The Teach-Off – the premise

Today is the day – the day of the teach-off.

What teach-off, you ask?

Following the much-talked and much-blogged about Dogme debate that ensued after the IH DOS conference in January, my DOS publicly challenged me to a Dogme versus Coursebook teach-off in a comment to a series of my Dogme blogposts.

My initial reaction was to wave it off as unscientific, seeing that different teachers would apply Dogme principles very differently to different lessons and different students, and the same could be said for coursebook-based teachers.

However, after some consideration (and egging-on from the people around me), I decided that rather than being purely a competition, we could milk this as an opportunity to develop and to challenge ourselves, to reflect and to be open to feedback and constructive criticism both from our students and from each other. It was with CPD in mind that I accepted the challenge.

So, these are the rules:

1. Over the period of a 4-week long course, I would take the 1st 2 weeks and my DOS will take the subsequent 2 weeks.

2. I am not allowed to use any course books or materials except when students bring in their own materials, or when materials are introduced in an impromptu, improvised manner, led from emergent topics and conversations in the classroom.

3. My DOS is allowed to adapt the course book materials but has to use at least 50% of what is in the course book at least 50% of the time.

4. In Week 2 of both our teaching slots, we have to spend two days doing the opposite of what we are used to, i.e. I have to teach from a course book for 2 days while she has to go Dogme for 2 days.

5. We will observe each others’ lessons (except in my Week 1, when my DOS is off on holiday).

6. We will not tell the students about the teach-off, except to say that they will be getting two teachers for the price of one. We are, however, allowed to explain to our students our methodology of teaching (if that’s what we normally do).

7. We will keep daily reflective journals that relates in detail the goings-on the classroom for that day.

8. We will have regular meetings to discuss the lessons and give each other feedback.

9. We will be teaching Pre-Intermediate (They asked me to pick a level and considering the constant criticism that Dogme cannot be used with low level classes, I went for the lowest level available)

10. My DOS will be my peer for the purpose of this experiment.

I’ll be meeting this group of new students tomorrow morning and I am nervous…very nervous…

Suddenly, I feel like I’m losing all my courage and feeling so very small…

Why have I agreed to this?

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.

41 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – the premise”

  1. He/She is cheating. 50%. So they’ll be doing Dogme for the rest then. Oh no. 100% I think is better to make it more scientific. There will be less independent variables then in his/her class. Can you video 2 examples? How about student journals? How will you evaluate it? Vocab acquisition, grammatical development, fluency?

    Also, the first teacher will lay the ground for the second. This could be good or bad. Good in that the students may get exposure and ‘woken up’ thus making the follow up course easier as it may just reinforce the first. Bad, in that the sharp change of learning environment could be a problem. How about 2 separate classes?

    Good luck Chia!!!!Oh, the joy the work at IH!!

  2. It’s a shame it’s not two separate pre-intermediate classes to allow the students and teachers the time to build up a rapport (trust is essential when learning a L2 and assuming a ‘new’ persona). But what a joy to have a boss who challenges you and then throws herself into the challenge. Have you agreed on what you do with the results? How will you analyse the feedback and what will/can it mean for your school?
    I sincerely hope you’ll film bits (both teachers) and ask the students’ permission to share some of the feedback – what a fantastic opportunity: lucky you!
    Good luck and enjoy.

  3. I understand the choice of using just the one class, but how about splitting the class instead and taking them for the whole 4 weeks?

  4. What an exciting challenge! I think it sounds like fun and from what I’ve read in your blog I don’t think you have anything to be nervous about. I look forward to reading what happens, best of luck – not that you need it. 🙂

  5. I have to echo what Chiew is saying. Try to split the class into two groups otherwise students will be quite flexible and could skew the final results. It is wonderful that you decided to chuck yourself at the deep-end. Not many teachers would be willing to do that. You might have the opportunity to learn quite a bit from observing your boss in the classroom as well. Best of luck and I look forward to hearing more about this in the future.

    1. Thanks everyone for your flood of comments! It is indeed a joy to work at a place like International House London where not only our ideas and experiments are encouraged but we are actually given opportunities to carry them out!
      One of the reasons for not splitting the same class into two is that we’d love to observe each other teach and learn from the experience. All our classes last for 4 weeks…so perhaps asking them to timetable me for a month’s worth of observations might be a little too much to ask…

      Even if we had two different groups of students, that might be a little hard ensure the levels are the same… In addition, the students will definitely be different too and that would make the experiment as empirically unsound…

  6. Good luck to you both!

    I think it’s a great thing to do and a fantastic opportunity for peer feedback and discussion and to see how other teachers work. I can understand you being nervous, though, but from what I’ve read and heard from you, Chia, I know you’ll do really well in all parts of the experiment.

