IH DOS Conference, 2012


Reproduced with permission of International House World Organisation

Anyone following the #ihdos hashtag and any member of my PLN would tell you, I was tweeting non-stop at the IH DOS conference last week, so much so that I was later asked the question, ‘When you tweet, do you miss things that are being said?’

My answer was a confident ‘no’. In fact, when I tweet, I find myself paying more attention to what the presenter’s are saying. It’s almost like the tweeting gives me a motivation to really understand and summarise the speaker’s message. Tweeting, to me, is like taking notes – taking notes in the form of tweets – notes that I can then look back on several days after the conference and write a reflective blogppost about – a reflective blogpost like this one.

The conference started off with an encouraging and bonding talk by Lucy Horsefield and Monica Green about the core values of the IH brand and what we stand for, while Sophie Montagne introduced the very eye-catching IHWO website and announced IH Prague’s role in hosting this year’s YL conference. Shaun Wilden then continued to fly the IH flag, talking about the IH World Assessment unit, outlining a continual professional development scheme for IH teachers, including the blog ihteachers.com that could allow us to collaborate and get together in a way we’ve never been able to, and reminding us of the impending pub quiz the following evening.

After a much needed coffee break that saw old friends saying hello and new introductions being made, Neil McMahon was streamed into the conference room live from Argentina using the impressive Blackboard software. As Neil briefed us on the different IHWO resources available this year, such as the up and coming IH Live online workshops planned for March and November, the IH Language Rainbow, and IH teacher liaisors to facilitate teacher collaboration, Shaun deftly multi-tasks and ensures the smooth and successful video streaming with skills of an IT guru.

Reproduced with the permission of International House World Organisation

Following up on Neil’s talk about teaching resources, Trevor Udberg (IH Newcastle) shares his project, the IH Platform with great passion and finesse, encouraging schools and teachers to make use of online blogs to create a sharing philosophy. Outlining the advantages of sharing, Trevor states that sharing allows us to create a sense of belonging, to show off the great work our teachers are producing, to cherry pick from a wider range of resources, and help smaller schools to benefit. While acknowledging the fact that some teachers might be saving their materials in hope of a future publication, in a digital age where blogging and tweeting is becoming commonplace, Trevor has hit the nail on the head when he says that sharing can conversely help promote your work and get you that publishing deal you are waiting for.  A motto that is definitely worth repeating outside of the IH schools : Let’s Share!

From this point on, the conference branched out of IHWO-relevant topics into broader themes of interest to most TEFL teachers. One key track on the conference was the focus on the use of social networks and technology, starting with Shaun Wilden’s very energetic presentation. While providing a useful overview of what Twitter is, how it works, and what it can do for a teacher’s continual professional development, Shaun’s talk lived up to its title ‘What has #hashtagging ever done for us?’ by exemplifying the uses and advantages of hashtagging with the award-winning #ELTchat, Dave Dodgson’s blog challenge, and the international success of the recent TESOL France organized by Bethany Cagnol.

The talk was echoed and expanded upon by Emma Cresswell (IH San Isidro) who systematically looked at the pros and cons of using social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn both for use in the classroom with learners and as a marketing and publicity tool for the school to target potential students and maintain existing ones. Giving examples that ranged from using games on Facebook to motivate students to using social media to keep in touch with students, to share information and  to open up channels of communication between students outside the classroom, Emma clearly convinced some of the DOSes in the room to consider the usefulness of social networking on digital media.

In a plenary talk the following day, Nicky Hockly debunks the myth of the digital natives in the most creative way by getting the audience to consider the tree octopus, successfully rallying support for saving it from extinction, only to reveal that a closer genre analysis of the ‘Save the Tree Octopus’ website shows it up to be false, much to most of our disappointment (I was ready to download that tree octopus ribbon and put it up on my blog!). Pointing out that our younger students, despite being labeled ‘digital native’, still need to be taught how to deal with media literacy, Nicky provides ways of conceptualizing digital literacies based on Mark Pegrum’s categories, focusing on language, information, design and connections.

