‘So forth and brighter fares my stream,
Who drink it shall not thirst again;
No darkness taints its equal gleam,
And ages drop in it like rain.’
From ‘Two Rivers’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson
All great rivers are borne of the slightest trickles of water. Many take great distances to form, from the joining together of hundreds of tributaries. And so as it is with the art of teaching: my philosophy has its origins a great distance in time from where I am today and from many different, disparate sources. Here I describe where my teaching philosophy came from and where it may be heading.
To the right is a map of the Kingdom of Prussia, a nation that hasn’t existed for almost a century, yet one that plays an important part in the story of my teaching philosophy and Dogme ELT. You see, this is the site of one of the tributaries from which the mighty river Dogme originally sprang. Allow me to elaborate.
The Prussian education system was a framework of compulsory education dating back to the early 19th century. Parts of this education system have served as models for the education systems in a number of other countries, particularly in Japan and the United States, although many of the features that formed the basis of the system also became prevalent in schooling throughout the whole world.
During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia was a genuinely forward looking nation. It was at the forefront in terms of introducing tax-funded, compulsory primary education, the Volksschule. Indeed, in 1763 the edicts which had made it clear for the first time that education was a task of the state were realized, when Frederick II made schooling compulsory for all children between ages five and thirteen. This eight-year course of study provided the skills that the early industrialized world needed, namely reading, writing and arithmetic. It also gave education in ethics, duty, discipline and obedience. This was all well and good in terms of being a general service to the populace, but there were ulterior motives behind it.
Basically, the king was a bit fed up with the shenanigans of the local aristocracy and decided that it was about time the common folk learned how to behave themselves without the threat of a sound public thrashing to keep them in line. Every individual had to become convinced, to the ‘very core of their being’, that the King was a decent bloke, that his decisions were always right, and that obedience was a fairly good idea.
The schools – all state-owned as a result of Prussian General Land Law – imposed an official language, which did upset ethnic groups living in Prussia just a little. It did, however, do a pretty good job of instilling loyalty to the Crown and in training young men for the military and the bureaucracy. The Prussian military, you see, had taken a bit of pummeling in the early part of the 19th Century, and the king thought that it was probably a good idea for his budding young soldiers to at least be able to communicate with one another before being blunderbussed to death. This new schooling system wasn’t merely a machine for churning out cannon fodder, though. On the plus side, the Prussian system was the first to institute specialist training for teachers. Having said that, the Prussians also lumbered us with compulsory attendance, a national testing system and a national curriculum for each grade, so every silver lining does have its cloud. Those are topics for another day, but they at least show us what an effect this system has had on the world and why we so many have gone about their business in the classroom in such a rigid, structured way.
Here we are then, more than two hundred years down the line, with Dogme our guiding light to an enlightened future. Maybe… assuming of course that the future of our profession remains classroom-based: more on that in subsequent blog posts. The River Dogme is a made up of more than one tributary, however, and it’s now time to explore another point of origin. To find out what has brought this waterway to the esteemed point that it now holds in our consciousness, we need to travel to one of its other beginning points, and for this one we must go way back to the Seljuk Turks of eleventh century Anatolia.
In Turkey, apprenticeship culture has been a part of everyday life since the time of Seljuks who claimed Anatolia as their homeland almost a thousand years ago (I did hint in the title that Dogme isn’t a new idea). Apprenticeship is a phenomenon with which you’re all probably familiar to a certain extent, although you may not have considered this to be one of the origins of Dogme. It is, and I’m going to – hopefully – explain how. Now, there are apprenticeship models across the globe going back as far in history as the Seljuk model, but I’ve lived in Turkey for a while and for this reason alone I’ll be using the Turkish system to explain things.
In Turkey there are three levels of apprenticeship. First of all we have the apprentice, the ‘çırak’. The second level is pre-master, the ‘kalfa’. At the mastery level we have the ‘usta’, the highest level of achievement. Any ‘usta’ is eligible to take in and accept new ‘çıraks’ to train and raise to adulthood within the particular profession. The training process typically starts when the small boy is ten or eleven, with the aim of him becoming a fully fledged master by the age of twenty-five. Many years of hard work and dedication under the guidance of the master is the key to the young apprentice’s education and learning process. The tradition remains strong today with many vocational schools taking on the role of training young ‘uns in the arts of a given profession.