    There’s never going to be an ideal way to decide who teaches which students and when. We work with people, whose learning is affected by so many factors other than the way we approach our teaching but you’ll both be aware of many of these factors and will be able to include them into your discussions and reflections. It may not be strictly ‘scientific’ (whatever that may be in language learning experiments) but I think this will be an important contribution to our understanding of teaching approaches and teacher preferences (and will hopefully help to move the debate on!)

    I also think it’s good that your DOS only has to use 50% of the coursebook. To insist on more would be unrealistic, particularly, for an experienced teacher.

    It all sounds very interesting!

    I’m very impressed!


    1. I agree with Carol – it may not be scientific (there being so many variables) but it’s a wonderful exercise in teacher development, and is sufficiently triangulated to qualify as research, even if only of the ‘action’ variety. Good luck to you!

      1. Thanks Carol and Scott for your encouragement!
        I’m looking at the potential feedback from students as substantial qualitative data. And as Carol said, it is all about continual professional development and learning from each other. I would benefit massively from watching my boss teaching and getting feedback every single day on my lessons. Teaching can be such an isolated activity where our worlds in our classrooms are often not seen by others.
        For this teach-off, we’re opening the doors of our classroom to anyone on the staff to come in and watch and offer the observer’s feedback, so in that way, we can all benefit from being open and supporting each other.

  7. Wow, Chia, Director of IH London (to not mention names), I have to say your learners are very lucky to have the opportunity to be part of such an experiment. Above all, I’m certain that they’ll receive four weeks of class A teaching, whatever the approach taken.

    Of course, my eyes lit up when I saw that you’re both going to keep reflective journals. Naturally, as it’s an idea that has helped me so much in my teaching : )

    Another point I’ve seen come up in the comments section is that people have requested that you both film some of your classes. While I think that this could prove to be useful for your evidence or research, I’m not entirely convinced of its authenticity or of its use for that matter (given the CPD scope of the experiment). What do you think? Had you considered this too?

    I’m really looking forward to hearing about this in your coming posts.

    Another thing: Chia, you’re going to rock!


    1. Thanks, Dale for your encouragement! It’s a great opportunity for reflective practice, to be honest, and I’ll certainly be blogging lots about what I cover in class everyday.
      As for videoing the lesson, Part of it might be a good example in seeing how Dogme lessons could be done, and how coursebooks could be adapted… Also, by videoing the students, we could objectively reflect on our methods and approaches…


    1. No worries about that, Naomi. : )
      We agreed that it was a developmental opportunity for all involved, and IH London has absolutely no problems with me using Dogme on a regular basis at all. After all, I also teach Business English and 1-to-1s in the Executive Centre and there are no prescribed coursebooks there…which means a very Eclectic approach- improvised or not…

  8. Interesting idea, Chia; I’ll certainly be following your blog to see what happens. Just a couple of boring admin points…
    1. Splitting the class. Although this might be desirable in research terms, as a business, any language school has to maintain a good class average. Splitting the class into two would drastically bring down overall class averages, which is, I suspect, why it’s not happening this way. (I should perhaps add here that I work for IH London!) in addition, from a timetabling perspective, splitting the class would mean our DoS would be teaching 9-12 for 4 weeks, plus we would have to ‘use’ existing standby teachers to cover said DoS and Chia to allow for the observation element. quite a strain on the system there ….
    2. Videoing the class. If you film students you need to get them to sign release forms allowing the film to be viewed, or you are un breach of data protection. We had to do this for all the videos on the Celta Online, for example. If even one student refuses, and you film without them, how do they get their class that day? It’s not really fair on them to say “go to another Mid Int class so we can film…”
    I suspect most (all?) teachers in IH London use the coursebook 50% of the time, adapting and supplementing according to the students’ needs and interests. So, for existing IH students, the DoS’s classes will be very much what they are used to. I’m very interested in how feedback will be collected and how it will be used – I hope students won’t be asked “which do you prefer?”!!

    1. Thanks so much, Maureen, for clarifying the above. Those admin points are not boring at all, and are extremely relevant!
      And yes, feedback will be collected via questionnaires…and I will try my best to avoid asking, ‘Which do you prefer?’ ; )

  9. Helloooo Chia!
    This challenge caught my eye on when Lindsay Clandfield posted on a popular social networking site that his book “‘Global’ is going head to head vs dogme”.
    I very much look forward to reading both of your journals. I would also like to make a few observations and ask some questions.

