“Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?”…

…Anthony Gaughan asked, in this fascinating post (back in January) on his blog, here: http://teachertrainingunplugged.com/where-are-all-the-unplugged-teacher-trainers 

It’s an excellent post and the comment thread it sparked off, too, is full of engaged and engaging discussion. Back in February (as I was just beginning to getting ready to start my CELTA trainer-in-training program) I added a comment of my own. Either I killed the chat with my horrible writing and bad ideas or (maybe more likely?), because it’s not a particularly active blog anymore, I simply missed the part. In any event, I just remembered it and thought I’d post it here. Please go read Anthony’s original post along with the comment thread if this is something that interests you like it does me. And feel free to comment on my comment below! This is definitely a topic I’ll want to explore a lot more in the future…


I’m not at all sure I’ll have anything substantial to contribute to this marvelous comment thread full of people far more intelligent and knowledgeable than me, but I’ll go ahead and add what I’ve got to the pile regardless. If I have no answers, I certainly have questions a’ plenty – so hopefully these might add to the discussion in some way.

I guess I’d start by asking: what IS an “unplugged teacher trainer”? Most input sessions on a course like the CELTA are supposed to be designed and delivered with the notion of ‘the medium is the message’ in mind, right? That is, ideally they are able to experientially demonstrate the same approaches and techniques that are described therein (in that very input session or from the overarching methods taught on the course, etc). So you might have a input session on teaching grammar using a ‘guided discovery’ model. Or you’ll employ the TPR techniques from yesterday’s discussion when introducing the trainees to pronunciation and the IPA.

So, first question(s): is the “unplugged teacher trainer” a trainer who takes a ‘dogme approach’ (as in conversation-driven, materials-light, focused on emergent language – or here perhaps language –> process perception? teacher knowledge?) to training tasks? Or, is the “unplugged teacher trainer” a trainer who ‘teaches dogme’ along with or even instead of something else? Or – considering the above, how content and technique merge in the training room – both, in whatever proportion?

Or in imagining the ‘unplugged teacher trainer’ should we imagine a person unplugged, like the unplugged teacher, from dependency-inducing materials…but also ‘unplugged from’ various other conventional notions that inform and yet limit teacher education? If so, what specifically is the unplugged teacher trainer unplugged from? And to? What should/could really, really change about TT?

Having put that sort of fundamental (maybe obtuse?) cluster of questions out there as an initial response, now, before my wife forces me off the computer and into the kitchen (I ‘Help’, that is all), a couple other bits and pieces that come to mind – sort of shrapnel I’m just lobbing into the dialogue for potential spark-value:

A – perhaps it should be no surprise at all if the dogme approach takes a long time to take a conspicuous place in teacher training if we consider the nature of the TT course as necessarily (?) conservative (do we?/should we? <–maybe that’s the point) along with the (debatably, yes) ‘radical’ (or radically simple) nature of dogme.

Is dogme in some way seen as too potentially ‘viral’ as a major element of a course that also includes many other more conventional ideas in the direction of which dogme might seem to be pointing a sharp object?

B – re: what folks are saying (and most often say, it seems) about ‘dogme as the experienced teachers’ M.O.’ goes down so smooth, even if glib sometimes (well put, Elizabeth!) because, as we can surely all easily agree, as Elizabeth says “new teachers, at least of the NS kind, are so lacking in any theory of language, that they are frequently unable to answer even rudimentary questions”, but ‘doing dogme’ would seem (is this a mistake?) to require the T’s ability to “whip out explanations of the language on demand”. It goes down smooth but maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe I’m swallowing a half-truth whole without realizing it? Would expecting new teachers to work with a dogme approach be a bit like expecting Ss’ to do free production activities with target language that they had had no chance to process and practice? Perhaps, if ‘dogme-centric TT’ really happened (meaning plenty of other stuff was moved out of the way) there would be that much more space for and focus on building and developing language awareness needed for teaching?

Steve makes the important point that when ‘dogme for old dogs’ is accepted out of hand it becomes a self-fulfilling thing and ‘that’s that’ – w as an actual force for change/improvement. I agree…surely that’s not all the dogme concept/perspective/practice has to contribute to teachers and to language learning!

C – back to the beginning: “where are all the Xs?” < The illocutionary force of that question type, of course, traces out “there aren’t enough Xs”. You are a teacher trainer and a dogme approach taker, and (so) you are an ‘unplugged teacher trainer’, yes? If you are X then, I could say that you are saying “there aren’t enough MEs”. And that’s almost certainly true! Great work you do, great blog, and great discussion you are fostering!

Definitely need to take some time to respond to my own comments/try out some answers to the questions posed above and take things further. In the meantime, reading it back reminds me that at its core ‘dogme’ in ELT is nothing new at all, especially when considered as an overall approach rather than a reactionary method. This sense of the dogme idea(l) as, in fact, quite ‘traditional’ is really well illustrated in this (entertaining, occasionally hilarious) talk by Scott Thornbury at KOTESOL in 2012:

^ hey! I’ve just spotted @michaelgriffin in the crowd…#PLNstalker^

Also related: “How prescriptive should teacher training be?” by Chia Suan Chong


This entry was posted in ELT Online Newbieness, Idea Bag Newbieness. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?”…

  1. Pingback: ListeNotes #2 (Part 1): Interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016 – Muddles into Maxims

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