expectations and prejudices were, a student-centered approach created better students and higher levels of English even if it took banging your head against the wall for 2 weeks with every single class as they struggled to accept your "crazy" teaching style. As long as you explain your reasoning as you go along, by the end of the course you get a lot of thanks.

    I actually just learned about Dogme from your website this week, but I did follow some of it's methodology in class. My classes were centered around student interests. I would create a number of course directions for a given week and then the students and I would decide together which avenue they'd like to explore. In addition, if something came out of the class, if their were persistent errors in one area, or something popped up in the news, we would focus on it in the next class. This created a high level of motivation in the class and really brought out relevant language. This is where I agree with dogme.

    There are a number of areas where I disagree, though. Having the language come 100% from the students is one. Especially in Turkey, where voicing opinions can be seen as offensive or disrespectful, where students' life experience consists of their apartment block and school or work, where so many topics are taboo and everyone has the same opinions or ideas (if they don't they would never voice them). The teacher needs to bring in topics and create scenarios for the students. Otherwise, they will never come up. Also, in any country, students feel uncomfortable talking about unfamiliar subjects and so never learn the language for it. I think it's our job as teachers to push our students and create activities that encourage new language use and acquisition. Students in Turkey will not discuss politics or religion. In fact, most of them can't do it in Turkish because it's taboo. Yet, this is a normal topic of conversation in many countries and additional cultural awareness or understanding of new perspectives can only be beneficial. For this reason, I think it's imperative that the teacher does bring in topics that haven't arisen from within the class at times.

  • faust says:
    October 02, 2009


    Another issue I have is technology. I don't know, perhaps many teachers have it around so much they don't even notice, but I've never had technology in the classroom before except a CD player. This year I acquired a laptop with a large screen and started bringing in videos. I also started using the Internet more to communicate with students and start projects. The results have been spectacular. I understand that their are teachers out there who might consider showing a class a video for an hour and consider that a lesson. That's rubbish. But using technology because it's part of the students' lives, to stimulate discussion, to provide intuitive language contexts, and to communicate with the students is all incredibly important.

    The last issue I have, which is a practical one, is not bringing props to the class. Now I agree that going on site and using props there would be ideal, but this is rarely a possibility at most language schools. Having done a number of class trips for other schools though, the primary benefit comes from small groups in quiet locations. Bigger groups and crowded locations encourage the use of the native language too much and there are too many distractions. Students tend not to focus. Bringing props or videos simulate the outside environment that we, unfortunately, can't go to. They also allow us to approximate as best we can, places that we could never go to. Well I'd love to take my medical students to an actual hospital and observe procedures while discussing things in English, this will never happen. Here a video, or something as simple as a stethoscope, brings the next best thing in the classroom environment.

    In the end, from what I'm reading, I think people find dogme refreshing because it advocates a move away from course books and exam prep. That I agree with. However, I think it goes entirely too far in other areas and we need to provide teachers with practical advise that is applicable, not dreams. Imagining going back to a class with just me, the students, and a whiteboard, is a nightmare. The interest level in my classes and the increased learning I have seen are enough reason to not want to go back. I say, "yes", let's try to change our schools over to more student-centered styles, but let's actually be practical and help our teachers in the field as well.

    I'll end with a story. I was talking to a Turkish teacher at a public school who was at the same ELT Conference as me. She goes, "You know, I hate these things. They seem like great ideas, but they are all for classes at rich private schools in countries other than Turkey. I always ask how many students do they use this activity with and the presenter always responds '10-15'. I have 50 students in my class and nothing more than a blackboard and some chalk. How are all these ideas applicable in my classroom."

    October 04, 2009

    Faust, I was so incredibly engaged in your comments that I am not sure where to begin with answering all of the questions.

    You've brought up so many great points - thank you so much for coming by and contributing to the conversation -

    I think it's very interesting what you said about the size of your groups: I can't begin to imagine what it would like to teach 50 students at a time and would not begin to be so absurd as to tell you how to implement dogme into such a situation.

    I enjoyed your comments about using technology and this was my way into dogme too - doing dogme before knowing dogme ;-) I think that's a lot of us teachers because I suspect that it's simply a more natural way to teach, going back to our times before books even existed.

    8115 - I agree - there's no right way or wrong way.

    Anne - yup, I thank Thornbury for this conversation into a way of using technology, keeping us mindful - it is actually still in development: notes below from Howard Vickers.

    Tamas - yes, I kind of used the word empirically to continue the "religious" theme in the article but definitely it is "too" much.

    Janet - am looking forward to hearing the results!

    Sue - yes, they must still be able to pass their exams. In my case, I note improved overall fluency first and foremost and then my students get a handle of the vocabulary and then the grammar. In my own case (I'm trying not to speak for everyone) by making classes more student-centered, the "learning" sticks more and this is also reflected in the exam results.