Nicky then goes on to share some exciting ideas of using literal videos like the Harry Potter trailer together with the online subtitling tools such as overstream.net to help students create stories and have fun with putting words to scenes from foreign films like the Downfall.

Another thread that took on more significance as the conference progressed, attracted the attention of teachers following the conference on Twitter and has seemed to acquired a life of its own in Blogosphere after the conference ended is the Dogme versus Coursebook debate. Alastair Grant kicks off the debate on Day One of the conference with his talk ‘Dogme Teaching in your institute’, providing a useful definition of Dogme, outlining the three principles of Dogme (materials light, conversation driven, emergent language) and showing that the collocation ‘a Dogme Syllabus’ does not have to be an oxymoron, while describing how he implements Dogme with his class over a whole term.

Starting with what Alastair called ‘Pedagogical Foreplay’ (and the rest of the ELT world calls a Needs Analysis), he uses a questionnaire at the beginning of his course to focus his students on their goals, their interests and the things that they can bring to the classroom. Convincingly demonstrating how listening, writing and reading skills can still receive their deserved focus by getting students to bring in texts, songs, genres which they are interested in and would like to work on, Alastair shows the audience a bingo-style grammar syllabus which he ticks off as each topic/language item is uncovered in a Dogme lesson. In order to add structure to the lessons, Alastair emphasizes the importance of getting students to keep lesson diaries – a written record of everything covered in the classroom. Result? Increased student motivation, a keenness for students to speak more, making the students integral to the construction of the course, a higher attendance rate, and higher levels of excitement all round!

The following morning featured the debate everyone had been waiting for, the Dogme battle where Jeremy Harmer and Luke Meddings went head to head, while the entire Twitter community held their breaths and tweeted madly (Okay, that was really mostly my Dogme PLNers…but there were still quite a lot of tweets!)

Jeremy starts off by comparing language learning to the decontextualized rote learning of music and begins to deconstruct each of the three ‘pillars’ of Dogme (Hey, we did have 10 vows of chastity before…so going down to 3 only demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of Dogmeticians!). First, Jeremy asks if coursebook-based lessons could be conversation-driven too, then  proceeds to question if conversation-driven lessons are necessarily better, stating that Dogme perhaps neglects learners who are not people-smart and do not function well in interactions, preferring to get their knowledge in other ways. Just like the fact that some people actually do like packaged holidays, Jeremy compares that to people who do like coursebooks, and claims that some of the stuff found in coursebooks can actually be very interesting.

Jeremy then goes on to agree with that Dogme moments where teachers work with what students want to talk about can constitute good teaching, but asks the all important question: What if language does not emerge?

(As a Dogmetician, I worry that the term ‘emergent language’ might have been misunderstood here. Perhaps there is a need to define emergent language further here. I doubt if we are referring to the procedural knowledge students have or the language that is ready to be proceduralised in the minds of the learners. We are referring the output that students produce, within which there is always incidental language we can work with, providing the output + 1 or O+1…sorry, Krashen).

This all led to a mad flurry on Twitter, with tweets such as, ‘It’s not Dogme, it’s what teachers have always done,’ and ‘what if we just call Dogme good teaching?’  and a comment that some Dogmeticians are rather evangelical…

(Yeah, coz if you ain’t doin Dogme-style, you ain’t teachin! Hallelujah!)

Luke Meddings enters the boxing ring straight after Jeremy, highlighting the importance of motivation and relevance for language learning, reminding us that there are teachers out there who do not necessarily adapt the coursebooks and use them in a personalized way, teachers who use materials that aren’t even engaging them, teachers who do stuff just because it’s in the book.