    1) Do I understand correctly that your DOS “has to use at least 50% of what is in the course book…” in two weeks? If the coursebook is “Global” I would imagine that’s a ton of material to get through in 2 weeks. I would be interested to know how many students are in this class, how often they will meet and what time of day you’ll be seeing them. Morning? Afternoon?

    2) I’d be curious to know why you decided to start the 4-week session with Dogme and then have the coursebook lessons in the second half. It would be interesting to try it the other way around.

    3) Clearly you, Chia, have both coursebook-lesson and Dogme experience. But does your DOS have both as well? It may be easier for you to slip into “coursebook mode” than for her to slip into “Dogme mode”. Is two days enough to understand the multiple layers of Dogme?

    4) Will you inform your students of what you’re doing? Could informing them ultimately affect their behavior in the classroom? Something to consider.

    5) Will you ask the students to fill out a questionnaire on the approach they liked best (important: not the *teacher* they liked best, but the approach)?

    Further research:
    1) Coursebook lessons for the first two weeks followed by two weeks of Dogme.
    2) Coursebook in the morning; Dogme in the afternoon or vice versa.
    3) Coursebook vs dogme one-to-one classes that you share.

    Looking forward to reading more about this! What a fantastic idea!

    1. Thanks for those questions, Beth!
      Allow me to clarify:

      1) We are assigned half the course book to pick from for a 4-week course. For this course book, we have been assigned the first half of Global Intermediate. Considering that that is for a 4-week course, for 2 weeks, it’d be a quarter of the book. 50% of a quarter of the book isn’t too much to get through in 2 weeks I reckon.

      The class in question is a morning class that meets everyday from 9am-12noon, Mondays to Fridays.

      2) The only reason why we started with Dogme first is because my DOS is on leave for the first week of the four. And logistically, this was the best time to do it.
      To answer this, and your last question on further research,
      I did do some action research on Dogme several years ago where I taught a class using course books for the first week, ‘light Dogme’ for the second week and then ‘pure Dogme’ for the third week. At the end, I gave the students questionnaires to ask for their opinions.
      Sorry for the shameless plug, but I detail the nature and the outcomes of the research here.

      3) My DOS doesn’t have pure Dogme experience as such, but has taught with many a ‘Dogme-moment’ in her life and is very used to departing from the course book or material she was using and ‘going with the flow’. This is why we decided that it would be fake to insist she uses the coursebook or materials 100% of the time because it just isn’t what experienced teachers do (as Carol mentioned in her comments).

      4) There will be a questionnaire for students to fill out. There’ll be more information about that on my blog, so watch this space!

      Looking forward to hearing more from you as the experiment goes on, Beth!


  10. Hi Chia,

    What a great idea and opportunity . It’s great that IH and your DoS are up for it.

    That your DoS only has to use 50% of the book only 50% of the time effectively means exposure to the book only 25% of the time. Could that be right? Surely that’s not representative of a “course book” driven lesson (or teacher).

    Bethany has also just made some great points. I’m especially looking forward to your replies to her pionts 2 and 3 above.

    It’s great that you’re going to keep a reflective journal, but have you thought of the possibility of your learners finding this blog with all of your reflections and our comments before the month is over? [doesn’t take long via Google search … err… I imagine – ahem 😉 ]
    That would surely ruin things, right? Also – if your readers and peers here comment on your reflections, that would, obviously, help your reflection and CPD, but would it present an unfair advantage over your DoS and the reflection opportunities she will have during the Teach-Off. How about not publishing your reflections until the end of the month? There are clearly pros and cons of either option. (I’m possibly playing DA here)

    How are you going to do feedback with the learners at the end of the first two weeks and at the end of the four weeks? What are you going to ask them?

    As I’ve said – and others have written here – it’s a great idea and a great opportunity for some CPD. Who knows – you may even become a course book convert! 😉


    1. Hi Mike,
      It is indeed great that my DOS is open to this and is one that loves a good challenge. The whole staffroom is buzzing with excitement about this!

      Thanks for your very relevant comments. You raise some interesting questions that got me thinking.

      I’m not too sure about your mathematics there, Mike. My DOS basically has to use at least half of the section of the coursebook allocated to her (which as you can see from my answer to Beth’s comment). And the use of this must take up at least half of the lesson. That simply means that she can adapt but not so much that she’s completely departing from the coursebook. As Carol said, this would be a better representation of what experienced teachers really do with their lessons and would be more realistic than forcing her to follow the coursebook rigidly.

