Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?

Dogme ELT has been around (in the sense of having a name and a movement of people who recognize it as a legitimate and defined approach to teaching languages) for the best part of 15 years at this point of writing; what this means is there are a significant number of teachers working now who never experienced a world of ELT without Dogme – for the simple reason that they entered the profession, were trained, and developed their careers after the emergence of what has been termed the Dogme collective.

However banal this observation may appear, its significance is worth exploring.

Most obviously, here is a generation of teachers for whom Dogme ELT could appear to be a perfectly normal feature of the teaching landscape – as far as they are concerned, Dogme ELT has “always been there”.

From this perspective, it is becoming more difficult to situate Dogme ELT as a novel, innovative, radical or revolutionary idea or practice because it has, for an increasing number of teachers, not only long been part of the mainstream – it has always been part of the mainstream.

No less obvious perhaps is the observation that the longest serving of those teachers who entered the profession after the emergence of Dogme are now at a stage in their careers where they very likely occupy some role related to teacher training and education, whether this be in-service training of the sort that a Director of Studies organizes, or pre-service training (also called initial teacher training) of the kind that trainers like me perform on short intensive courses such as the Cambridge ESOL CELTA.

Shouldn’t young pups grow into old dogs?

It would be reasonable to expect that over the course of the last ten to fifteen years, some of these teachers – now teacher trainers – would have begun, in an unorganized and probably non-deliberate way, to influence the manner in which such teacher training and education is conducted.

In terms of in-service training, we could expect to see principles and practices associated with Dogme ELT to form part of all manner of training interventions, rather than their being presented in sessions dealing with Dogme in its own right.

With pre-service training, we might expect to see something similar, with Dogme principles and practices being presented and explored with beginning teachers in an undifferentiated and equivalent manner when contrasted with approaches to teaching which pre-date the emergence of Dogme and which might be considered orthodox, such as TBL, the lexical approach, or PPP as a lesson structure.

However reasonable these expectations may be, reality is somewhat different.

Dogme ELT, it seems to me, is generally presented as a novelty when it is treated at all during pre-service training or at conferences; sessions are clearly labelled as being “about Dogme”, and the number of sessions, even at international conferences, which set out to define or describe Dogme, clearly outnumbers those sessions which take it for granted that the audience or participants are familiar with the label, let alone the actual practice.

Moving to pre-service training, we see a similar picture.  Despite the fact that a significant proportion of currently operating tutors on initial teacher training courses of various kinds must belong to that group of teachers who entered the profession after the emergence of Dogme ELT, it is rare to hear of Dogme ELT being treated as a topic on courses at this level, and even more rare to hear of courses whose design and delivery are informed by and accord with unplugged principles and practice.

This being so, the place that Dogme ELT holds in conversations relating to teacher education and development – let alone in its fundamental work and practice – is very much still a marginal one in at least two senses.

It is marginal in that it occupies a very limited space in the general discourse on teacher training and education, despite efforts to make its voice heard in ELT discourse in general.  It is therefore also marginal in the sense that conversations about Dogme and teacher training  do not seem to have led very far, as Dogme is still, after 15 years, not a feature of initial teacher training on the whole in the same way that TBL or the lexical approach might be said to be.

What is keeping Dogme on the leash?

This presents us with an interesting pair of competing hypotheses.

Either

A) an entire generation of teachers has carefully looked at what Dogme ELT has to offer, and decided that what it has to offer is not much, and certainly not much worth passing on to subsequent generations of teachers,

or

B) there is a systemic factor (or set of factors) at play which vitiates against Dogme ELT gaining more of an obvious foothold in teacher training and education.

I do not know which of these two possibilities is true, but I am curious to find out.

I am interested in and enthusiastic enough about Dogme to have tried to apply it to the pre-service courses that I have run over the last five years.  In that time, I have spoken to several teacher trainers about how I have gone about this and encouraged them to try something similar.  Some of them have gone on to experiment with their own practice, but perhaps there are many others doing similar work that I have never heard of.  I just don’t hear about them, so I don’t know.

It’s come to the point where I need publicly to ask the question:

Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?

If you are working in teacher training and are trying to incorporate unplugged ideas and methodology in what you teach and how you train, please comment on this post and describe what you do.

In February I will have the privilege of asking this question at the International House Barcelona ELT Conference, and I would love to be able to answer my own question by sharing your stories.

35 comments

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