Equating grammar exercises and countless gap-fills to slapping on too much Coleman’s mustard and never using all of it, Luke tells of Dale Coulter’s anecdote of his student, an education specialist, who flicked through the coursebook and said, ‘This is a linear syllabus disguised as a series of thematic units. But that’s not how the brain works!’ Funny how we can wax lyrical about how language learning is not linear and preach Krashen’s i + 1 and SLA theories about interaction and meaning negotiation for decades, yet still resist the idea that grammar/chapter McNuggets of coursebooks might not be the way to go.

Luke emphasizes that our students are coming to us with their English which we should be working with, and not for our English, and that materials-light therefore enables teachers to approach the class in a top-down rather than bottom-up fashion. Dogme lessons are therefore not one-off lessons that constitutes of the teacher winging it because they couldn’t be bothered to spend time pre-planning, but requires teachers to rigorously react on the spot, focusing on grammar, doing little drills and offering practice of a language point that has emerged. The time spent on pre-planning is instead used on post-teaching reflection which not only allows the teacher to evaluate what and how the emergent language has been focused on and the skills that has been practised, but also provides the teacher with opportunities to consider how they would review, recycle and reinforce what they have covered in the following lessons, providing for continuity throughout the course.

While maintaining that unplugging your lesson does not necessarily mean pulling the plug right out and that the amount to which you ‘unplug’ could be varied, the focus is on removing restrictions and being independent, creative and truly communicative.

Using the rule ‘Play Pause Play’ (another definition of PPP?), Luke shows how Dogme can also cater to the Ectenic learners who like systematicity and control of their learning by directing the focus on the emergent language in the ‘Pause’ stage of the lesson, while still providing for the Synoptic learners who prefer to go with the flow and just focus on fluency through the ‘Play’ parts of the lesson.

The success of this debate can be clearly seen by the fact that countless blogposts have been written since the conference discussing unplugged teaching. See below for some of them.






So, would anyone still think that I don’t pay attention when I tweet during conferences? ; )

Emma, Danny, Estelle, Luke, Alastair and myself - formidable Dogme pub quizzers

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

20 thoughts on “IH DOS Conference, 2012”

  1. This was a really nice post and I’m glad that people are embracing the notion that learners can have a lot of say in how lessons and indeed courses evolve. Nevertheless, statements like ‘if you ain’t doin Dogme-style, you ain’t teachin’ fill me with dread. Perhaps I’m reading too much into that parenthesized comment 😉

    As you yourself state here, a lot of your twitter posse share your views on dogme. There is always a danger in surrounding yourself with people who think like you, in that other perspectives can seem less valid and more opposed to yours than they really are. This worries me greatly, especially as I see it a lot where dogme is concerned. Jeremy Harmer has so much to say that’s worth listening to and it seems sad that he came over as the opposition to this *whiter than white* version of things which a lot of dogmetistas would have us believe dogme represents.

    While I maintain the dogmetic view that many coursebooks are simply woefully inadequate, I would suggest that a good coursebook can do wonders for many a classroom. Finding that good coursebook is by no means an easy task, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Please, please, please let’s not fall into this dogme trap of totally denouncing all coursebooks: they’re not all the same.

    I’m particularly happy that the notion of reflective practice is becoming more prominent, as I feel that any longitudinal approach to dogmetic teaching will require precisely what you mention here. I also like the fact that it can even draw from teaching philosophies such as PPP. I think that there is some validity in examining all methodologies when adopting dogme.

    Oh, as far as the tweeting while conferencing goes, I find that it really helps you to focus on the essence of what the speaker is saying. If you have to summarize five minute’s worth of talk in 140 characters, you’ve got to be paying attention.

    1. Thank you, Adam, for your very constructive comments and your fair take on the Dogme debate.
      Yes, the ‘If you ain’t doing Dogme-style, you ain’t teaching’ comment was indeed meant to be ironic and taken tongue-in-cheek (seeing that it follows the comment that some say Dogme is evangelical, and precedes the big ‘Hallelujah’!)

