* Demand High: Another Dud Product


Demand High is the work of Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill. My argument in regard to Demand High is this:

1. Two members of the ELT establishment have taken advantage of their position, their “leverage” as they say these days when talking of power and influence, to launch a half-baked product onto the ELT world and promote it by giving talks and workshops in as many places as will pay their vaunted fees and expenses.
2. The product is a dud and serves as an example of how dud products crowd the present ELT industry.
3. Teachers at the chalk face are handicapped in their work by being obliged to work with the dud products sold to their bosses.
4. Teachers should challenge the present ELT establishment by organising themselves into collectives.


1. Demand High gets its credibility from On High

The first step of the argument is very simple: Demand High has credibility because its promoters are stars: part of the ELT establishment. Personally, I find Scrivener’s oeuvre pedestrian, tedious and snobbish, while Underhill’s is very good indeed, but that’s not the point: the point is that Demand High didn’t get its exposure through the merit of its arguments but rather through its authors’ establishment status.


2. The Product is a Dud

Demand High is preposterous, arrogant, half-baked crap. It’s high-handed, condescending, bordering on offensive. It manages to encapsulate all that’s bad about current training programmes: the doublespeak, the appeal to raising the bar, making the most of oneself, asking difficult questions, demanding more, and all that and all that. The coyness, the laboured sincerity, the sort-for complicity; it’s carefully-crafted, yet unaware of its posturing, symptomatic of what Satre would call false consciousness. I invite you to look at their web page “What is Demand High” and then say what Demand High is. You won’t be able to, because there’s nothing of substance there.

Here are a few examples of Demand High rhetoric:

“Demand High asks Are our learners capable of more, much more?” What do you think the answer is?

“Have the tasks and techniques we use in class become rituals and ends in themselves?” You’re expected to say “Yes”. You’re expected to recognise the awful depths to which your teaching has sunk and to credit these seers with insight into classroom rituals and things you do which are “ends in themselves”.

“How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning?” This is, of course, drivel, worthy of some bad advertising agency’s attempt to sell you a self-help book.

“What small tweaks and adjustments can we make to shift the whole focus of our teaching towards getting that engine of learning going?” Ah! Now here they can help! They can pull out their tired collection of classroom tricks, like the pronunciation practice stuff which Adrian first presented 25 years ago, a few classroom management tips, and so on. This, coupled with a deep commitment to the meme, should do it.

“We are proposing a demand that comes precisely at the point where the learner is capable of making their next steps forward – and helping them to meet that demand, rather than avoiding it”. How do we identify the point where the learner is capable of making their next steps forward? It sounds like these guys know something about how to tap into interlanguage development, but of course they don’t, or at least they don’t give any indication whatsoever that they do. It’s more hogwash.

“We want to explore:
• How can I push my students to upgrade their language and improve their skills more than they believed possible?
• How can I gain real learning value from classroom activities that have become tired or familiar?
• What teacher interventions make a real difference?
• How can I shift my preoccupation from “successful task “to “optimal learning”?
• How can we transform “undoable” or “low” demand into “doable demand”?
• What is the minimum tweak necessary at any point in any lesson to shift the activity sideways into the “challenge zone”?
• What attitude and action changes would lead to “Demand-High” teaching in my classroom?
• What is the demand on a teacher to become a “Demand High” teacher?”

To the question “But HOW can we explore all this, Oh Wise Ones?” answer comes there none. But just sign up for a series of very expensive workshops and we’ll work through it, OK? Because, in essence, Demand High is a meme. According to Wikipedia, a meme is “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.” One might be forgiven for thinking that Demand High invites you into a cult where high priests help you get into the groove of Demand High teaching. But no; at least, not yet. All that Demand High offers so far are some very pedestrian ways of “upping your game” as a teacher. It’s spinned platitudes; it’s aspirational hype; it’s hopelessly unexamined educational values mixed up with unidentified teaching practice; it’s an appeal to “seriousness” where nothing serious is offered. It’s crap.

2.1 Demand High is a commercial product

Let’s be clear: Demand High is a sales pitch. It’s a commercially-constructed neologism (“Demand high what?” one would normally ask). Scrivener and Underhill are selling a product in a lucrative ELT market which turns over billions of dollars every year, and their customers are those who hire the teachers, the chalk-face workers, most of whom earn a pittance. These customers are managers in chains of ELT centres like the British Council, Wall Street, International House, etc.; or owners of language schools; or conference organisers like TESOL International , IATEFL, etc.. They pay for Scrivener and Underhill to put on workshops and presentations, and they also buy coursebooks and other materials written by them.

2.2 Demand High is one dud product among hundreds

Hugh Dellar’s successive attempts to promote the lexical approach are re-works of a dud product. Jeremy Harmer offers a variety of dud products. Most coursebooks that teachers are obliged to use are dud products, offensive in a variety of ways. For example, they misrepresent interlanguage development, gender differences, and cultures. The huge supply of supplementary materials that teachers use are similarly flawed. All this dross is measured by the over-riding criterion of profit, and considerations of educational value are bent to its demands.


3. Teachers at the chalk face are handicapped in their work by being obliged to work with dud products.

Teachers who attend a workshop given by the ever-so-caring-and-sincere Demand High advocates might be forgiven for feeling patronised and for trying to lynch them. Alas, they make no such attempts and, indeed, are often impressed by Underhill’s insistence that they demand high in attempts to help their students distinguish a shit from a sheet. The fact remains that most teachers are hampered rather than helped by the dud products that they’re forced to use in their jobs. The enormous interest shown by teachers in Dogme, and the almost hysterical reaction of publishers and their writers, highlights the conflict between good teaching and commercial interests.


4. Teachers should challenge the present ELT establishment by organising themselves into collectives

When capitalism delivers good wages for workers, including intellectual workers, workers tend to forget how badly they’re treated. In the ELT industry, teachers are suffering the consequences of an economic crisis for which they’re blameless and in Spain I know that lots of teachers are being paid less than the minimum wage. By coming together as a collective (avoiding official trade unions who disgrace their heritage and misrepresent their members) teachers have a better chance of getting not only better pay but also more control over how they teach and what materials they use. I know it’s easy to say and difficult to do, but the option is there. The Cooperative “Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona”is just one example.I invite all teachers to use this blog to get a local cooperative going.


Demand High exemplifies what’s wrong with the ELT industry. I suggest that we tell Messrs Scrivener and Underhill to piss off; cancel our subscriptions to TESOL and IATEFL; boycott all sponsored talks in our workplaces; refuse to use the prescribed coursebooks; and adopt a Dogme approach to our teaching.

Note: I haven’t consulted the Dogme team about this post and they have no responsibility for its contents.

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