ESL Screen-face – the new TECH ISSUE


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I had a laugh when I first heard the term ‘screen face’, but it really can be true, spending too long looking at a computer screen can make you totally expressionless. Something similar can happen too when learning either online or with a teacher who doesn’t want you to do anything but listen.

Unfortunately there are teachers out there who find a student speaking in class completely unruly and so need to be extinguished immediately. Sadly this is the end of learning a language for that class.

But what can also happen is that sometimes good teachers who like to integrate technology into their learning environment can forget that ‘screen face’ can be present when there is any kind of learning through technology too.

There are ways to overcome this however. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Make students work in partners when dealing with technology – that’s both computers, ipads, smart phones you name it, if you have to engage with technology get students in partners so they can talk with each other too. This dismantles the screen face every minute or two.
  2. Make sure the amount of technology in the classroom is spread throughout intermittent intervals. Everyone focussing on a screen for too long disengages them from their expressive thoughts.
  3. Choose interactive technology programmes that allow students to ‘enjoy’ the process – simple enjoyment does allow people to engage more on an emotional level and so laugh and talk to the screen, and have fun with what they are doing…
  4. Make sure the process of learning is not done solely on ‘memorising’ technical formula. Some grammatical formula is important for adult learning, but even then it should only be in the background and brought to the forefront when exploring a sentence, etc.

One of the reasons ‘screen face’ can be a real killer when learning a language is that when we communicate, we are not just using words, we are using body language too. One of the issues with screen face is that it can put you into a zone of what looks like (from the outside) a passive, unanimated connection. This is the last thing you want students to develop when engaging in speaking English.

We speak as much with our bodies as we do with our mind and voice.  Screen face can interrupt this process.

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