The (unplugged) revolution needs to be televised!

I feel as though this post may seem as if I am jumping on the bandwagon. What with all the recent and excellent posts about the ongoing Dogme/unplugged debate, I wonder if there is anything else left to say.

First Chia Suan Chong posted an excellent interview with Dale Coulter Then Jemma Gardner posted her analysis of what she thinks Dogme is and means.  Anthony Gaughn also posted about Dogme. Seeing it as an attitude, first and foremost. Finally, and if I’ve missed anything I apologise, Neil McMahon posted a thought provoking post to try and find out why so many people seem to be waving the Dogme banner of late; Stating that Dogme is nothing new and we should all just stop getting carried away.

So, where to begin? Well, let’s start at the beginning. Dogme for the newly qualified teacher. Is it possible for NQTs to pull off a Dogme lesson straight out of CELTA/Trinity? Will they be able to pick up on the emergent language? Will the lesson just become a conversation?

Above are just some of the questions in the interview with Dale. Another question that I hear and read a lot with regards to Dogme, is the annoying and somewhat tiresome, ” Isn’t Dogme just ‘winging it’ taken to an elevated art form?” (it annoys me just to write it!)

Firstly, Dogme/teaching unplugged is bloody hardwork!! Filling a coursebook-shaped void and teaching the students something useful over a period of 60, 90 or however many minutes with minimal materials leaves you both mentally and physically exhausted, especially if you are a NQT. It certainly keeps you on your toes. Yet, at the same time it can also highlight a NQT’s severe lack of knowledge in areas such as grammar. This can leave the teacher open to criticism and result in a lack of faith from their students, as well as a huge dent in their own personal confidence. Dogme isn’t for the faint-hearted or the lazy. But, I do believe it can be useful and positive for a NQT. It makes you work at your grammar, functional language and all the other aspects of the English language because you know that you won’t have the course-book to fall back onto. You the teacher become the coursebook and the learners decide which particular page they want to learn from.  Yes, there is a bigger chance of failure but don’t we learn more from this? Not that I’m suggesting you go out and fail every lesson, but it can lead to a more detailed lesson analysis about where, why and when it went wrong. Despite the greater potential for failure, when a Dogme lesson goes right, there is no better feeling. And, by saying that, I don’t mean that you wouldn’t get the same feeling from doing a lesson from the coursebook, or guided discovery or whatever approach takes you fancy. It’s just something about using a simple question, visual or text and being able to manipulate it and the learner’s input/output into a full on learning megathon! (Mark William Britton, ) For me, a NQT with under a year and a half of experience under my belt, teaching unplugged has been quite the proverbial roller coaster, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone and at times have wondered why the hell I was putting myself and the students through it all. However, my development as a teacher, observer and, to a certain extent, a learner has been huge and an altogether positive experience. 

So am I advocating Dogme for NQTs? Well kind of! Yes because of the reasons above. It will test you, push you and ultimately make you a better teacher, regardless of whether you do it full-time or just every so often. My main advice would be, little by little. I jumped in at the deep end and have just about kept my head above water. This is mostly through hard work and great support from my DoS, Emily Bell, and through the PLN I have built up through using Twitter. What I found really difficult and at times frustrating was the feeling that I was alone in this unplugged world. Yeah, yeah, I know. Anthony Gaughan, Dale Coulter, Oli Beddall and co are all blogging about it. But I only found out about the majority of these blogs after I had started the project. There seemed to be a lack of people writing and documenting their experiences with using Dogme. I had a copy of Teaching Unplugged (Thornbury&Meddings, 2009), which I had practically stolen from my DoS, but other than that no real background info to fall back onto.

While writing this post I had a very short exchange with Ian James (@ij64);
Ian Jamesij64 Ian James

Meddings (@LukeMeddings) in live unplugged experiment!                         37 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply
Adam Beale

bealer81 Adam Beale

@ij64 @LukeMeddings Why is it billed as an experiment?