  • Howard Vickers says:
    October 04, 2009

    Cut and Pasted from the Dogme Yahoo Group - discussion:

    Hi Scott and all

    I greatly sympathize with your comments, Scott, on technology and
    learning as presented in Karenne's blog post:

    However, I am not entirely comfortable with the term"content
    delivery". I see two ways to interpret the bullet point paragraph:

    firstly that the content is delivered by the teacher for the
    students' consumption;

    secondly that the students themselves introduce or "deliver" the content into their conversation (ie class).

    The former strikes me as heading down an instructivist (rather
    than constructivist) path and the latter falls short of what is possible when combining web 2.0 technologies with a Dogme approach.

    It is true that technology is often (perhaps always) simply doing the
    same (as we always could) but more immediately and efficiently than
    before; yet we are also passing thresholds that lead to a more
    fundamental change.

    For example, it has always been possible for several people to write simultaneously on the same piece of paper; so nothing new with wikis or Google Docs.

    Yet we now are able to do this
    without playing twister with our arms!

    Content delivery seems increasingly dated to me and I am often
    disappointed to see it incorporated into mobile learning projects.

    It jars especially when used with iPhones or similarly sophisticated
    learning tools that have enormous potential to enable more
    constructivist and connectivist learning [thanks to
    Graham for pointing me in the direction of this site]).

    The mobile-content-delivery concept, as I understand it, is that the content can now be anywhere (where the learner is).

    Yet what iPhones really offer is that the anywhere itself (including the associated experiences and activities) can now become the very content.

    Augmented reality is one type of opportunity (see this 3 minute YouTube for an example of augmented reality post-its: ),but photographing, audio-recording, videoing and writing in location are all possible on many simpler mobile devices.

    If technology is to enable constructivist and connectivist learning, then I think that we should demand of it that it enables (the co-creation of) content rather than that it just delivers it.

    I think there is also the implication that the content is inseparable from the learning or the conversation, through which learning takes place.

    This is less easy to see in a pen-and-paper based context
    (although certainly feasible), but is clearer when thinking of a
    wiki-based project and especially using an integrated platform like
    Google Wave (see 7 minute overview video:

    Indeed the Google Wave
    concept deserves far more attention from educators as it facilitates
    (through combining wikis and IM) the integration of the conversational learning processes with the output-focused (yet constructivist) crafting
    of shared knowledge; essentially it integrates content and conversation.

    I have made a few changes to the paragraph to take the above into
    account. How does this sound?

    * Delivery Content Co-creation: technology should be capable of
    delivering enabling content creation in ways that are more efficient
    collaborative, more immediate communicative, more impactful,
    more customised and more connectivist than many traditional means
    such as print materials, physically based conversation and
    physical actions (such as gestures);

    Best wishes


    October 04, 2009

    Cut and pasted from dogme group - in order to keep you in the loop:

    From Scott Thornbury to Howard Vickers:

    I totally agree with your point about delivery. Just to explain: the DDCC acronym (delivery, dialogue,community, creativity) emerged out of a talk I did
    this summer in New York on online learning, and it was a sort of mnemonic for my own trajectory in this domain.

    Ten years ago I worked on a project whose main motivation was the delivery of content - a bit like putting a coursebook on-line.

    (Ironically the material we
    put online has now been re-packaged as a coursebook!)

    I was not entirely enchanted by this use of the medium, not least because I did not (and do not)
    subscribe to a delivery model of instruction.

    However, for people who DO need
    coursebooks, things like IWBs seem a more efficient way of delivering them than through the traditional publishing means.

    And, if you're teaching EAP (as
    Diarmuid on this list is) you may well need a ready source of texts (and concordance software etc with which to process these texts), for which the internet is unquestionably the best source.

    So there does seem a place for
    delivery, but for me it is at the very bottom rung of the digital ladder.

    To put it briefly, I see the DDCC functions as organised both chronologically and hierarchically, although I'm not sure of the order of the two C's.

    (Or if an order matters). Your advice would be gratefully received!


    October 04, 2009

    Hi everyone:

    I understood what Scott originally meant by "delivery", like the chronologically
    and hierarchically arranged mnemonic (like Howard's "content co-creation"
    too...) but don't really like the word "delivery" that much.

    It smacks of sage-on-the-stage, 'this' is the content, let me dump it on you
    from a great height...

    Would "presentation" (or something else?) be more er... Dogme? Doesn't it
    suggest, "ok, we'll look at it together and then see how we respond"...?


  • Paul says:
    April 17, 2010

    Just a brief comment on dogme.

    I think most, if not all teachers, have applied what are now conveniently labeled as dogme principles and methodology in their teaching at some stage, even if only for a brief part of a class. When I first heard the term and looked it up, my first thoughts were, "Oh, so now there's a name for what I've been doing for the last ten years".

    I think that it's worth remembering that dogme is just one of many, many approaches and need not be applied dogmatically (excuse pun) or exclusively. Educators need to be eclectic in their methods and adapt to the needs, preferences, goals, learning requirements, abilities, motivations, numbers, ages… of their students and institutions by using whatever tools best fit.


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