      As for my learners…hmmm…That’s an interesting one.
      I have been blogging for nearly a year now, and have had the experience of my CELTA trainees and teaching training trainees google me and found my blog. But I have never had students google me and found this blog before unless I have specifically told them to (it might be because they don’t know my full name).

      Also, if they do find this blog, they would realise quickly that the posts could act as a good summary of what they had learnt that day (which is something that some of my past students have used my blogposts for), and hopefully they would also realise that their teachers are doing this because they really care about teaching and about their learning, and are doing their best to deliver the best lessons possible. Hopefully, my next blogpost about my first lesson would ease any of such worries…

      As for your next question about the unfair advantage…
      I think this experiment isn’t really done in a competitive ‘I want to win’ spirit (because if so, I’ll just go bribe my students with some cash incentives tomorrow!)…
      It’s more in the spirit of CPD…and I’m sure my DOS would agree with me on this one.
      This ‘competition’ is more or less tongue-in-cheek (although we might pretend to take it very seriously), and I believe that if peers and fellow bloggers comment on my daily posts on my lessons, it would only be as beneficial as the feedback we would give each other at the end of every day, if not more. In any case, it’ll just mean more professional development for the both of us and more to reflect upon!

      So, who knows? I might become a coursebook convert at the end of it…
      And with an amazing coursebook like Global, I might indeed conceded defeat?

      We’ll see…

      ; )


      1. Hi Chia,
        Thanks for the clarification on the 50% book usage question.
        I agree with you (and Jason below) that it’s great this isn’t a confrontational exercise, nor did I mean to imply that I had understood it to be one. I do think Christina (ilovetefl) below has also made an interesting suggestion. Why not invite your DoS to guest blog, even if only once or twice, during her two week slot. Judging by the comments and interest here so far today, I’m sure the community would be interested in also hearing how the 2nd 2weeks is going.
        Either way, happy teaching & learning to you both!

  11. Brilliant and very creative project, Chia. Congrats and good luck to you both! Will be very interested to read your updates. ELT/EFL/ELF/E-WHATEVER needs more of this kind of open exchange of experiences.

    1. Thanks, Ian!
      I have only my DoS and International House London to thank for such cutting edge thinking!
      Such open exchanges are indeed what we all need…
      So to all the teachers who are adverse to being observed or feel sensitive about constructive criticism…here we go with Open Doors!

  12. Very interesting project indeed! It’s very encouraging to see that there are companies and DOS out there that encourage this kind of thing. If only they all could be like that! EFL worldwide would be kicked up more than a few notches!

    I will also be looking forward to reading your reflections, but I have to agree with Mike that your having access to comments from great, dedicated teachers around the world might give you an unfair advantage over the “opponent.” Perhaps s/he could guest post on your blog so that both of you could get feedback as the experiment progresses. Otherwise, maybe it would be a good idea to hold off on publishing until the experiment is finished, just to be fair.

    Also re: Bethany’s point number 2 about the length (but is it 2 days or 2 full weeks?) Maybe neither one is long enough to fully understand the complexities and innumberable possibilities of what can go on in a dogme lesson, but it can give us some insight. I’ve been carrying out a semester of experimental dogme teaching (and blogging what’s gone on in the lessons at and have found that even a whole semester of 24 contact hours is leaving me with lots of questions to explore!

    Your set up–dogme vs coursebook–is particularly interesting, but are you out to prove that one is better than the other? How about how they can compliment each other for a varied approach? But I guess that’s what will come out of the experiment.

    Good luck with it! This’ll be a great adventure to follow!

    1. Thanks for your comments! They are very useful and thought-provoking.

      I hope my answers to Beth and Mike’s questions suffice to answer yours.

      I suppose we’re not really out to prove anything…but more out to find ways of improving and developing ourselves in view of our students’ needs and wants.

      It would be a great adventure indeed and I certainly am honoured that you’ll be following it!



  13. I love the sound of this Chia.

    The way you’ve arranged it with your DOS, it’s not so much a teach ‘off’ as a ‘teach in’…

    If the objective is to reflect and learn from each other’s approaches and experiences, then I think the approach you have here is as ‘scientific’ as it needs to be. I like the fact it isn’t an either/or proposition, nor a confrontational sort of exercise.

    What I’m expecting is that the learners will actually like the use of both approaches together and the skill/rapport of the teacher will come up more than any respective approach.

