Project Unplugged

With the ever impending arrival of the new school year drawing closer by the day I thought I would take the time to put down into words the small scale, action research project I am hoping to carry out this year.

The initial idea sprang from the TDSIG Unplugged event in Barcelona in May of this year, which I was fortunate enough to attend. I arrived apprehensive, inexperienced and somewhat daunted by the other people who were in attendance, but left inspired and with a completely new take on how I wanted to teach.

The open space technology format of the conference allowed me and several others to spend a productive couple of hours in the company of one Scott Thornbury. Our little group spent the afternoon discussing the question, “What research could be/needs to be done to validate teaching unplugged?” Normally surrounded by such experience and wisdom I would have stayed in the background and simply observed and nodded approvingly at the appropriate time,but for some reason I couldn’t stop talking. The thoughts and ideas just kept coming, and Scott Thornbury was actually writing them down. What I was saying was actually being taken seriously. I couldn’t quite believe it; I was on some sort of Dogme induced high, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Meddings, Thornbury, Gaughn and Clandfield, amongst many others. I then had the brilliant (so I thought) idea that I would carry out some sort of research in my next teaching year. I don’t think anyone took me seriously when I said it, but Scott wrote it down and that was good enough for me.

The day after the conference I found myself in Barcelona airport, furiously scribbling down notes and ideas in my specially designed TDSIG unplugged notepad. I had ideas of blogs, videos, student journals, questionnaires and so on. Monday morning at work and I was still buzzing from the conference. I grabbed my DOS and explained my ideas. She looked genuinely surprised that I actually wanted to do extra work and take on such a project but was equally supportive and set about arranging something for the coming year.

A couple of weeks before the end of term I got the go ahead to take an intermediate class for one trimester and if this was successful I could extend it for a longer period. Now it was just a matter of spending the summer reading and relaxing.

Fast forward nearly three months and the new term is but 3 weeks away. I have had a lot of time to reflect on the upcoming project. I have had several doubts about my teaching ability and whether I can pull it off, doubts over my lack of knowledge and worries about the possible extra work load. So I have simply stripped it back. Very low scale, log everything in my new journal (thanks Dale Coulter) and write everything up on the blog, so that it can be shared and hopefully helpful to anyone who happens to be interested. The doubts still linger, but now I am more excited than scared and looking forward to the start of the school year.

The set up is very simple; one class, no course book, every class unplugged and based around student generated language and material. I will be using ‘Teaching unplugged’ (Meddings&Thornbury, 2009) as a kind of foundation material source with my own ideas and also ideas from other contributors if possible.

I have several aims; firstly to see if a Dogme/unplugged style approach can be sustained over a period of time without the use of a course book. Secondly is Dogme/teaching unplugged experience driven and can it be successful for an inexperienced teacher like me. I am also interested to record the student’s attitude to classes without a course book and will hopefully get some valuable feedback at the end of the project. Without a doubt some other factors and points of interest will crop up and it should all contribute to an interesting second year.

I gather that is probably nothing new and that many other people are doing similar if not more advanced things but it is something I hope will lead into further small scale research and more importantly a good source of personal development.

School starts on October 3rd, wish me luck.


17 thoughts on “Project Unplugged

  1. Hi, first of all, I was humbled to see my name pop up in your post, thanks very much for that.

    There are a few things in particular that jumped out at me in your post. The first is that you asked if it can be successful for an inexperienced teacher, which leads me to ask, why wouldn’t it be? What do inexperienced teachers not have that a more experienced teacher does? To flip that question around I might also ask, what do inexperienced teachers have that experienced ones do not?

    Secondly, I’m super happy you’ve decided to keep a record of it all in a journal. It seems to me that reflection is the missing link between inexperienced teachers and Dogme. There may be times when you say “oops, that didn’t go so well, how can we do it better?” or, on the other hand, “wow, that went amazingly, let’s see if we can make that happen again. This sort of practice elevates what you are planning to do beyond accusations of ‘just winging it’…

    Thirdly, you mentioned student feedback. It’s a great idea, both for areas to work on and to tell you how you’ve taught successfully. But why only at the end of the project? Feedback gathered at the start and during the course might be a useful addition, I’ve always found it helps with preparation.