At this point, you might still be viewing Dogme as the savior of the Prussian method, a savior which seemingly has little to do with the apprenticeship model. Whereas Dogme is equated with good educational teaching, the apprenticeship model seems to be something that is merely suitable for vocational training. Please bear with me, as the connections and overlaps will become more apparent, as will the reasons why Dogme has always succeeded as a philosophy, yet why it may be doomed to failure if it remains bound to classroom practice.
The Apprentice model is very much an educational theory, one concerning the process of learning through steady and developed integration into the practices associated with the particular subject, often taking the form of workplace training. By developing similar performance to other practitioners, an apprentice slowly but surely comes to understand the duties, responsibilities or requirements of the position. In doing so, the learner is also able to affect their environment; in the process of becoming accepted by the master, the learner is able to add to the overall practice of whatever it is they are studying and give a bit, however small, of themselves to it.
The Apprenticeship method can be used to teach anything from the most basic of procedures – consider the way you teach a child to tie their shoelaces, for example – through to complex medical procedures. We actually see examples of apprenticeship all around us on a daily basis: consider how people are taught to drive a car or learn a musical instrument. These use apprenticeship so that learners may learn a specific skill to a ‘sufficiently’ advanced level.
Apprenticeship Learning is described in a number of ways; here are the most popular definitions:
• According to Daniel Pratt (1998) Apprenticeship Learning engages the learner within an actual, physical context of practice.
• Apprenticeship is a teaching method that enables teachers to teach learners how to solve problems, understand tasks, perform specific tasks, and deal with difficult situations (Collins, Brown, and Newman 1989).
• The apprentice works alongside an expert to learn a specific task (Barab & Hay, 2001). An apprenticeship includes:
• The development of learning contexts that model proficiency,
• The provision of coaching and scaffolding so that learners become immersed in authentic activities, and
• The Independent practice so that learners gain an appreciation of the use of domain-related principles across multiple contexts (Barab & Hay, p. 72, 2001)
So, what Apprenticeship Learning enables us to do with learners is work through any given ‘problematic’ situation together so that they will know how to react when faced with a similar situation in the future. Apprenticeship Learning is consequently an extremely beneficial technique for the learner, who gets to work with an expert at learning a specific skill which they recognize as being something they will need at some point in the future.
Sadly, though, the Apprenticeship model is rarely used in formal education. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, there is the obvious factor of a master practitioner only being able to work with a small number of learners at any one time, perhaps only one. This is neither particularly time efficient nor economical for the person – or institution – paying the expert. Secondly, the ideas communicated through Apprenticeship Learning are often practical, tacit strategies for achieving goals that do not always conform to a standard – or standardized – procedure. Quite simply, those assessors that we all know and love can’t easily assess learners who are learning in this way. I’m not suggesting either of these factors justify the non-use of this model, just that these are the fundamental reasons why it is under-utilized. Shame, really, as this model seems to make so much sense as a way of teaching language. Could a system that has existed for centuries be resurrected by the Dogme ELT movement? Hopefully, as this post progresses, I’ll be able to convince you that, yes, it can… with a little help.
Educational theories of apprenticeship indicate so, frequently describing it as delivering a combination of semi-formal and knowledge-based training for the development of a schema representing the individual learner’s understanding of experiences that structure their view of reality. Furthermore, Apprentice Learning, like Dogme ELT, takes a holistic approach to learning as it involves the education of both the learner and the development of the teacher. As the teacher works with the learner to develop their abilities, they become increasingly capable of performing similarly to their teacher.
So, what exactly does Apprenticeship Learning aim to achieve and how does this compare to Dogme ELT? Brandt et al. (1993) identified three main goals:
1. The learner discovers what works. Importantly, the learner isn’t expected to figure out the situation on their own; guidance is provided. The learner uses the skills shared by the expert to successfully meet their goal.
2. The learner recognizes situations and knows how to ‘deal with’ them. The learner learns the appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge. Learners do this in a social setting with lifelike scenarios.
3. Finally, the learner is able to perform at an ‘acceptable’ level. Acceptable is defined as that which is OK for the context in which they will be applying the knowledge or skill they have acquired. Not everyone needs to be able to win an F1 grand prix to be considered an acceptable driver, for instance.
Do these goals of Apprenticeship fit into the Dogme ELT philosophy? I’d definitely suggest that there is a high degree of overlap. Indeed, it is the mixing of these two notions that my present teaching philosophy had developed and is continuing to develop. Nevertheless, the two entities are far from identical. For example, Apprenticeship, as it is presently described, operates according to a progression of phases that serve to convey the roles of the learner and teacher during the ‘process’. Hansman (2001) and Brandt et al. (1993) describe Apprenticeship’s phases as follows:
Phase 1: Modeling
A complete action is observed and contemplated. Consequently, the smaller parts that make up the whole are not at this point examined in depth. Such modeling enables learners to examine the performance of an activity by experienced practitioners to see how it is done.
