Tony Gurr

Going to the DOGS!

In Classroom Teaching, Guest BLOGGERS, The Paradigm Debate on 02/12/2012 at 9:40 am


I always loved that phrasebut not the idea of “greyhound racing”.

Aren’t the idioms of the English language bloody amazing? And, some people say we do not need “culture” to really LEARN a langwich


Over the past few years (certainly since the publication of Teaching UNplugged by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury (in 2009) – lots of ELT professionals have been “going to the DOGME” more and more

Of course, going to the “dogs” is not really the best way to describe what all these “dogmeticians” are up to (unless you believe what you see in that little image).

….I just needed a “sexy” title to draw you all in!


This is a guest post from Laurence Raw – prompted because I suggested that he would indeed enjoy the company of these “dogmetitas“.

He actually wanted to use the title – “On Sitting Down to Read Dogme ELT Once Again” (a title shamelessly borrowed from John Keats’ poem “On Sitting Down To Read King Lear Once Again”)!

But, I am the CBO of allthingslearningso I get the last say!

Dog (teeth close up)


GUEST POST by Laurence Raw

I had come across the idea of Dogme ELT in the past, but had never reflected on it in any great depth until I was described by Tony Gurr as someone who might embrace its basic ideas.

With this in mind, I resolved to look into it a little bit further.

It is both a methodology and a movement, dedicated to principles such as interactivity, engagement, dialogism, scaffolding processes, empowerment, relevance and critical use.  TEACHing should be conversation-driven, using a minimum of materials, and concentrating on emergent language through task-based LEARNing.

Some might argue (and they do) that it represents an anti-establishment approach to language teaching.

New and Shiny (rocket dog)


Scott Thornbury’s 2000 article sets forth the basic principles:

“Teaching should be done only using the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom”;

“Learning takes place in the here-and-now”;

“Teaching – like talk – should centre on the local and relevant concerns of people in the room …. No methodological structures should interfere with, nor inhibit, the free flow of participant-driven input, output, and feedback”.

I am flattered to be placed in such exalted company.


My basic conception of the classroom experience is based on the principles of interactivity and engagement: LEARNers and educators alike should approach the classroom experience as a shared activity, one whose outcomes might not be identifiable in advance. This is what I understand by the concept of the “here-and-now” – everyone should learn how to adapt to the demands of the moment.

I have to admit, however, that I’m a little worried by the idea of “local and relevant concerns.” Let me illustrate this with two short anecdotes.  In the last week I’ve had two “Aha-moments,” where learners have left me absolutely gobsmacked with what they have produced; the quality of their work was something I could never have predicted.  The more I work with them, the more I realize how little I know or understand about how individuals learn.  While assuming – perhaps too complacently – I understand their “local and relevant concerns,” I discover repeatedly that my assumptions are undercut.

LEARNing, for me…consists of the ability to adapt to shifting concerns, whose relevance changes from moment to moment; this is as significant for educators as it is for LEARNers.

The second “Aha-moment” came when we were working with something I’d last approached five years ago. As we worked, I suddenly understood something about the material that I’d never thought of before. I was inspired; class activities evolved like wildfire; and everyone was exhilarated at the end.


What do such experiences tell me?

Whether you call it “Dogme ELT” or give it any other name, LEARNing – in any type of classroom, not just in language teaching – comprises a recurring sequence of “Aha-moments.”  Educators and learners alike have to strive to create such moments, both through collaboration and a willingness to adapt themselves to changing situations.

I have no idea what my learners’ “local and relevant concerns” are; likewise, my learners don’t understand my concerns.  But we can spend our time in the classroom trying our best to relate to each other in an open, problem-sharing environment. Like Scott (Luke, too) we might describe such exchanges as “input, output, and feedback;”

I prefer not to give them any names.  It’s just the way LEARNng works.


Listening (doggy ears)


If you want to LEARN more about the wicked, wicked ways of these “ELT evil-doers” – why not check out a few of these GREAT BLOGS

…and check out Anthony Gaughan’s süper “unplugged public library” for all the bedtime reading you need!

  1. A great article and one that reflects exactly the journey that I am taking (of regular, meaningful ‘Ah-ha’ moments), but from a PUBLISHER’s perspective, rather than a teacher or student learner.

    Up until now my experience of working in the ELT publishing industry has been one of sales-centred materials development combined with knee-jerk responses to trends in education (that involves cramming misinterpreted methodological developments into course books with an aim of ticking a certain, abstract box).

    Discovering the ethos of Dogme and how it puts learning at the centre of its thinking has altered my perception as a publisher well and truly. It’s all too easy to develop a course that sells itself to the teachers or ‘decision makers’ because it’s benchmarked to the correct assessment framework or is utilising the most up-to-date teaching strategies, but churning such materials out (and thinking in those terms) completely neglects the living, breathing LEARNer who is ultimately the individual who needs to benefit from the entire process.

    The ability to adapt to shifting concerns is something that, as publisher, is vital, but it needs to be constantly tested against our understanding of and (dare I say it) RESPONSIBILITY to the LEARNer. This is the key that is crucial in helping to provide learning materials and platforms that support the learner in their journey in the immediate future and beyond.

    I’ve had several invaluable ‘Ah-ha!” moments recently during class visits and interactions with students and teachers, all of which have contributed to the shift in my perception of the role of the publisher in the process.

    A publisher that is willing to LEARN and is able to recognise and fulfil their responsibility to the LEARNers they create for is one whose successes cannot be measured by an End Of Year profit sheet alone.

    • Tim,

      Really good comment – one more publishers should “hear”.

      One of the things Laurence was hinting at is that “LEARNing = ADAPTation” – be that in the classroom, in the staffroom…in the conference room of a publishing house 😉

      We hear a lot about the “end of the textbook” (damn those bloody iPads…damn those “smartest guys in the room” down there at Apple) in those smoke-filled rooms that many publishers hide away in while working out their profit margins – but there are more important things than “profits”…many more important things!

      LEARNing…and getting off the planet sooner (and with a clear conscience)…is one of those things!

      “Making a REAL difference” is another one of them…a LEARNing Publisher (or three) is what we need these days in the “business” of ELL 😉

      May the Force be with you…young Skywalker!


  2. Tim: How wonderful of you to put these points. If we could collaborate on an initiative to produce, publish or present materials that enable educators and learners to understand Dogme in ELT, that would be a real game-changer!

    • Hi, Laurence.

      I agree totally.

      I think there’s scope for extending such an initiative to publishers/materials developers also. If such agents in the “biz” saw themselves as ‘Learning Providers’ rather than producers of “educational products” then the game would change even more dramatically.

  3. […] by a simple, “throw-away” exchange that took place on Tony Gurr’s epic blog (allthingslearning) only a matter of days ago. In response to Laurence Raw‘s terrific piece on Dogme ELT and his […]

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