    I can’t wait to keep track of your developments on the blog. It’s really exciting to see someone doing this and I wish you the best of luck, not that I think you need it though….


  2. Thanks for the great comments Dale.

    I have been thinking about collecting some feedback from the students before we start but because we are still unsure of numbers it is difficult. Nonetheless it would be a good first lesson to perhaps gather the feedback in a more open format and what better way than in the classroom, rather than through a questionnaire.
    I know what you mean about experience vs inexperience. As one of my aims I hope that my little study can give those people with any such doubts the confidence to give Dogme a go despite any lack of experience which may cause them to think otherwise.

    Thanks again for taking an interest.

  3. Hiya, this looks like a really interesting project that should be really rewarding for both you and the students lucky enough to be in it with you. I think it’s great that your DOS is prepared to support you in this too, as I have known many who would practically burst at the thought of such things happening on their watch.
    Re the “inexperienced” idea: Today was discussing Dogme with a colleague who just finished her Celta with us recently. She has been through the unplugged Celta that we run (thanks to Anthony Gaughan!) and was saying that, despite her training, the thought of going in with nothing and being able to answer students’ questions is something that “scares her to death”. I can understand this point of view, as it’s one thing being materials light, but quite another to be in the classroom facing a question about the use of reduced relative clauses when you don’t have a clue about them! Not sure I would have felt comfortable doing it, but then – maybe my adventurous side would have taken over and forced me to regardless. It will be interesting to hear how your research goes and your answers to this question of experience! Good luck with it!

    • Thanks for the comment. The ‘inexperience/experience’ side of things is an issue that I consider daily and frequently plagues me with doubts. Since I wrote about doing this project, many different resources and other blogs, such as yours, have cropped up via twitter and I feel that I am not so alone in my feelings and other people are attempting the same thing. Also, due to this fact, there seems to be a small but increasing number of people willing to share lesson ideas and reflect upon their unplugged lessons which is excellent support for someone like me.

      Thanks for taking an interest in the blog. I look forward to your future comments.


  4. Hi Adam,
    I’m feeling bad that I didn’t respond sooner to this initiative, not least because of your very positive comments about that conference where the whole idea of dogme research was mooted. I note with relief that you don’t start teaching — hence researching — until October 3rd, so it’s not too late to throw in my 2p’s worth. As Dale said, the idea of keeping a journal seems to be a great start, and I wonder if there is a way of capturing the students’ “voices” as well, either through questionnaires, interviews, or even their own journals. Dogme seriously lacks learners’ voices. You don’t mention the level of class you’ll be teaching (as far as I can tell) so their ability to respond to the experience in English may be limited. Nevertheless, if they were to do this in their L1, and to do it digitally, you could probably run their journals through Google Translate and get a fairly accurate idea of their impressions, which could then be cross-checked against selective interview data. Just a thought.

    Good luck, and please keep us in the loop!

    • Hi Scott,
      I really appreciate you getting back to me. It’s nice to have you on board.
      I have been thinking about how I could record the students reaction to this little project. The students will have there own journal, but this will be used to record everything that comes up in class and to have a record of the white-board at the end of each lesson. In effect it will be a self produced coursebook. I hadn’t thought of allowing them to use it to record their own personal feelings but it makes perfect sense. I have also thought of having a video recorded session on there thoughts at the beginning of the course,what they expect, what they want to achieve, fears hopes etc. It would also be nice, as suggested by Dale, to get on going feedback as the course continues.
      So I have lots of ideas to work with including your own, which I think would allow a greater deal of expression for the students and perhaps allow me to get a more detailed account of how they feel.
      The students are likely to be an intermediate level (B1+), yet this needs to be confirmed.
      Many thanks for taking the time out to look at the blog and leave a comment. It is greatly appreciated.