      I do think it is sad that perhaps Dogmeticians have been seen by some as preachy and coming across as ‘holier than thou’.
      Dogme does not mean dissing all course books and all materials…’materials-light’ isn’t quite the same as ‘materials-less’.
      As you said, not all course books are the same…

      Having said that, I’d much prefer if publishers start producing resource books and resource packs that contain materials we can dip into and pick and choose from as the need arises…
      And if the oxymoron ‘a Dogme Coursebook’ exists, I believe that is what it would look like – a resource book with plenty of activities, lesson starters, conversation gambits and tasks that could be used as and when the need arises.

      That said, I think rather than preaching a pure version of Dogme, what I often would like is for teachers who rely heavily on material to just give Dogme a try and feel empowered by it. Like Luke said during the conference, Dogme is not held up to be ‘better’ than other approaches…
      I think it is perhaps giving the communicative approach a fresh lick of paint?

      In my opinion, Dogme is not Dogmatic…
      But somehow people seem to think it is…Why?

      1. ‘I think it is perhaps giving the communicative approach a fresh lick of paint?’

        I commented on Jemma Gardner’s blog the other day that dogme is like approaching methodologies with ‘rose-tinted glasses’. What I meant by this was that it should – and I believe does – put the most positive slant on what methods such as TBL try to achieve. I realized afterward that this could be misconstrued as me suggesting that dogme puts an unrealistic spin on what we do in class. Consequently, I much prefer your lick of paint metaphor!

  2. I’ll echo Adam’s comment, it was a nice post, and sums up really well the Conference. Thank you for your flattering write up of my talk!
    It was only after the conference that I was able to catch up on all your Twitterage… I’m still impressed, and even more determined to bring a smartphone back to Argentina with me!
    Liking the pic btw =)

  3. Hi Chia,
    Just like to echo the applause for your excellent summary of the DoS conference and makes me wish all the more I’d been there. I also really like your lick of paint metaphor, it sits much better than some others more extravagant claims which answer your question about why Dogme seems dogmatic.

    Now if someone could just blog summarise the pub quiz and the nights in the pub I really would feel like I’d been there…

  4. Thanks for this Chia, a lovely write-up following that great Twitterage 😉

    Looking back, I think there was a lot in Jeremy’s talk I didn’t have time to engage with, though I hope I addressed many of his key points. For example his music analogy is very interesting and worthy of further examination – though I tend not to agree with it.

    I think your point about emergent language is a really good one: ‘I doubt if we are referring to the procedural knowledge students have or the language that is ready to be proceduralised in the minds of the learners. We are referring the output that students produce, within which there is always incidental language we can work with, providing the output + 1 or O+1… ‘

    If we return to our PPP mash-up (I hadn’t thought of that!), I guess there is the emergent language that comes from the Play, which we then try and shape into procedural knowledge in the Pause? In the hope, and of course there is consonance with TBL here, that it may re-emerge in better shape during the next Play?

    Scott has some fascinating new thoughts on emergence, which he posted on Jemma’s blog here http://unpluggedreflections.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/a-rose-by-any-other-name/#comment-226

    I think dogme is more than a lick of paint for CLT, though (I know, I would do). Something I meant to say last Friday, but didn’t, is that it has always seemed to me an example of convergent thinking in which a number of ideas from inside and outside education are shaped for today’s ELT context. And it’s still being shaped, in places like your blog, even as it shapes classroom practice. A shaped and shaping thing.. I realise that I actually do remember what I read, because I’m echoing a passage in a book that Willy put me onto, called ‘Complexity in Education’ (Davis and Sumara, Routledge, 2006) which describes a learner as a ‘structuring structured structure’. I’m afraid that I couldn’t help thinking of a brassière as I tried to make sense of a structuring structured structure, but I quite like the echo. A shaped and shaping thing.. that’s dogme for me.

    Nice to have a souvenir of the (almost) successful quiz team! My lawyers are onto those videos 😉

    1. Thanks, Luke, for your lovely compliments and for your detailed comment regarding the Dogme debate. In IH London, it has now been dubbed ‘the Coursebook Controversy’ and we’re actually doing a TD session on it next week. Meanwhile, a poll is being taken amongst IHL teachers as to how much of the coursebook they actually use.

