teaching unplugged – in brief

Archive for April, 2010

Blue skies from now on?

Well, that was the week that was – and wasn’t. Flights were grounded, face-to-face conference presenters were at a premium and Scott Thornbury found himself impersonating Jeremy Harmer.

It was an odd time generally: were we experiencing a blip in the steady march of Progress, or a taste of things to come? Blue skies, an eerie hush – and a vision of life without cheap air travel.

It’s an ill wind (or volcano) that blows nobody any good, and Lonely Planet offered its City Guide apps for free. Nice if you were stuck in one of the cities in question, tantalising if you couldn’t get there. Sadly for onefortywords, there was no free guide to neighbouring Croydon.

I hope you enjoy this week’s posts on dogme at Harrogate, urban space, music on Twitter and information overload – look forward to your comments!


Dogme at (20)10

If IATEFL 2010 marked a tipping point for technology in the classroom, it also coincided with the 10th anniversary of dogme ELT – and featured a number of related talks, prompting Scott Thornbury to reflect that dogme is ‘self-propagating’.

I couldn’t see them all live, but thanks to Harrogate Online I was able to catch up with Chia Suan Chong’s excellent talk on Improvised Principled Eclecticism, in which she reported on a classroom-based dogme research project.

Sustainability is key to any serious teaching approach, so action research of this sort is important: dogme is only tangentially about magic moments, and much more to do with the extended interplay between conversation and a responsive focus on form.

As Chia acknowledged, maintaining this flow can be demanding. But as her learner feedback indicates, it can also make classes motivating and language memorable.

Beyond onefortywords…

Lindsay Clandfield posted this great mash-up of Avatar and ELT last week. An alien people with a firm grasp of dogme principles – now that’s what I call normalisation!

The space race

Kieran Long’s Evening Standard piece on the newly listed buildings of London’s Brixton Market struck an immediate chord (listing buildings in Britain makes it harder for developers to spoil them).

The buildings of Brixton Market are awkward, idiomatic, the wrong shape for modern retail. But public spaces, Long argues, ‘should lead people to discover things about their town, allow the city to speak.’ He contrasts this with the ubiquitous shopping mall, which is ‘more about choreographing our experience of the city.’

The analogy with teaching is irresistible: it’s easy to ‘choreograph’ our classes too much, whatever tools we have at our disposal. Publishers, like developers, have an interest in monetising (classroom) space – and as teachers we should resist this. We can do so by managing lessons that lead people to discover things about language, by allowing them to speak.

Beyond onefortywords…

For another take on space, check out Rob Jacob’s post on Teaching In The White Spaces – thanks to Chris Cattaneo for tweeting this.

Trippin’ on blip

Ten days ago I finally dived into #nightshift on Twitter (the nightshift hashtags tend to appear at dusk, like swallows). I was coaxed into setting up an account at, and immediately found myself listening to music I love. It was good to sidestep my obsession with Finnish composers and revisit some Gillian Welch and Northern Soul.

#nightshift is a nice example of the ‘long tail’ – niche content sustained by online enthusiasts. Lady Ga Ga can look after herself, but when a shared admiration for Alela Diane put me in touch with Laura Ponting in Vietnam, Laura responded: ‘Oh my – didn’t know anyone else in the world knew her’.

I was reflecting on the need to start a scrapbook of online learning sources and references from the internet – turns out does just that for online music. Thanks, nightshifters.

In the i of the Storm

Sometimes my mind feels like Google – without the search engine. Trying to make sense of a week’s thoughts for the blog, I find myself looking frantically in books for things I read online, and searching a thousand tweets for a link to something I read in a book.

How to make sense of all this information, all this interconnectedness? The more I use Twitter for professional development, the louder the buzzing of my mind at night, humming and murmuring, clicking like tram lines in the city.

I guess we need to be able to say: enough. One blog piece that sticks, a couple of tweets that really connect: these are riches enough for a single day.

Note to self: start a scrapbook, and learn to relax.

Teacher Training Unplugged

After reading Anthony Gaughan and Izzy Orde’s blog posts, Scott and myself were really looking forward to their IATEFL talk, and it didn’t disappoint.

Dramatising key moments in dialogue form, they explained how and why they rewrote a successful CELTA course to reflect dogme principles.

Their story was an object lesson in having the courage of one’s convictions. It helps when the institution you work for is understanding; it helps when the team is small. But it takes real nerve to put your work on the line, real determination to realise the possibilities and convince the assessors.

When Tessa Woodward talked about teachers tweaking their classroom practice, she didn’t mention the half of it: these guys tore up the template and rewrote the book in two hours, with nothing but tea to keep them going. I bet it wasn’t herbal.

Tea-chno tea-chno tea-chno

What’s the connection between Graham Stanley’s talk on Twitter and Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate? A long queue last Thursday, that’s what. I don’t know if this says more about trending or blending, but I couldn’t get into either.

I had a techno kind of day on Thursday, enjoying talks by Nicky Hockly, Gavin Dudeney and Burcu Akyol, followed by an inspiring workshop on Teacher Training Unplugged. Contradiction? I don’t think so. Along with the first tasty days of spring, there was a palpable sense of rapprochement in the air.

I’ve already suggested that dogme can represent a critical lens for the use of technology in the classroom, but it’s clear that – as bottom-up phenomena – dogme and 2.0 can, do and where possible should work together. More to say on this, but bottoms up for now.