Home > Commentaries on TTC > 78 – The total number of gifts in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas

78 – The total number of gifts in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas

This chapter concludes, Right words sound wrong. It always makes me think of Dogme ELT when I read them. Dogme has become a reasonably well known phenomenon in the world of EFL. Based around a view that language teaching needs to be simplified. Needs to get back to basics. Needs to embrace a poor pedagogy. At times, it seems deliberately obscurantist. It seems elitist to some. It seems pompous and arrogant to others. But people struggle to define it. You only have to trawl through this blog to where I publicly vented my frustration with the delightfully named Olaf Elche. He had gotten his knickers into a twist because he thought I was trying to avoid giving a definition of dogme that was unambiguous. What is dogme, I had been asked. Dogme is a label I had suggested. What’s in the bottle? I was questioned. Smoke? I ventured. Read in the right voices, it could have been a dialogue from The Matrix. But perhaps I should have been utterly pompous and suggested that the Dogme that can be told is not the Eternal Dogme.

But back to the right words sounding wrong. Dogme ELT suggested that all that is needed to teach a language is to speak a language and to (self-)monitor what is being said. Where comprehension falters, the teacher(-students) can step in and help. It’s that simple. Oh, but it cant be. The right words sound wrong. Lao reverts back to using water to explain. He tells of how the softest elements of all, wind and water, can destroy the hardest most rigid element of stone and yet remain unchanged themselves. Everybody knows it, proclaims our wizened old sage. But the truth is that everybody knows the need to photocopy a hectare of the Amazon rainforest for each lesson; everybody knows that if it has to be taught, it needs to come in at least three different formats, at least one of which must be digital; everybody knows that the teacher cannot go into the classroom naked and unplugged. I hope that by this point in the blog, most of you (both of you) will see the absurdity contained within this knowledge. Naked might be too far, but unplugged is the bare minimum.

Categories: Commentaries on TTC
  1. April 3, 2011 at 06:55

    It’s a curious label to me, Dogme. Forgive my ignorance but why not just call it student-centred learning or even call it a Direct Method? The principles seem so common sense that I’m puzzled by the need to fabricate a movement around it. Is it a need for fame? For re-inventing the wheel?

  2. April 5, 2011 at 21:39

    ha, ha, ha, ha… damn this time I am so distracted by your commenter that… Hi Luan, it’s probably a good idea to go to Google and type in the word “dogme.”

    While there is probably no need to reinvent the wheel, there may well be a need to add rubber to a bit of metal than keep using the wood with a nail driven through it.

    Anyway, Diarmuid, I came back to tell you a funny story related to your post.

    The word “headquarters” cropped up the other day, just as one would expect in Business English, but what was interesting was while I was drawing pictures of tents around one big tent… to explain why it’s “our headquarters is” in the US not “our headquarters are” in the US – that I blanked on all the possible other quarters… I said something like “and here the men who ride horses sleep” and “here the men with guns sleep” and my student (who had done his military service, many, many years ago) then supplied for the other female students “the infantry, the artillery.”

    He looked surprised at himself, (at the recall) but it made me reflect again, for the hundredth time, how dogme is so very well-suited to adults who have got something to bring to the table and how textbooks squash that opportunity.


    • dfogarty
      April 6, 2011 at 05:50

      That’s right, K. By the way, had you been at the Kool-Aid before the class began? Here the men who ride horses sleep?!?!

      I was wiaiting to see if more people might have a view on dogme before I jumped in. But I think that dogme is more than student-centred learning or even a direct method. The devil, as I am told, is often in the detail and I think that dogme’s detail is more politicised. It is about a rejection of certain values that have encroached upon the classroom and the staffroom. It is for a type of learning that builds community rather than fabricates consumers. Student-centred learning puts students at the centre of what is happening, but does so primarily because it sees it as being more effective and efficient. My dogme has the same belief…but then some more. It believes in fostering a more egalitarian approach to learning; it sees the politicial potential in helping students see that they are responsible for their own learning (and, by extension, their own futures); it recognises the benefits of building a community of language learners and teachers. The direct method may not be incompatible with dogme, but dogme is most certainly not a direct method. At least inasmuch as I understand the term “direct method”.

      But I agree that the principles are entirely common sense – possible need for caution. And it seems that dogme is mainly underpinned by common sense rather than exhaustive clinical studies. And academia does not care much for common sense.

      I’m not sure if a movement was fabricated around dogme or if it just caught on and grew. Pending approval from my supervisor, I hope to do some postgraduate research into what dogme is. I suspect that I am going to conclude that it is a web-based discussion group and very little else…

  3. April 6, 2011 at 08:16

    🙂 not KoolAid: RedBull – I’ve been pulling a lot of working until 2am nights recently and then stumbling into class at 8am (thankfully only two days a week still teaching though). That was my “teachery voice” as I sketched out all the tents to explain why the one tent was called the “headquarters” and the other not. And then my students filled in the blanks… Oh, you had to be there.

    🙂 joke, I know you know what I mean.

    I like your summary very much. I think at my core I believe in something some folks bandy around loosely but I carry as a mantra “the democratization of education” – let learning lose its kings and queens (the book authors) its Dukes, Lords and Ladies (teaching staff) and let knowledge become a part of the people.

    But also, apart from this, don’t you think that’s what dogme is, i.e. “just in the moment teaching” – it can’t be pinned down, it can’t be defined, because it simply is. Because moments are infinite and unknowable, and unplannable.

    Re the whole dogme movement thing and whether or not, it is limited to a web based group – ya know – I think some folks would like to think that (like the disciples of Jesus or Mohammad) but.. if we’re following along on the whole religion/movement/”way” thing… then I’ll have to point out, see, whenever anyone explains to any teacher worth their salt, what the precepts of dogme are, they’ll say “oh, that’s what I do! I don’t use a book/I use very little of the book/I use current events etc … oh I must be dogme without knowing it.”

    Are they?

    Well, yes, like agnostics unable to commit to the extremism of actually commiting to a church or to say “god is dead” “there is no god” — dogmeists recognize that there is something or there is a possibility of something else.

    You see the way, dogme, existed way, way, way before it was named. Millions learned other people’s languages way before the first book was written. Way before the first book was published. Way before pedagogy was born. And millions learned languages with books too.

    The way iself exists whether one has a method or whether one is mad – the way knows not time. And obviously the way will exist long after books are gone. The way does not exist because it was given a new name then discussed and hashed out over 16000 or more threads.

    The way cannot be owned by those who simply named it and wrote around it, though like Moses and Abraham they helped create definition. Lao Tzu did not create the way, he wrote of it in an attempted to explain it.

    Anyway, I’m being naughty taking so long to write back, I’d better get cracking on with today’s tasks. Good luck on your research, if you need an extra set of eyes (and a critical op) later in the year when my life settles, you know how to find me :-).

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