Me is for Method: Comment on Scott Thornbury’s blogpost ‘A is for Approach’

22 01 2012

http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/a-is-for-approach/#comment-6497

Many thanks for such a measured and thoughtful rise to the challenge, which really helps me to move closer to my own understanding of what Dogme is and how it can help us to keep improving as ELT teachers. (Although I wish you’d linked back to one of my ‘real posts’ such as ‘Who Needs Dogme?’ rather than my post-run ramblings like ‘Plodding and Pondering’ :) ).

On first reading, your post almost convinced me that perhaps Dogme was, in fact, an Approach, but closer reading, especially of your Richards and Rogers quote, leads me, personally, closer to a conclusion that Dogme is, if anything, a Method. But certainly not ‘just another’ Method, Luke, don’t worry!

In order to be an Approach, Dogme would have to ‘refer to theories about language learning…’. I take this to mean that it suggests theories, or expounds theories, or borrows theories from other areas of academic research and applies them innovatively within the language learning field. As you admit later in your post ‘these theories are not original’, Dogme doesn’t do this.

On the other hand, if we read on and examine Richard’s and Rodgers understanding of Method, we find it…
“…is theoretically related to an approach, is organizationally determined by a design, and is practically realized in procedure” Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T (2001:20).

For example, a behaviourist approach to learning theory helped to pave the way for the Audiolingual method, which then gave rise to such practical techniques as drilling being used in the classroom.

Within this framework, I now feel Dogme is closest to a Method. It is theoretically related to socio-linguistic approaches to learning, communicative approaches to learning and, perhaps it could be argued, emerges from an eclectic approach to language learning.

It is organisationally determined by a design, since it reacts to the ‘overdesign’ of course book dominance of course content and syllabus design and seeks to place the responsibility for design firmly in the laps of the students, perhaps scaffolded by the teacher. Your further comment about Dogme utilising process syllabi is another very helpful suggestion, although it also adds to the feeling that Dogme’s not the most original of methods.

And it is practically realized in procedure, which can be evidenced by all of the mind-opening and technique-honing descriptions of Dogme practice that you so deservedly praise.

Indeed, Bartolomé’s definition of “effective methods” in a given “socio-cultural context” (2003, p. 411) seems particularly close to how I understand Dogme’s raison d’être:

‘‘The informed way in which a teacher implements a method can serve to offset potentially unequal relations and discriminating structures and practices in the classroom and, in doing so, improve the quality of the instructional process for both student and teacher.’’ (2003, p. 412)
And Larsen-Freeman’s assertion that:

‘’As teachers gain experience, they come to understand a particular method differently ‘’ (Larsen-Freeman, 2005b, p.11).

also fits in with your point about the similarities and differences between how teachers implement their understanding of Dogme in the classroom.

Perhaps it’s in the distinction between whether or not Dogme relates to learning theories in an original way, or combines by now ‘unoriginal’ theories into an original method, or does neither, that our views differ (I don’t share Jason’s view that looking at it as all three is very helpful).

But whether Dogme ends up being an approach or a method or something else, and whether it actually matters, as you hint it’s time to move on. Even if we disagree on where Dogme is coming from, we share a vision of where it should be going. As you say, only through continuous experimentation, description, debate and a little bit of debunking (mostly by sheep in wolves clothing such as meself :) ), will it mature into either an approach or a method. And this is where it provides excitement and where we all need to continue experimenting along with our students and trainees in their classrooms and where I’ll get amusing myself on my blog once I’ve had another run…

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bartolomé, L. (2003). Beyond the methods fetish: Toward a humanizing pedagogy. In A. Darder, M. Baltodano, & R. D. Torres (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (pp. 408-439). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Larson-Freeman, D. (2005). On the appropriateness of language teaching methods in language and development. ILI Language Teaching Journal, 1 (2), 1-14.

 Scott Thornbury (19:24:50) :

Thanks, Neil, for coming on board, and in such a measured and well-informed manner.

Thanks also for raising the ‘method’ issue. You may have noted that I carefully avoided the term in my original post, mainly because the term now seems to have out-lived its sell-by date (see my video blog M is for Method for a brief overview). This is because (pace R & R) there seems to me to be no stable, identifiable and autononmous entity on the trajectory from ‘approach’, on the one hand, and the way that that approach is actualised in particuar contexts, on the other. In most contexts, if there is a construct that mediates between an approach and its practitioners, it is not a method as such (i.e. a set of practices that is prescribed by some higher authority) but the coursebook. But, of course, Dogme has no coursebook. It doesn’t even have a syllabus. It is simply an idea that has accreted practices, and out of these practices something recognisably distinctive seems to be emerging. But it’s not a method, any more than CLIL is a method, or task-based language instruction.

As for Dogme’s lack of originality, I wish i could count the times that I’ve said that there is nothing new about Dogme. Except the label. Just as there was nothing new about America. Until Columbus named it that way. ;-)

mcneilmahon (20:31:34) :

I really should be doing other things, Scott, but had to respond to this bit:

‘In most contexts, if there is a construct that mediates between an approach and its practitioners, it is not a method as such (i.e. a set of practices that is prescribed by some higher authority) but the coursebook’

…because in the contexts I’ve worked in over the last 15 years, there has always been a range of methods for teachers to choose from depending on which learning theories they believe in and which approach they therefore take. As I’ve said elsewhere (Who Needs Dogme?) perhaps this is because I’m one of the lucky ones. Encouraged to take an Eclectic Approach, I explore different methods (including Dogme and even a bit of Al or GT when the context suggests it), and practice a range of techniques that have evolved from and outlived those methods.

But I do find the idea of method helpful and persuasive, even if, as Seyyed Mohammad Reza Hashemi puts it in his conclusion to a fascinating article on post-method language teaching:

”Method is a strange concept, old and new, meaningless and meaningful.”

And he goes on to conclude benefits of methods that I imagine all Dogme-gicians would find heart-warming?

”With all systematicity it bears and the order it creates, method swings back and forth from meaninglessness to meaningfulness. At times, it deals with and leads to well-defined patterns as realizations of coherent thoughts and informed practice. There are also times when method equals chaos, especially when in the hands of unimaginative users, unreasonably insisting on sticking to their dogmatic principles. Methodic patterns as they emerge, though, are the quintessence of excellent harmony. However, when dictated and followed blindly, patterns would lose their context-sensitive meaning. Prescription of contextually isolated patterns would, then, impose limitation and this limitation will result in fossilization of practice. Teachers with dynamic minds would never let that happen, struggling to create coherence and meaning as they discover, perceive, interpret, implement and modify methods.”
(Reza Hashemi, ‘(Post)-Methodism: Possibility of the Impossible?’, Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 137-145, January 2011

By the way, just in case anyone isn’t sure, I see slavishly sticking to a course book as ‘unimaginative use’ and most Dogme-gicians I know as ‘teachers with dynamic minds’.

And this is why I see Dogme as a method, but not ‘Just another Method’. Because most other methods that are fondly remembered on in-service training courses such as the IH CAM or DELTA, have been outlived by the techniques within in that have been shown to work, while the method itself has been shown to be flawed. Dogme is different in as much as it is alive and vibrant and is showing us at the moment that it can work. The real question is whether or not after a lot more debate and description and debunking it stands the test of time in the way most other methods don’t – it would be very exciting for all of us and our language learners if it does.

Time, as always, will tell, and it’s high time I was doing something else…

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