As a language teacher I find mobile phones are a great resource as a dictionary, a unique way to do homework and, for many of my students, an alternative way to take notes. I’ve been using them in my class for a while now and their presence is actually hardly noticed – so seamlessly is it a part of what we do. In working them into my class I’ve learned some things about how to introduce them that may help you if you just starting to allow them.
“Out on The Desk” – The first few weeks of my class always starts with the call to “take out your phones – upside down on your desk”. So stunned are most students that you are allowing this that the phone carriers all do. As we work through class I make a mental note of who has them. If I don’t see it when I initially ask them to take it out they will often get a personal reminder to do so. Gradually the action becomes a habit and having it in plain sight makes it easier to use, and not to abuse.
“Silent/Upside Down” – In the first few weeks of class I start each class the same way by asking them to take out their phone, place them face down on their desks and set to “manner mode” (‘mute’ as it’s called in Japanese). I warn them that sometimes we all forget to mute it and it will ring and usually tell a story on myself of how my mother likes to text or phone me at all hours of the day. Then I talk what to do if your phone goes off – apologize, mute it, don’t check it and continue on with what you were doing. By the way inevitably my mother does call, my phone isn’t on mute and my students hear the ring, look at me and say “your mom?” (target language of course!)
“Use It As They Do” – My phone is out, on my computer table during class. It is upside down and set to ‘mute’. I have blogged before about the usefulness of recording what happens in my classes. So I use my phone in front of them. The first few times I do it I tell them what I’m up to but eventually they don’t even notice. What am I doing? I take photos for me of my boards if I have been using them. I will often upload it (after converting it to a pdf or grey-scale photo) to my website – in front of them – for those without phones who want the visual as well. I update my website with it – in front of them. If we’re searching for a word I’ll use the dictionary app. For my Japanese classes I also use it to show them how to look up characters using ‘hand drawn’ input. Using it yourself is a powerful tool for you – and a great way to model it’s proper use.
“Consequences When Needed” – Okay there are still occasional slip ups. It’s not hard to notice the furtive glances or an attempt to key in a quick text. Generally I call out the offender with a “really?” and it doesn’t happen again. Students know it is a privilege to use the phone in my room – and that that privilege can be removed. It’s only ever happened once – a student who kept using their phone inappropriately. After 3 warnings they were asked to hand it over – each day at the start of class for 3 weeks. I kept a post-it on my computer desk to remind me to ask. Three weeks later, when the phone was returned, it was never misused again.
So go ahead – release the phones. If you set the ground rules, model what you want and monitor it a lot at the start they will learn to use it positively in class. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll unleash its potential benefits for you as well!