Ian James

ij64 Ian James
@bealer81 Me being silly! But, 4 many (if not most) dogme remains an unproven hypothesis which requires more public dissection 2 convince!
He hits the nail on the head. If Dogme is to be taken seriously and to become a proven approach, solid evidence needs to be built up, more people blogging about their experiences and lessons; good and bad. And, it’s not just the teachers we need to hear from. What about the learners themselves? I did a feedback session recently with my project class and recorded their thoughts and feelings about the course. Combined with their learner diaries, it is clear that they are enjoying the classes and finding the approach enjoyable and learning a great deal. It’s all invaluable evidence, but it’s not enough.
I know that Anthony Gaughan and Jemma Gardner are doing great work in Germany with their teacher training courses. Encouraging the teachers to “Teach from yourself, not from a book. Learn to create lessons from nothing, be critical of materials, the sts are the most important thing in the room.” (Jemma Gardner, 2012) Introducing the concept of teaching unplugged from the very beginning would be extremely helpful to a NQT who wants to continue with this style when they get their first job. The questions are, does this take place anywhere else? Would schools accept it being taught on CELTA courses? Chia Suan Chong is a great advocate of Dogme and gives time to a key factor of the Dogme approach, emergent language. “I don’t explicitly talk about Dogme on my Celta courses but focus a lot on working with emergent language.” (Chia Suan Chong, 2012)
In reality, should we really expect to give time to an approach which is not really established, without hard evidence or research to back it up? Of course not. Which is why it needs to happen now. People need to start stepping up and making it happen. We can debate on twitter, yahoo groups and at conferences until we are blue in the face, but until there is conclusive proof that Dogme is an effective approach it will simply stay in the theatre of twitter and the like and will quite possibly fade out of memory.

2 years from now

Teacher 1: Hey Adam, do you remember when you used to teach dogme.

Me: Yeah, they were the good old days. Exciting, thinking on your feet, pushing boundaries.

Teacher 1: Do want a cup of tea?

Me: Yeah, cheers. No sugar for me.

Teacher 1: What were we talking about?

Me: I can’t remember. Nevermind, couldn’t have been that important.

(A big thank you to Emily Bell for her patience and editing skills)


16 thoughts on “The (unplugged) revolution needs to be televised!

  1. I love the fact that blogs beget blogs: seems like a perfectly natural thing to pick up, reference and run with something somebody else said. So glad you have added your spin on this. And it is an important spin: I just replied to your comment about the issue of Dogme growing some academic hair on its chest over on my blog (presuming in the process that Dogme is metaphorically male, I note in passing… Sorry!) with some indications of where this may come from in the next couple of years. Let’s see!

    • Thanks for commenting Anthony, both here and on your blog.
      With the growing interest in Dogme, both positive and negative, it seems like the right time to capitalize on this energy and turn it into research via blogs, action research and video evidence. I think both Jemma’s and your blog about Dogme being an attitude has created an excellent foundation from which to work from. The other thing that I see as being a positive change in the evolution of Dogme is the move away from the original comparison of the Dogme film makers and the ten commandments ( Alistair grant has just posted about the same thing here,, and references Luke Meddings metaphor, “three tent poles of Dogme” (IH DoS 2012), being
      Materials light
      Conversation driven
      Emergent language
      In effect we know have four cornerstones from which we can build upon. The above points and Dogme as an attitude. To quote Yazz, from the summer of 1988, ‘the only way is up’

  2. Nice post Adam. After all the great conversation in recent days I don’t have anything to add! The one thing that’s been confusing me is the extent of the emotional reaction to Dogme. There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but there is a certain air of unreality about the confrontation. We are all teachers working toward the same goal. I’ve been thinking about a comment from someone recently, and alluded to in your title, that the growth of Dogme is coinciding with the explosion in social media. I’ve been thinking about the implications for the quality of debate. In the old days the principal channels of communication were published books and journals. Now it’s blogging. Blogging has so many positives of which we are all aware. But it must be said that comments posted on blogs are often written very quickly and frequently not very well thought through. I’ve noticed many occasions where comments apparently written quickly seem to overgeneralise and inflame debate in an unhelpful way. As people who are firmly behind Dogme, I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t be more careful before responding to criticisms in the heat of the virtual moment, maybe draft a comment and return to it the next day before sending it? But then again that might kill the conversation! I’m thinking out loud here (despite what I’ve just advocated), so maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow!

    Great stuff!

