teaching unplugged – in brief

Archive for July, 2010

Welcome back

This blog has been on hold for some time, while the family cared for and at length said goodbye to my mother, Pauline. I’m proud to pay tribute to her influence here, whilst also sharing some breaking news from the world of ‘dogme’ (you’ll see the reason for the inverted commas) and inviting you to contribute to a onefortywords Special.

Finally, there’s a long overdue shout-out to Mark Andrews and his Classrooms on the Danube blog. I’ve realised how hard it is to get back on the roundabout of blogging once you’ve stepped off for any reason – all the more reason to appreciate him and all the other indefatigable bloggers of ELT.

As always, you can read the new stuff by scrolling down this column, and use category headings to search the archives, and comment at will. Welcome back!


On noticing

Mum was a teacher all her working life, and her varied career ranged from voice training at Central School of Speech and Drama to remedial English in secondary education.

I only recently learned that her first teaching experience, in London in the 1950s, was in ESOL. Recalling an occasion when only a few students turned up and class was cancelled, she described how her delight at the thought of an evening off turned to sadness when she noticed an elderly Egyptian man walking away in disappointment. She said she never forgot it.

I wonder whether, if she hadn’t noticed, she would have gone on to become a teacher? Or whether her orientation towards teaching led her to notice?

Either way, this kind of noticing is just as important as the language kind.

Who are you?

I once spent a day at mum’s secondary school when I was on half term. When a girl came up and asked: ‘Who are you?’, I said cautiously that I was Mrs Meddings’s son. ‘You poor sod’, she replied.

Mum was passionate about education, from its capacity to train the mind and liberate the heart to its role in social mobility; from the value of the arts to the iniquity of SATS.

Teaching does seem to run in families, almost in spite of ourselves. Scott dedicated Teaching Unplugged to the memory of his grandfather, also a teacher. I had to word my dedication carefully – dad had died four years before, and mum was already ill – so I dedicated it to ‘two lovers of language’. I’m so glad she lived to see it.

And I never felt like a poor sod.

Photo: Richard Swales


One of the great mysteries of ELT has been solved: not why so many units of self-study grammar books remain untouched, nor even why the photocopier always breaks down five minutes before class, but how one should pronounce ‘dogme’.

Many have tried – variations have included /dog-ma/ with a second syllable schwa, and /dog-mee/. But few, it turns out following a live link-up to Scott in New York*, have succeeded. It transpires that the correct Danish pronunciation is closer to /dough-ma/, with light stress on the first syllable, the merest hint of a ‘g’, and a gently rising schwa to follow.

Our thanks to Sussi Lassen for this very welcome information – the word has a rather lovely lilt to it, and we now have a whole new way to confuse the world’s assessors! ‘Was that a dogme lesson?’ ‘Well, actually – doughma.’

*OK, Skype

onefortywords Special!

At IATEFL Harrogate, 10 years on from the start of the dogme ELT group, Scott was asked by Peter Fenton where he thought dogme might be in ten years’ time. I’m curious to know what other people think, and would like to invite 140 word contributions to a onefortywords Special on ‘Dogme – the next decade’. If you’re interested, please e-mail your submissions to by 31st July.

Flow river flow

Many weeks ago I was touched by a tweet from Mark Andrews, and reminded of a song that somehow fits his searching, life-affirming blog: Sandy Denny singing Ballad of the Easy Rider, her voice like air: ‘The river flows, it flows to the sea, wherever that river goes, that’s where I want to be.’

I googled Sandy and discovered she was born down the road at the South London hospital we took our daughter to when she was tiny – while the cover for Unhalfbricking was shot in a Wimbledon road I used to know.

Rivers flow through our lives in different ways, taking us to new places and reconnecting us with our past. Mark’s unique blog is its own kind of river, and it was his tribute to his dad that encouraged me to talk about my mum here.

Beyond onefortywords: Fairport Convention, feat. Sandy Denny, performing Roger McGuinn’s Ballad of the Easy Rider