Teaching Material | Teaching English Better

Smartphones: From Toy to Tool

In classrooms, smartphones are slowly shifting out of the toy-and-liability-to-attention category, and into the tool-and-engaging-students category. It’s part of the movement to “meet students where they are” that’s being embraced by teachers who believe in a non-standardized approach to education.

Students all have them and they love using them, but they don’t realize they’re walking around with a computer in their pocket.

Yet computers, helpful as they are, can be a distraction. So how do you incorporate smartphones into the teaching process without compromising the learning process?

A Powerful Participation Tool

Smartphones are helpful to encourage participation in class. Some kids are shy or ashamed to ask questions because no one wants to look like an idiot. In such a case they can text the teachers their questions. Eventually they become comfortable with not knowing something.

Students could be encouraged to use their phone for taking pictures of class assignments.  

Keeping the Focus

Keeping students focused on the task at hand can be challenging. When you notice students doing something else on their phone, you say… “I see you typing, and I look forward to seeing what you have to say about…”

You could also build breaks into your class. If they know a break is coming up, they’re less likely to use the phone for personal stuff during class time. The breaks are also good for the brain. Spend some time walking around during smartphone units, because, once you give ownership and responsibility to someone, they tend to want to please you in doing the job correctly. If a person isn’t using the smart phone for the right reason, the other team members will usually say something.

Tips for Getting Started

1. Get Comfortable With Your Smartphone

We all know that smartphones can be used for more than making calls and texting. Spend some time learning how, from basic browser usage to downloading apps, from note-taking functionality to editing photos and videos. Your comfort level will set the tone for your students.

2. Start With a Conversation

Meet with school administrators and parents to discuss your plans and address concerns. Solicit input from students -- how would they use smartphones in class?

3. Rules of Engagement

Develop, with the help of your students, an agreement or contract governing the rules for smartphone usage in class. Clearly outline consequences if the agreement is broken.

4. Set Expectations

Accept that there are going to be times when students are off task, just like when they talk in class.

5. Periodic Check-Ins

This is uncharted territory for everyone. Monitor the progress of your students and revise the agreement as necessary.

Technology is changing. Our knowledge of how the brain learns is growing, and information is freely accessible. Let’s meet our students where they are, and together, let’s use all of the tools we have to understand the information and employ it to meet our collective needs.