    (btw let me be clear I was in no way referring to your blog when I wrote this!! :))

    • Hi Oli,
      I couldn’t agree more with your comment about the ’emotional reaction’ to the recent blog posts about Dogme. You’re absolutely right, we are all teachers working towards the same goal. At first, I thought of Dogme as being some sort of private members club. A handful of people bucking the system and putting everyones nose out of joint. But, as you say with the ‘explosion in social media’ the debate is wide open to the whole teaching community, as it should be, and now it is starting to gain more momentum. As regards to unhelpful comments, yes I have noticed this. On one hand, it shows how important Dogme is to teachers, but also leaves the whole approach open for further attack because of badly thought out comments. But, everyone is entitled to their opinion.


  3. What I would like to see is a ‘real experiment’ whereby the same teacher teaches 1 dogme class over a period of time and 1 non-dogme class (similar students, similar level etc etc) and then to see not only how the students appreciated the lessons but if one class is better than the other at any particular/all skills….. anyone willing to take on the challenge and record it for the rest of us? (or maybe someone even already has a record of this they’d be willing to share? – and yes, I used ‘they’ in a singular form 😉 )

    • Great post, Adam! As Anthony commented, it is fantastic how as we blog and comment and discuss these things, it becomes clearer what it means to us and how we make Dogme come alive in the classroom.

      As an answer to Louise’s comment, I have actually done that very experiment.
      I had a group of students with whom I did a week of light Dogme supplemented with materials, a week of coursebook-based teaching and then a week of full-on pure Dogme where there were no materials at all. I repeated this with several different groups at different levels. And the feedback from students was overwhelming.

      Sorry for the plug, but you can get more information about my experiement from my IATEFL talk here.

      Hope that helps!

    • Hi Louise,

      Thanks for commenting and visiting the blog.
      Have you thought about doing some action research yourself? It would be great to get more people carrying out research and sharing it with the teaching community.
      I would like to make my next research project the one you describe in your post and the one that Chia has already carried out. I have no idea where I’m going to be teaching next September, but I do think it is a natural progression from the project I am currently involved in.
      Definitely check out Chia’s blog. Well worth it.


  4. Great post Adam.

    I couldn’t second more to your struggles and satisfaction from your Dogme experiments. I would never profess myself as a Dogme teacher but after reading Anthony Gaughan’s post, I realise I am a Dogmetician at heart. It’s not really about the exact method or approach I use but the attitude I bring with me to the classrooms. Now I feel proud to think that my classrooms are rich in Dogme moments.

    Oli Beddall’s comment on our emotional reactions towards Dogme – If it is capable of causing such a stir among teachers, imagine what that would mean for our learners? As evidence is gathering, I would love to see what, if any, difference might become apparent in terms of the language that our learners have retained and “learned” as constructed in a Dogme classroom versus the “others”. I am sure that this emotional component will not only stimulate and strengthen our growth as teachers (exponentially as I would like to imagine) but to do the same to our learners’ language development. Getting emotional is good for everyone.


    • Hi Connie,
      Great comment. Especially the part about ’emotional component’.
      It seems that Dogme certainly allows for a greater degree of connection. Both, the teacher and more importantly the learner. By making the lessons about the learner’s lives the emotional component is enhanced and creates a more personalised feeling about the class. The learners want to be there because it’s their class and this strengthens their language development.


      • ‘It seems that Dogme certainly allows for a greater degree of connection. Both, the teacher and more importantly the learner. By making the lessons about the learner’s lives the emotional component is enhanced and creates a more personalised feeling about the class.’

        This is the kind of claim that I was also referring to in ‘Who Needs Dogme?’, Adam. Making the lessons about the learner’s lives is not exclusive to Dogme, it’s the basis of good teaching and is much more prominent on the CELTA courses I train on that any course book is. Dogme allows for a greater connection than what? Bad teaching? I am trying to come around to the idea that Dogme as an attitude / reflective tool has an important role to play in increasing the amount of ‘just good teaching’ that goes on around the world, but then the hyperbole slaps me in the face again and asks me what I’m thinking…

  5. Pingback: Comment on ‘The Dogme revolution needs to be televised’ by @bealer81 « A Muse Amuses

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