Dogme Revisited

This morning, sat down and had some “my time”.  I went through a number of my hundreds of notebooks full of philosophy, essays, poems that I’ve been collecting over 4 decades.  A lot of stuff buried in these papers and notebooks but was surprised to pull open about 50 pages on film. Don’t even remember writing this but it was fascinating. One part was on Dogme, when it was a new approach to film making in the 90s.

It got me thinking about Dogme ELT something I think is often misinterpreted by many teachers. It also is sort of misnamed – if Dogme ELT were to follow the original Dogme manifesto, it wouldn’t ever take place in a class but only use original settings for practicing language. For example, if you were learning about ordering food, you’d do so in a restaurant. The classroom would be anathema for anything but learning metalanguage (language we use to talk about language).

To me, Dogme ELT is about two crucial things:  

1.  focusing class activities around the language of the learner and the resulting emergent language (it is highly personal)

2. little or no use of materials (textbooks, worksheets, cards, tapes, computers etc…)

Too often I hear teachers talk about Dogme ELT like it is just going into a classroom and chatting up, running with anything that happens. I don’t think this is what it is about and that approach would be Hangout ELT.   In Dogme, the teacher needs to be very experienced in language teaching and interpreting the language of the learners – so they may guide them towards better use and form of that language .

So find below two things.

1.  My rewrite of Dogme ELT imagining if it followed the original Dogme 95 manifesto

2. My notebook entry from the 90s about Dogme, rewritten to apply to Dogme teaching.

Might spark some thought about new possibilities with our lessons and in our classrooms.

Dogme ELT Manifesto: (see original HERE)

  1. All teaching and practice of language must be done “in situ”, in the real location. No fake props or sets but only using real language in a real location.
  2. Teaching is holistic.  There must be no separation of function and form and language is treated not in discrete parts, nor dissected but rather as it is used.
  3. Technology must be simple and hand driven. Chalk, pencils, pens etc…. No use of electronic devices; computers, screens, CD players and so on. The speaker, the human being, is the focus.
  4. Teaching must be real. It can’t be a play, a scripted event. The plan is that there is no plan other than the main objective to start things off.  No fakery, no lying on the part of the teacher.
  5. Extrinsic motivators are forbidden.  The class must not be tainted by point systems, rewards and competition.
  6. There should not be any role playing in the classroom (this is artificial). All language takes place and arises from a real need and impulse.
  7. No use of video to show learners language used in a different time and place. It all happens in the here and now.
  8. The teacher can’t be an actor or use different teaching styles. Nor are there any different types of English to be taught (business, global studies, finance, hospitality and tourism etc…). The only English used is that of necessity that comes from the learner, there is no imposed structure given from the instructor.
  9. The class must be 10 or less students to facilitate real use of the language and proper instructor intervention.
  10. The teacher is part of the class and a learner.  Credit goes to the whole class for any success, not just the teacher.

Dogme Teaching – A revisiting (rewriting for education/teaching of what I originally wrote about Dogme film, substituting “teaching” for references about cinema)

Dogme?!  Everyone is talking about this manifesto, a new and amazing approach to teaching. What a crock!  There is nothing new there, it is all fluff and puff. It is only “style”, how a woman might choose a scarf for her walk. Dressing up. The form of teaching shouldn’t be an absolute, a funnel but open and expansive, a way to more things. Dogme teaching is a way for some but we shouldn’t think that anything about teaching language is a MUST. Nothing is sacred and there are many ways to touch that special place where learning happens.

But even if we accept this new form, this new approach as being new, it certainly isn’t revolutionary or transformative. It hasn’t any developmental gravity, it takes teaching nowhere. It only leaves so much on the cutting floor. It simplifies but at a cost.  We don’t realize it but we all bring so much cultural baggage into the classroom – there must be desks, a chalkboard, students as an audience, 40 minutes …….  Dogme teaching is just another system and jailing – as all ideological, school and teacher led learning must be.


  • SCOTT Thornbury

    I take th e

    Hi David, I’m reading this as an extended analogy, which is what Dogme ELT was when it started – using the metaphor of Dogme the film movement, you have identified (in the 2nd half of your post) the ‘degenerate’ form of Dogme. I think that – again, as with the Dogme film movement, there is a less malign version, witness the handful of good movies that did come out of that movement. If nothing else, some teachers have found Dogme ELT a powerful spur to their own development.

    But I want to pursue this point: “if Dogme ELT were to follow the original Dogme manifesto, it wouldn’t ever take place in a class but only use original settings for practicing language. For example, if you were learning about ordering food, you’d do so in a restaurant.” In fact what you describe is closely akin to the ‘learning language in the wild’ initiative, that is being promoted in a number of Nordic countries and is described here:

    Interestingly, in the latest issue of Applied Linguistics (2019, 40/2) Y. Kim describes a variant called ‘conversation-for-learning’ (CfL) that takes the position that learning language in the wild is “too chaotic and unpredictable” to serve as a useful context for language learning. On the other hand conversation-for-learning “can provide one alternative that falls between the two extremes of the limited experience that the classroom environment can afford and interaction ‘in the wild’ in that it provides interactional opportunities which more closely resemble real-life social encounters, though still sheltered.’ Essentially, learners are paired or in small groups and “are given no instruction beyond’ just talk’ and the flexible format enables the talk to flow like casual conversation’. The article goes on to show how this context can create multiple opportunities for negotiation of common ground: ‘in contrast to conversations that involve family members and close friends, where interactants have roughly stable and good estimates of shared knowledge bases with each other, the shared knowledge base in CfL has to be established in the course of an interaction and can turn out to vary greatly.’ Arguably, this ‘information gap’ provides a fertile ground for language learning affordances. (Good) Dogme provides that too – the key phrase for me being ‘though still sheltered’.

    • ELT Buzz

      Good point about how the extreme that was Dogme and how it did lead to great film that just borrowed from it. Sometimes that is for the best – as with anything too strict in ideology, the human spirit petrifies.

      I like the idea of the “learning in the wild” approach. I’ve been following a few recent interesting initiatives that are similar. Language schools that don’t have classes or physical space but just meet in the city and use language ‘in situ”. What’s important there though is the “reality”. I think it is good to be out of the constraints and artificial environment of the classroom but on the other hand you also need to add the real protein – purposeful communication. What you call – negotiation on common ground. Will look into the paper and the ideas behind “conversation for learning”. Sounds like a great compromise between the wild and the tamed.

    • ELT Buzz

      If nothing else, some teachers have found Dogme ELT a powerful spur to their own development.

      Yes – always felt this was the power of the approach and it has done that in spades.

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