Phase 2: Approximating
In ‘closed’ scenarios, the learner begins to imitate the actions of the master. Through close guidance, the learner begins to articulate more clearly the teacher’s actions. This phase allows the learner to try the activity while giving time to think about what they plan to do and why they plan to do it. After the activity the learner reflects on their performance: they examine what they did in comparison to what the expert did.
Phase 3: Fading
The learner, although still operating within a ‘safe’ environment, starts working in a more detailed manner, playing within what has been taught. The learner’s capabilities increase while the expert’s assistance decreases.
Phase 4: Self-directed Learning
The learner makes their first attempts to recreate the actions within real society, limiting him/herself to the scope of actions in the field that are well-understood. The learner is performing the actual task and only seeking assistance when needed from the expert.
Phase 5: Generalizing
The learner can make generalizations about what they have learned and then apply this to a variety of scenarios, while continuing to develop their ability. The learner uses discussion in this phase to relate that they have learned to other relevant situations.
While Dogme shares commonalities with apprenticeship in its goals, I’d say that at present it doesn’t have the clear ‘phases’ that are evident in apprenticeship learning. That isn’t to say that this is in any way a fault of Dogme, nor that such phases don’t commonly appear in ELT methodology. The opening phase, for instance, is reminiscent of what we know from task-based learning and teaching and, dare I say it, P-P-P. Indeed, this whole phasing notion seems to have that presentation, practice and production feel about it. Nevertheless, the idea of the expert working directly with the learner is very much part of the Dogme philosophy. And as for the key principles of Dogme ELT, how do they compare? Where apprenticeship has these goals and defined phases, Dogme instead has emerged from ten guiding principles, as follows:
1. Interactivity: the most direct route to learning is to be found in the interactivity between teachers and students and amongst the students themselves.
2. Engagement: students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
3. Dialogic processes: learning is social and dialogic, where knowledge is co-constructed
4. Scaffolded conversations: learning takes place through conversations, where the learner and teacher co-construct the knowledge and skills
5. Emergence: language and grammar emerge from the learning process. This is seen as distinct from the ‘acquisition’ of language.
6. Affordances: the teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.
7. Voice: the learner’s voice is given recognition along with the learner’s beliefs and knowledge.
8. Empowerment: students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks.
9. Relevance: materials (e.g. texts, audios and videos) should have relevance for the learners
10. Critical use: teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases.
How do these equate to Apprenticeship?
Although they might be structured differently, you can clearly see many overlaps in the way the roles of the teacher and learner develop and the extent of the involvement in the learning process of each party. Most clearly, we see that both operate with the learner and teacher coming together to bring the learner up to the level of the master. Also, we see in both that the learner’s voice holds an important place in the schemata. There is also scaffolding evident in both, as are engagement, interactivity and considered use of educational materials. One important area of divergence, however, is that of emergence. While the Dogme ELT classroom begins essentially with a blank slate from which new knowledge emerges and is co-constructed by the teacher and the learner, in Apprenticeship the master has a set curricula of knowledge that they aim to disperse. Now, this set curricula of knowledge does not necessarily have to be dispersed in a linear, ‘grammar McNugget’ fashion, but the master is nevertheless not entirely free to adopt a ‘let’s see what comes up today’ attitude either. It is perhaps this factor which means I don’t regard myself as a fully fledged Dogme practitioner: I work within the constraints of an ostensibly linear syllabus, which is to a great extent assessment driven and sprinkled liberally with more than its fair share of language McNuggets. Nevertheless, I have spent a great deal of time contemplating how a Dogme ELT philosophy might work within such constraints. My slow, considered move towards trying to create a blend of the Apprenticeship method and the principles of Dogme. An important question is… how is it going?
Factors of Success in Apprenticeship… and how they fit into the Dogme ELT framework
Daniel Pratt (1988) suggests that successful development through Apprenticeship involves three key factors. To attain an acceptable level of proficiency within a field, the learning process must be active, social, and authentic. Let’s look at these in a little more detail, as they go some way to guiding how I approach my teaching.