    Can’t wait to see the results!

    – Jason

    1. Thanks, Jason! You are absolutely right! It is more in the spirit of professional development than competition that we are doing this…That’s what makes it so exciting for me, and that is what makes it so amazing to being part of the teaching staff at IH London!

  14. Good luck, Chia!

    I believe that if we don’t challenge ourselves to do what we love, Life itself would choose a challenge for us. I hope you’ll thoroughly enjoy the project and your students will definitely benefit form it! You’re great!

    Loooking forward to reading your posts!

    Good luck with your leap of faith!


    1. Thanks Alex for your comments!
      Isn’t it wonderful that we have a job that we love with such passion? I cannot even begin to express how honoured I am to be able to be part of such an experiment and such a developmental opportunity!

      Who was it who once said, ‘If your job is your hobby, you’ll never have to work a day of your life!’

  15. Dear Chia,

    It was really interesting to read about the teach-off. Thank you for making it available for everybody. I’ve learned a lot from the teach-off and from other posts in your blog.
    There are however certain question I’d like to ask and certain comments I’d like to make about dogme approach as an advanced learner and beginner teacher.

    1) I was surprised with the rule:
    I am not allowed to use any course books or materials except when students bring in their own materials, or when materials are introduced in an impromptu, improvised manner, led from emergent topics and conversations in the classroom.

    Do you usually make it clear for the students that they can bring in their own materials? Do you encourage them to?
    I’ll explain the issue.
    I was in London in 2010 and attended classes in Frances King School. I was completely disappointed with the classes.
    – it was mostly chatting about “What did you do yesterday?”, “Where would you like to go in London?” and I wasn’t interested and involved at all. Was it dogme or bad lessons?

    If I knew that we were free to bring in any materials I would have overloaded the class with it. (The news articles I didn’t fully understand, language items from the book I was reading at the time and so on.)

    2) as far as I understand, some teachers say that dogme can’t be applied to low-level classes

    Are there those who mention the difficulties you encounter in advanced-level class?

    3) speaking about student-oriented classroom

    My weakest point is writing, especially formal writing. How would you tackle it in a dogme classroom? How would you even learn that I need it?

    Hope that you’ll find my questions interesting to answer and that I don’t bother you too much.

    Best regards

    1. Dear Mayya,
      Thanks for taking time to comment. I hope I can answer your questions satisfactorily.

      The rule that you are not allowed to use any course books refers to a pure Dogme lesson. And as we were doing a Teach-Off where one of us was doing Dogme and the other coursebooks, we made the two different approaches radically different so that students were then able to be surveyed on their perceptions after the course.
      However, in my real life Dogme classes, I do supplement it with authentic materials and sometimes, if a topic comes up, I do use Youtube videos etc as listening activites or to set tasks.
      At the end of the day, real Dogme is about being ‘materials-light’ and not ‘materials-less’, because the point of it all is to not get overdependent on materials and turn it into a materials-centred classroom. Dogme isn’t Dogmatic.

      However, if you’re intending to experiment with it, why not try pure Dogme for one day just to see how far you can take it?

      As for your bad experience with chatting about ‘What did you do yesterday?’, I suppose Dogme is supposed to take the learners’ interests (and needs) into account…and since you were chatting about things you felt were boring and weren’t particularly interested in, maybe it was simply insensitive teaching? After all, like with any approach, it can be applied badly or well…

      In terms of bringing in your own materials, I sometimes encourage students to bring in songs or videoclips that they like, but usually, I get them to bring in newspaper or magazine articles. We set a schedule so that one student brings one in one day, and another student the next. I photocopy their article for the rest of the class and we read it as homework. Then the next day, we discuss it.

      Regarding your second question, I think Dogme can be applied at any level, as long as you tailor it to suit the needs and interests of your students.

      And your last question: I would know what you need or want because I would always do a needs analysis on the first day of the lesson.
      Have a look at this post to know more about it.

      Hope this helps.


      1. Dear Chia,

        Thank you for the answer. Now I see that the requirement about materials was just an experiment but not usual practice.

        Perhaps I sound a bit naive, but please take into account that I’m at the very beginning of my teaching career.

        I’m reading your blog in reverse, so I haven’t reached the other posts about dogme yet. But I soon will.


        1. No problem, Mayya,
          Ask away! That’s what web2.0 is all about…the ability to have a dialogue about different things…
          Hope you enjoy the accounts in the Teach-off…and that you’d find them helpful.


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