As if we needed any more proof that where there's smoke there just might be a fire, the ELT blogosphere has been blessed with another shoot-from-the-hip critique of the notion of Dogme ELT by none other than Hugh Dellar, coursebook writer, teacher training expert and loud advocate for the notion of creativity in teaching (his, that is, so expertly pre-provided in his commercially available materials).
If you have the time and patience, you can read the whole rather sorry affair over on Hugh's blog; he's put some serious time and effort into putting together one of the most extensive rants I've ever seen.
I enjoy the overall dogme/unplugged debate, and riddled throughout Hugh's epiphanies about the noble and unarguably good role of coursebooks are some interesting and valid points.
It's a pity that those interesting and valid points have already been discussed and explored numerous times by dogme practitioners themselves, alongside and usually with a range of eclectic coursebook writers and other people involved in publishing. To add to the claim that there's nothing essentially new or innovative in the whole notion of teaching uplugged, it seems the capacity to constantly come up with essentially the same old recycled arguments against dogme is similarly boundless.
But what's more the pity is that so much of what Hugh claims in his series of posts is just plain nonsense. It's not my intention to go through them with a debater's comb, but here are a few of the claims made which I personally find without merit, lacking in logic or just outright uninformed.
1. Dogme versus Coursebook as a dichotomy
The more 'rabid' of the dogmeticians might still carry on with this, but frankly I haven't heard/read it for a very long time. Most have well and truly moved on, and the discussion appears to me to be both more accepting of the potential positive role of materials and less obsessed with advocating naked/barefoot/vow of chastity teaching. Most of the dogme teachers I know are more than willing to point out good stuff appearing in coursebook developments, and many of the coursebook authors I know are happy to explore and advocate developments in a more emergent style of teaching and learning.
Hugh, you're lighting a fire here in a field that most of us left years ago.
2. The 36 stages crap
Basically, it's unfair or even cruel to go with authentic materials and tasks until the learners have been fed up appropriately on carefully composed nuggets of manageable language and tasks. To do so will result in their confidence being destroyed. Heck, ask a Judo expert (who also happens to be a publishing representative) who wouldn't dream of sparring for real until 36 careful stages of training have been completed.
I remember doing sparring in Tae Kwon Do as a green belt - not very far up the equivalent of the ladder of 36 stages at all. It never destroyed my confidence, nor any of the people I was training with. It was fun, and exhilarating to put the techniques into action and develop the capacity to apply them with more spontaneity. It increased my interest in the follow up training techniques, and made the otherwise dull-seeming Poom-se routines suddenly feel relevant.
Sure, if I'd been pitched against a 2nd dan blackbelt with a particular hatred of short hairy Australians, that mightn't have gone so well. Thank goodness I never was - I guess my Kwanjangnim knew what he was doing with the whole sparring idea.
And thank goodness English learners never get lumped with coursebooks that are beyond their level or don't include subject material they find relevant and appealing...
Dogme doesn't own a monopoly on being applied inappropriately, let's face it. But more importantly, over decades of teaching I've generally found that preparing learners to 'cope' with the real deal is both possible and motivating for them, especially if your teaching approach scaffolds, prepares for and follows up from those experiences.
3. Luke Meddings' example dogme lesson
Of course it didn't go down so well. It was staged and observed. Hugh's coursebook lesson in the same environment with the same audience(s) could have just as easily fallen flat. Luke's lesson wasn't out to prove anything, but it was out there to help show and explore an idea.
Slagging off that video recorded lesson was just plain poor form.
4. Dogme teachers rant against coursebooks because they want to write them, too
Gosh that makes for a serious number of really jaded ELT author wannabes, doesn't it? Another silly, cheap shot with no foundation in truth.
I have few to no doubts about two things on this front:
A. I'm sure some dogme teachers would be willing to write coursebooks, because they don't see them as necessarily evil, and gosh - they could actually do with the extra income;
B. If a day ever comes when coursebook writers could actually end up making more money in a year from actual teaching (as opposed to writing commercial globally-available textbooks), it would be very interesting to see how many stuck with just coursebook writing.
5. Dogme is a cult and a sham
Confession: I'm not the greatest fan of the term 'dogme'. And admittedly, this accusation about dogme just being a cult and sham for avant garde wannabes wasn't made by Hugh himself, rather it was posted as a comment from one of his fans. But Hugh alludes to as much several times in his sequence of posts.
If it's a cult and a sham, gosh it's managing to suck in some otherwise seriously bright and committed teaching professionals who never saw the insidious hypnosis device being built into blogging code.
It's tempting to fire back with an idea about coursebooks and publishing industry having its own very insidious and successful cult and sham-like characteristics, but I'd rather stick to the point above about that being an unhelpful fire in a field we've all hopefully moved on from.
Personally, I find the accusation that I'm somehow being a try-hard and stupidly adhering to some kind of false groupthink really offensive and think the poster should go roger himself with a prize-winning leek. Or rather, to stop doing so.
6. Dogme isn't new
Well thank Christ somebody finally pointed that out to me. There I was thinking that it was born in Egypt, and exclusively introduced to the world in 2001 via an ELT journal. Ken Wilson's recently revealed workshop notes from Moscow in 2001 are also clearly a forgery, and forensic examination will soon reveal he is simply trying to upstage his mate Scott Thornbury as a form of payback for being inadvertently culled from Scott's twitter contacts list a couple of years ago.
As far as I am aware, every method and approach out there was about in some form before it got itself an official sounding name and more in the way of widespread uptake. No doubt there were merchants and pilgrims abroad in Europe learning language via some or all of the methods known as grammar translation, direct method or even dogme many centuries before anyone bothered to analyse the different approaches in detail and give them names and terminology.
Giving something a name gives it a certain power, for sure. And that power can take many forms: attracting curiosity or facilitating a sense of belonging and validation, for example.
Nobody said dogme was new. But a lot of people are new to dogme, and they have a valuable signpost to find others exploring the same challenges and landscapes.
7. Coursebooks are really the only legitimate, professional and accesible way to present language learning activities
Hugh returns to this notion, or alludes to it, time and time again. He also suggests, repeatedly, that dogme teachers are passionately claiming the opposite, putting coursebook writers down and sullying all the valuable work they do.
It is all of arrogant, dismissive and just plain unnecessary to take this tone. It's also a glaring generalisation that, as I allude to above, most of the teacher-bloggers I read have learned to avoid.
There's more of course, but those were just some of the things that stuck out for me.
I've seen and quite liked a lot of Hugh's materials, and he does make (as I said) some potentially interesting points. Most of the rhetoric, however, just gets lost in some really tired-sounding hogwash.