      Dogme, of course, isn’t just simply CLT. But I do find that some teachers who claim they are using the communicative approach, or even seem to know the SLA theories and non-linear nature of language learning, seem to still subscribe to the ‘Now we’ve done the past simple, let’s move on to the present perfect’ mentality, treating language (especially grammar) as ‘to do lists’ that once done, students ought to be able to produce. I believe Dogme pushes teachers to remember what the communicative approach is about all over again. It forces teachers to question their beliefs about language learning and how these beliefs translate into their everyday teaching.

      Despite the brutal crucification of the original PPP (Present, Practice, Produce) for apparently indicating an expectation of students’ production ability due to the unfortunate labelling of the 3rd P (although in my opinion, this could be a misrepresentation of PPP in order for someone to promote their new acronym), many teachers still find it easier to treat each grammar unit/point in an isolated fashion and providing controlled practice in a way that suggest that language can be learnt by rote repetition.

      I am in no way against rote learning or behaviourist methodologies. I have after all written a post in support of Behaviourism.

      But rote learning techniques should be one of the many ‘tricks’ or ‘techniques’ that are in the toolbox of the Dogme teacher to be implemented when necessary and appropriate. It should not be the only tool. And it should not suggest that behaviourism and imitation is the only way to learn languages.

      That’s where I think Jeremy’s music analogy kind of becomes less apt. I play the piano, and a lot of it requires repeated practice so as to get the muscles to remember the movements. Repeated rote learning is the only way to go when learning a piece of music.

      SLA is different. Interaction, feedback to experimentation, self-correction, meaning negotiation, all play an important part to learning to speak a language. Simply receiving information about the language and talking about language is not enough.
      Many of us know that, but how much does it translate into our teaching?

      Meanwhile, how much are your lawyers willing to pay me to not release those vids? ; )

  5. Hi Chia

    Likewise thanks for tweeting about the conference and your fabulous summary of it on your blog. Really felt like I was there and learning so much about all – thanks to all this. Big stuff.

  6. Hi Chia – very helpful summaries for people who should’ve been there (yes, Neil… http://amuseamuses.wordpress.com/) but who after this, will clearly think about EVER missing such an even again!

    I think where the Dogme debate has come to is the idea that certain people (like Jeremy?) have taken it into their heads that Dogme is seen as the only alternative to traditional CLT.

    Well… it IS pretty damn good one! I’ll be mentioning this on Jeremy’s blog soon. What does bother me is what I mentioned on my blog about Dogme a while ago – it is far easier to criticise something, than to see of something works in practice. I feel myself to be in the position of knowing first hand that Dogme teaching not only works but can work as a course for students over an academic year.

    One of the best parts of the DoS conference for me was the opportunity to be with such like minded passionate people and to feel part of something that was helping change peoples’ lives.

    Truly the IHWO core value of changing lives starts somewhere like this!

    1. Thanks Alastair!
      Noticed you have included some very strong debates in your blogpost from a man who has actually run a whole course with a Dogme Syllabus!


      Definitely was great to be amongst like-minded people at the DOS conference, but also good to be challenged and to have our thoughts provoked…leading to more and more blogposts still discussing the subject a week after the conference. Amazing!

      Hope to read more wonderful posts from you, Alastair!

  7. Hi Chia,

    It was nice to discover this post a month after the event (I don’t know how I missed it earlier?). It’s brought it all back. That wonderful feeling I had when I went home from the DOS conference full of ideas and enthusiasm and my crazy ideas to write a blog post about ‘puppyme’ (Dale helped me with this cool name. Thanks DALE). One of these days…one day…this previously anti-dogme person (who had a change of heart after seeing you lot in action) will get around to writing about dogme in the YL classroom. Promise!

    I aprreciate the likes of you who do get around to writing great posts for the rest of us procrastinators to enjoy 🙂

    Thanks Chia!


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