Can Dogme Coexist with 21st Century Educational Resources?

Writing this article was a struggle for me. I started searching about Dogme when I was asked to write an article and teach a lesson using an approach I had yet never used when taking the Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, also known as Delta. This approach quickly caught my attention due to its “material-light” nature, and I decided to write the article about it for Delta. Nevertheless, it soon dawned on me that this topic was worth deeper research and attention; therefore, I decided to write a second, more thorough article about Dogme. However, amid all the lessons I had to teach, and all the deadlines of endless articles, lesson plans and reports drawing nearer, I abandoned this idea.

I resumed this article not long ago because I am quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as I am sure most of you are, or were, depending on when you came across this post. The reasons which made me sit down to write again were rather simple. Firstly, I had a bit more free time, not a lot mind you, as like many peers, I am teaching online for the schools I work for. Secondly, the pandemic brought about many new tools and resources never before seen or heard by the majority of the teaching community, and I came to the conclusion that Dogme is nowadays more recent, and perhaps, more relevant than it has ever been.

Why is Dogme more relevant than ever in my humble opinion? You will soon discover that, but first, let me establish some common ground between you, dear reader, and me. The aim of this article is not to reject teaching resources we teachers have in our arsenals, such as materials, activities, and books; nor is it to neglect what schools are trying to do in order to deliver the best results in this critical period faced by all of us. All this considered notwithstanding, I agree with what Vinicius Nobre has said in an Instagram post, that maybe, the distance learning the educational system is going through now should be more holistic, and focus on helping students to develop other competencies rather than finish “exercises 3, 4 and 5 on page 35” of their student’s book. So, without further ado, shall we delve into Dogme?

What is Dogme?

Dogme was not a term coined by English language teachers. Originally, It was a movement called Dogme 95 initiated by Lars von Trier, a Danish Filmmaker. The movement “vowed to rescue cinema from the Hollywood model of filmmaking” (Meddings, 2003). In other words, the Dogme 95 movement challenged cinema’s dependency on technical wizardry, special effects, and fantasy (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009), and this sought to create realistic movies with no special effects, where the story itself is the most important aspect.

In ELT, Dogme was spearheaded by Scott Thornbury who argued that ELT had become dependent on materials and technology at the expense of learning possibilities that could be harvested from students and what goes on within the classroom (Meddings, 2003). Therefore, Dogme ELT challenged what was considered to be an over-reliance on teaching and technical wizardry (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009).

How a Dogme Lesson Works

According to Meddings and Thornbury (2009), there are three main principles in a Dogme lesson. It is about teaching that is conversation-driven, materials-light, and that focuses on emergent language. Being conversation-driven is perhaps the most important aspect in Dogme, as Allwright states “The importance of interaction is not simply that it creates learning opportunities, it is that it constitutes learning itself” (Allwright, 1984 as cited in Meddings and Thornbury, 2009: 8). Thus, by creating an environment where students feel free to talk, increases the success rate of a Dogme lesson.

Nevertheless, a Dogme lesson is not about throwing all the books away and having students talk for an endless period. In an article written for The Guardian in 2003, Luke Meddings proposes five types of Dogme ranging from having only a part of the lesson following a Dogme approach to having a school following this. The types are:

  1. Punk Dogme:

The tip of the iceberg in Dogme, probably all teachers have already gone through this. It is those moments when the printer does not work, the internet does not function, or you realize you have forgotten the materials for an activity and then you have to teach your lesson impromptu.

  1. Talk Dogme:

This is when you have a Dogme moment in your class, but still not the entire lesson. It is a moment when students spend less time in the coursebooks and more time interacting. While they are interacting, the teacher takes notes on emergent language and work with that; afterward, students go back to the coursebook.

  1. Deep Dogme:

In this type, Dogme is the basis of the whole lesson. The teacher needs not to pre-plan the lesson; instead, the only thing the teacher has to do is create an activity that is conducive to conversation. Students perform the activity, whilst the teacher takes notes on emergent language which is to be worked on later. In this model, the teacher post-plan the lesson, as nobody knows which language will emerge.

  1. Full Dogme:

Full Dogme presents the same idea of Deep Dogme, but rather than being only a lesson, the entire program is constituted of Dogme lessons. This model requires considerable skill from the teacher, as students will “bring” the “material” to be worked on through the whole period of classes; therefore, there is no pre-planned syllabus. This is concocted by students and teachers together as a map of a journey of discovery.

  1. Dream Dogme:

Dream Dogme might be perhaps a utopia, but in this concept, an open school is created. There are no levels, no coursebooks being used, and no sheer amount of copies distributed on a daily-basis to learners whatsoever. Instead, students organize themselves in groups of interest and the teacher becomes a facilitator of the learning process.

How to Implement Dogme in your Classroom?

Implementing Dogme moments in your lesson is perhaps the funniest part of all this process, the reason being for the simplicity one will have when doing it. Do not be fooled into thinking that it is simple to teach a Dogme lesson as it is not. You as a teacher must keep many balls in the air at the same time for this to work, for instance: it is necessary to observe if every student is participating; you need to pay attention to all your learners’ production provided you teach a group, and be able to quickly decide what target language you would like to focus on afterward.

However, selecting materials for a Dogme lesson is quite simple. Everything ranging from a picture to a small key chain can serve the purpose of initiating a conversation that will lead to a Dogme moment. In fact, there is a video available on Youtube, where Scott Thornbury uses a badge and five sentences about himself to start a lesson on time expressions. If you would like to watch the video, it will be linked in the bibliography below.

Creating a Dogme lesson then, will depend mostly on the knowledge you have about your learners, and a bit of creativity, and I am sure we are all capable of incredible things when we use our imagination. This is my favorite part of Dogme. The sky’s the limit, and I am sure you will be surprised once you start preparing your own lessons. However, if you would like a headstart, Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings wrote a book entitled Teaching Unplugged that contains some ideas for you to use in your lessons.

Pros and Cons

After experimenting with the Dogme approach, mostly trying to implement Talk and Deep Dogme moments with my students, be they private or not, I weighed all the pros and cons I could notice during these teaching practice moments. The highlights are here; however, this is my list, and perhaps if you experiment with Dogme your results could be different.

Pros:

  • The lessons are easy to prepare. Sometimes an image can spark up a lot of discussions;

  • You never know which direction the class will take, sometimes it can be quite surprising;

  • You will always have a different learning outcome for the class or the students;

  • Once learners get used to having these types of lessons, they produce fairly well and enjoy these book-free moments.

  • Learners cooperate to construct discourse that is connected and coherent to their own abilities, an