Teacher – There isn’t an app for that | TEFL Jobs London

Teacher – There isn’t an app for that

by Donna Hutchinson
London based TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara


Recently, I gave my IELTS class a task 2 practice test. For those of you not fluent in IELTS (lucky you) this means a 250 word essay giving an opinion of some sort. The question was as follows:

Computers are not necessarily the best way for children to learn. In many areas of education a teacher can be more effective in helping pupils to gain new skills and knowledge.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this point of view?

After wading my way through the marking, in the end it was actually quite interesting to read their opinions because my IELTS class of 10 students are all quite young. Most of them are around 19 years old from all over the world; Japan, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Colombia… They all agreed that computers were now fundamental to learning and that children need them to learn efficiently but, that they do not provide the emotional or individual support that a teacher can give. They were also very quick to point out that if you want to know anything about anything that ever happened in the world ever, you can just Google it. This means that to them, books are becoming somewhat obsolete and to an extent, actually asking a human being a question. Some students did point out that social skills could be impeded by this and that children may not think to actually ask someone something. Despite the faults in their language, like I said, it was an interesting read (uncommon for task 2 marking).

Students don’t ask questions in class

It has stuck in my mind because I have recently taken on some new students in my class who very rarely ask me anything. One or two students might stay behind after class and ask me something privately but during the class, it is a very rare occurrence. I’ve noticed that they go straight to their smart phones, laptops or tablets. Up to now, I’ve never really minded this (to a point, mind) because I’ve always taught classes who are also very communicative but with this class, I’ve felt, to an extent… arbitrary. In recent lessons, I’ve really had to stress to them that if they want to know the meaning of something that they should ask me because their online translation may not fit the context, but it goes further than this, many of them are very quiet. Of course, I do not begrudge a student of their timid or quiet nature but, generally, as I monitor, I can pick up on their struggles but they speak so quietly or, sometimes, not at all. Pair work has been tough! I have now taken to what I call ‘strategic room exits’ wherein I have to leave to room for “water” (or whatever) so that they actually begin to talk to each other and by the time I return, the pair work is in full swing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case, I can say without doubt that I am very well hydrated.

I do, however, feel like I might be making some progress but it certainly feels like it’s going to be a long war of attrition where I slowly break them down (in a good way). I cannot fault them in the sense that they’re very studious and always willing to do the work but a huge chunk of language learning is communicative and it really is for their benefit that I’m pushing them to speak and look up from their technological aid. As my IELTS students pointed out, teachers provide a human aspect and very often, I find that students are able to remember new language because it’s personal to them or, I’ve given them my own personal example that they remember. Something a computer really cannot provide.

Two examples of vocab my students have told me they remembered from my anecdotes

To drag – “It took me ages to drag myself out of bed this morning.”

To stumble – “I have a great local pub, it’s within stumbling distance of my house.”

…I don’t know what that says about me!


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