  5. Nice to see the comment thread developing and new ideas flowing in. Collecting students’ opinions of Dogme formed an important part of my early Dogme experiences. Pages of my journal were dedicated to student voices in the form of weekly feedback and discussions with learners. There are two things I have asked myself since starting: how do you gather subjective feedback and how can this be done without dedicating too much classroom time? Scott’s idea of a diary in L1 is promising, and could provide some interesting insights into student perceptions of a Dogme classroom, but how much of the final product would be influenced by the knowledge that the teacher will eventually read it?

    However you decide to gather feedback, I’d be really interested to see what methods work best for you.

    Jem – I would have run a mile if I’d had to explain reduced relative clauses in my first Dogme lesson. Thankfully I chose Intermediate B1, like Adam. Consequently, doing Dogme in the first two weeks after CELTA wasn’t SO scary.

    Good luck, not long until the big day…


  6. Adam,
    This sounds fantastic and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this progresses! I think the concerns about inexperience will always be an issue when you are surrounded by people with more years under the belt, but us semi-newbies can still bring in our enthusiasm and risk-taking to the classroom, and make new discoveries to contribute. I’m glad there is a term for this “winging-it” that I sometimes find myself in during lessons….it sounds so much more sophisticated. 🙂 Look forward to seeing how this unfolds, and all the other Dogme trials of your upcoming year!

    • Thanks for the comment Noreen.

      Yes even ‘semi-newbies’ can go unplugged and I think it’s important that they (we) try to do that. It really makes you think about how you teach and what you teach, which then prompts greater reflection in all the lessons you teach, regardless of whether it’s with or without the coursebook.
      In fact I’m looking forward to using the coursebook properly this year and trying to really exploit their potential and create a good balance between unplugged and course book based lessons.

  7. The research you are doing is tremendously valuable, as many teachers, although not skeptical, need confirmation from a variety of sources, and students’ voices is probably the best proof you can get. Dogme has now moved sufficiently away from Scott that new-to-dogme teachers are able to find out about it from many sources. The crowd is growing, and rightly so. Videos, diaries, put it all in – it could become a great piece of research. Best of luck!

  8. Hi Adam,

    I just landed on your blog by some string of seemingly untraceable clicks now. All I know is that I am trying to learn more about Dogme and I’d like to absorb as much as possible from the experiences of fellow teachers out there. Your project description sounds really interesting -how are you feeling about it 7 months after? I read your post about teacher burn out and the newspaper headline lesson -certainly identity with some aspects you mention! You’ve got me thinking about journaling more now. Happy to have run into your blog.


  9. Just came through to your blog, great stuff…I applaud your initiative and innovation (as well as that of your wonderfully supportive DoS) and I think getting the learners’ insights would be most valuable and fascinating. On this note, I would point you in the direction (if you havent’ seen it already!?) of Martin Sketchley’s recent MA dissertation, “An investigation into teacher and student attitudes of the key tenets of Dogme ELT”…find it here:

    Would be interesting to see if your experiences tally with his research findings. I’m looking into Dogme and EAP and I will be following your posts with avid interest 🙂

    • Hi Emma,

      Thanks for the comment. It actually prompted me to get my butt in gear and start posting again. Glad you enjoyed the blog. I will be switching my attention to coursebooks this year, but I hope to squeeze in a few Dogme comparisons and continue to document my teaching experiences.
      Thanks for the link. I have been following Martin’s work, but haven’t got round to reading his dissertation yet.

      Many thanks,


  10. Hi there Adam,

    I came across your blog and it’s a interesting project. I’m particularly interested in variables/ factors that might go towards the success of Dogme/ Teaching Unplugged over a longer time span. Being able to institutionalise this approach, and the gains of other similar learner-centred pedagogy, would seem to be an important step forward. I’m exploring similar ideas with my own Decentralised Teaching and Learning

    Good luck!


    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for visiting the blog and leaving a comment.

      I stepped away from Dogme last year, but with the start of this academic year I have found myself being drawn back to it. I’m looking forward to rediscovering that side of my teaching and seeing what develops from it. It would be nice to see a few more institutions encouraging teachers and more importantly, students to leave the course book at the class room door and experiment a little.

      I’m looking forward to exploring your blog.


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