1. The activity is geared towards the level at which the learner is physically and mentally stimulated within the environment
If I’m to be a successful teacher, I should allow the student to be highly involved in the processes of decision making and action because they know that it is the doing that will have the most effect on the their schema. When learning to drive a car, for example, students will never be able to pass without a physical examination of driving ability. To prepare for this, learners are given the opportunity to drive in safe areas. This active use of the tool prepares the student for its later, tested use. Similarly, the language classroom is the testing ground for subsequent real life language use. There is a clear connection between this factor and the Dogme notion of scaffolding.
2. Sociality is fundamental to development
A server training at a restaurant, for instance, will not only follow a more experienced server, but interact with the customers, fellow employees, and management in the same time frame. The server will thus establish connections between all these groups and the personnel that embody them, preparing the server for day to day activities. Students must interact constantly with the tools for success, the teachers and the beneficiaries of the work. This holistic approach will further integrate the student into the interrelated web of action and consequence within the field. This factor can clearly be seen in the Dogme principles of interactivity and dialogic process.
3. Authenticity is essential to apprenticeship
This is the establishment of a mental connection between the work of the student in a particular field and the comprehension of the ‘greater public’. In language teaching terms, this might relate to issues such as the appropriate language to use in written or spoken English, how language differs given the formality of the situation, or how language is used according to the conventions of a situation. For instance, one of the things I have to teach is that ‘OK, now I’m gonna move on to my next point’ is not particularly authentic way to introduce a new paragraph in an essay. Again, we can see this factor in the principles of Dogme ELT, in terms of relevance and critical use of materials.
None of these keys of success would be particularly revelatory if we were to apply them to language learning pedagogy. This once again reinforces the idea that Apprenticeship is first and foremost a tool for education, rather than something that merely has uses in vocational training. By viewing myself as the ‘master’ who is aiming to raise my apprentices to that magical ‘acceptable’ level of proficiency, I am able to play around with my syllabus as the knowledge base which must be used, while at the same time allowing myself to work with my students in the co-construction of knowledge. The syllabus might guide me quite clearly in what needs to be taught, but how we get there becomes a dialogic process between me and my students.
Factors of Success in Dogme ELT… and how they fit into the Apprenticeship framework
Having defined my role according to the principles of Apprenticeship, do I even need to consider Dogme ELT? I think the answer is a resounding yes, as it further reinforces the notion that we should be teaching the person, rather than the book. So, how exactly does one go about incorporating a Dogme philosophy into one’s teaching, especially when you are required to use a coursebook in a linear manner?
1. Teaching is conversation-driven
Within the Dogme framework conversation is seen as central to language learning, because it is the fundamental and universal form of language. Since real life conversation is more interactional than it is transactional, Dogme places greater value on communication that promotes social interaction. Dogme also places more emphasis on a discourse-level (rather than sentence-level) approach to language, as it is considered to better prepare learners for real-life communication, where the entire conversation is more relevant than the analysis of specific utterances. Dogme considers that the learning of a skill is co-constructed within the interaction between the learner and the teacher. In this sense, teaching is a conversation between the two parties.
Why this used to bother me
• If you’re using a coursebook, it’s not always easy to focus your classroom around conversation.
• A lot of the teaching I do relates to the development of reading and listening skills, as well as teaching students how to express themselves in writing.
I almost always incorporate materials that exemplify the concept that is central to the coursebook unit. By supplementing, you can bring in stuff that stimulates discussion, either by being a little controversial or by taking the opposite stance to that which is given in the ‘official’ material.
I still focus less on conversation than I’d imagine a Dogme purist would do. This is largely because I work with my students, students who tend to prioritize short-term goals, by which I mean exams.
2. Materials light approach
The Dogme approach considers that student produced material is preferable to professionally published materials and textbooks, to the extent that it initially invited teachers to take a ‘vow of chastity’ and not use textbooks. Dogme teaching has therefore been criticized as not offering teachers the opportunity to use a complete range of materials and resources. However there is vigorous debate about the extent to which Dogme is actually anti-textbook or anti-technology. The fact that Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury have focused their critique of course books on their predisposition for focusing on grammar more than on communicative competency is a healthy one. Indeed, I hate to think how many years of my teaching were effectively lost through being forced to follow a policy of teaching ‘the book’ rather than ‘the learner’. From a personal perspective, I’ve always found this line of ‘attack’ to be one that can only serve to liberate language teachers and better enable them to actually teach their learners rather than covering prescribed units of work. Indeed, I choose to interpret Meddings’ and Thornbury’s work in this area as a return to the apprenticeship philosophy that was stolen by the Prussian model. As a proponent of the Dogme approach, I’d argue that it is not so much an anti-materials philosophy, as pro-learner, and thus aligns itself with other forms of learner-centered instruction and critical pedagogy, such as the Apprenticeship model.
