ring, ring, tweet, tweet: mobile nuisances


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Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles – what to do with them?

At the start of each term, there’s the usual spiel about using mobile phones in class:

Should we be concerned if students keep checking their phones? Is it the new doodling?

I started this blog right at the beginning of term (it’s now about 10 weeks  later!), when I noticed quite a few of my new students had ‘itchy’ fingers that kept wondering over to their mobiles. I had 2-3 students who would use their mobile pretty constantly throughout the lesson.  Some students even took their mobiles for spoken group work. While I was inwardly getting quite annoyed (mildly put), I outwardly tried out a myriad of ways to deal with it.

As usual at the start of term, we’d had the usual discussion about expected classroom behaviour, part of which looked at mobile use (it’s fine for dictionaries and tasks that require online use, otherwise let them lie!), so every so often I kept on referring back to this. To try and keep things light, I’d make comments such as: ‘The answers aren’t on your mobile’; ‘You don’t need your mobile to speak’ or ‘We’re not using ebooks for this’. I was hoping  that this would act as a gentle reminder and students would stop using their mobiles (and I did check what they were being used for before I made the remarks), but I was mistaken.

I took a step back and decided to rethink how I was teaching, so I altered some of my activities: I included fewer group activities, reduced the movement (and chances for distraction) and taught in a more traditional way. After a while, I saw that even this made little difference to those that were determined tappers, so I decided to mix traditional and more recent teaching practice ideas (so that those students who were involved in learning didn’t lose out).

I tried to harness their attachment to their mobiles and included activities where they could use them. Some students reacted well and enjoyed it, however, those that I wished to reach, just carried on regardless.

All the while that I was trying out these methods, I was keeping a record of mobile use: who used them (when the activity didn’t require it), for how long and what for (where I could determine it). I noticed that all members of the class used their mobiles at some point during a lesson and there seems to be two types of user:

Type 1: those who have a quick check once they’ve finished an activity;

Type 2: those that are attached to their mobiles by some strange power and use it regardless of what’s happening around them.

I think, to answer my original question, that personal mobile use doesn’t matter (and is perhaps a new style of doodling), if (and it’s a big IF!), students have completed the work and it doesn’t distract from their learning or disturb others. As soon as mobile use starts to keep students from their own learning (especially when there are high stake outcomes) and impacts on others, then it becomes a problem.

How to deal with it? I’m still not sure – any suggestions would be most welcome!


About sarahali

I am linguist working in the EFL field. I started my teaching career in East Germany in 1997, continuing for a while (7 years) in Austria before settling back in the UK, where I am now based. I have taught English in various forms (ESP, ESOL, Business English, EFL (general) and EAP) to students ranging from 3 years of age to 80. I have written, developed and edited teaching material and curricular for the Arabic speaking world, as well as African countries. I have also written materials and teacher's books for 3-year olds learning in multi-lingual schools in Spain and have worked on translating and adapting Early Readers for the international market. I'm currently a senior tutor for EAP, a TEL coordinator and an academic proofreader. I also work as a freelance materials writer and developer. I speak English, German and French, with a basic knowledge of Arabic and Spanish.
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