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Instant Gratification & TEFL

© <a href='http://www.flickr.com/gre/' target='_blank'>Grevel</a>Prof. Goodnight is the pen name of a senior ESL trainer working at a major North American university. Here he discusses the rise of technology in the classroom and how bad it is.


 

The NY Times reported earlier this week on two recent studies which suggest that students nowadays have far shorter attention spans than in the past.

One reason, they suggest, is the overwhelming use of technology, notably the internet.

I agree. I say we need to step back and get rid of it. We need to clean out the classroom and go back to proper teaching.

Take a simple example. Suppose a student wants to know the capital of Mongolia. All it takes is for them to type “capital mongolia” into Google and the answer appears. They don’t even have to browse through a text to find out or indeed do much thinking to find the answer.

The teacher praises them for, essentially, just typing. (And it doesn’t even have to be accurate typing, putting “capitl monglia” into Google will still give you the right answer.)

Compare that to years ago when finding the answer would mean a trip to the library, a search for the right book and then some time browsing through to an article which may, or may not, have the answer. It was a much longer process which required greater thought and planning; today’s technology on the other hand requires very little and offers students instant gratification and now we’re finding that if that instant gratification isn’t forthcoming students just lose interest and move on elsewhere.

To combat this I see many teachers beginning to pump more into each lesson to keep the class stimulated and embrace every new idea and website willy-nilly to keep their lessons fresh. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but they’re forgetting one thing: language learning is a long process and not an easy one and it’s not a matter of “finding the right answer” and moving on but instead a matter of learning and then practicing and then practicing some more.

There are no shortcuts to learning languages and this can lead to frustration for students used to a quick fix and frustration amongst teachers trying to keep the class focused. Short, sharp activities and the kind of high-adrenalin teaching needed to keep students aware and awake aren’t suited to TEFL.

I think what we need to do is step back a little from technology in the classroom. Yes, certainly it has its place but we need to make sure that our students are able to sit down and analyze and think for themselves before we get them to tweet their answers or blog their homework. To take a simple example, in my experience extended reading is barely mentioned in language learning and instead we focus on short texts of a few paragraphs.

“How much is a plane ticket to Acapulco?” is an acceptable question to ask.

“Is it necessary to fly to Acapulco?” is not an acceptable question because it demands thought and many teachers are afraid of this, almost as much as their students are.

Teaching needs to change. We need to slow language learning down and allow the students time to think but equally we need to equip them with the skills they need to think, e.g. to analyze language, to work out answers for themselves, and to be prepared to spend time working on the subject.

Too many teachers nowadays are slaves to their students’ expectations and slaves to the latest fads and trends. They jump onto bandwagons without thinking of the long term effects and although in the short term their students might enjoy lessons where it’s all about playing video games to learn English, in the end they will suffer. Ironically it will be classes in less developed countries who will come away with better English than those in the high-end electronic classrooms of “advanced” schools.

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