Why this used to bother me
• If you stick to a vow of chastity about never using published materials, you’ll eventually reach a point at which you’re doing your students a disservice by sticking to the vow.
• Why not use technology?
I’ve never held too much stock in this principle, although I would say that I now try more consciously than I perhaps did in the past to use appropriate materials. By appropriate, I mean a wide range of factors including length, visual appeal, relevance and method of delivery (paper, computer projector, etc.) among others.
In terms of technology, I’ve always felt that it just comes down to what you define as being ‘tech’. Would any of us not turn on the light in a classroom for fear that ‘there be the Devil lurking in them there electric lights’? Would you refuse to sit on a chair or use a board made out of this new-fangled plastic stuff? Everyone uses technology; it’s always just a case of where you’ve drawn the limit of what you consider to be necessary. Make sure you know why you’re using tech, though!
3. Emergent language
Dogme considers language learning to be a process where language emerges rather than one where it is acquired. Dogme shares this belief with other approaches to language education, such as the aforementioned task-based learning. There are two ways that language might emerge. Firstly, classroom activities lead to collaborative communication amongst the students. Secondly, learners produce language that they were not necessarily taught. As such, the teacher’s role, in part, is to facilitate the emergence of language. However, Dogme does not see the teacher’s role as merely to create the right conditions for language to emerge. Importantly, the teacher must also encourage learners to engage with this new language to ensure learning takes place. This can happen in a variety of ways, including rewarding, repeating and reviewing. As language emerges rather than being acquired, there is no need to follow a syllabus that is externally set. Indeed, the content of the syllabus is covered (or ‘uncovered’) throughout the learning process.
Why this used to bother me
• I didn’t decide on this curriculum, but I’ll get sacked if I toss it away and do my own thing.
• If everything just emerges, why not follow a linear program of study to make sure nothing gets left out?
A lot of the grammar I have to teach is of the McNugget variety. To be fair, the presence of a tangible grammar book and specific things to study for an exam is reassuring to the students. As such, we decide together when we’re going to spend time going through the McNuggets, specifically for exam purposes. I often find that the language and the grammar they actually need emerges anyway, and we usually uncover most of what we need anyway. The grammar book is pretty much just so that the assessors can do their assessing from a standardized, ‘Prussianized’ course of input. I can’t escape that, but it doesn’t stop me and my students exploring cause and effect language a month before it’s on the syllabus if we decide we need it there and then.
Where am I as a language teacher?
All in all, I’ve come to feel that a lot of what Dogme ELT stands for actually fits into what I aim to achieve as a language teacher. My misconceptions were largely due to my teaching career having taken place in a system based on the Prussian model. Once you’re aware of what this model was designed to deliver, it’s impossible to at least consider that their might be something more relevant to modern society. I also feel that I am closer to fulfilling the role of ‘master to the apprentices’ than I am to the traditional notion of the teacher. The main principle I’ve taken from Dogme is the notion of co-creating knowledge with the learner, while the main principle I’ve taken from the Apprenticeship model is the notion of working with the learner to bring them up to an acceptable level of proficiency within, in this case, their ability to speak English. A lot of what made me skeptical about Dogme was that it was conversation driven, and also that it was a seemingly ‘all over the place’ approach to teaching. I still maintain that conversation isn’t central to my teaching philosophy, although it certainly plays a bigger role than in the past. I still see a great deal of benefit in having a syllabus and that it in fact pushes me to facilitate those moments when useful language might emerge. This is the point where I see myself more as the expert in the Apprenticeship model than the teacher in the Dogme ELT classroom. I have a pretty good idea of what they need to know, I also know they themselves might not necessarily have an idea of what they need to know, so why not let it be me who looks for the opportunities for emergent language? If and when they are able to do it… all the better!
Where might I be heading?
If you’ve in any way been able to understand the 4000-word ramble that I’ve been on today, please leave a comment. I really think that I’m on the way to absorbing the philosophy of Dogme into my syllabus-based teaching, through defining my role as the master to my apprentices. I may even, if anyone is interested, try to draw up a set of guiding principles for this. I’ve even thought of a name: Usta ELT. If you think I’m on to something here, please let me know and perhaps we can work on this together. I’d really like to explore this some more and would welcome an exchange of ideas.