How do you control what learners are up to?

Learners using mobiles

Learners using mobiles: or are they just WhatsApping their friends…?

Another question raised in the workshop I gave last Friday:

How do you control whether or not your learners are doing the task you set on their mobiles? How do you know they're not using them for something else the moment you turn your back?

It's probably an issue that arises more with young learners than it does with adults, but if you've ever used a computer room with teens you'll know that it's also a danger with desktops, not just with mobile phones.

My best advice would be this, which a teacher on a summer course with me once said when another teacher raised the same question:

If my students start going to Facebook instead of doing the task I've set them, I don't blame them; I blame myself — for not making my task interesting enough to them.

Set a really interesting, creative task, in other words, and the problem is less likely to arise. It's perhaps less a question of controlling than one of motivating.

To that, I'd add the following tips:

  • Set a strictly limited amount of time spent on phones/computers in class (a 5-minute alarm set on your phone, or with a browser countdown / the one on your IWB, works well, but remember to turn the volume up 😉 !
  • Set that time slightly under what you think they'll need
  • Always specify something else for your fast-finishers to get on with
  • Always do everything in pairs, with one computer/phone between each pair — there's more communication, more use of language (provided it's in English!), and less temptation, or possibility, of taking a sneak peek at Facebook

Any other ideas? Do add them in the comments…

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  1. OK if I question here, Tom 😉 ?
    You say "Set that time slightly under what you think they'll need".
    But happens if theyre really into it; doing what their supposed to be doing, interacting and all that? Would you still stop them?

  2. You're totally right, Kim. Thanks for that.

    In such circumstances; I'd suggest secretly pausing the timer (real easy if you're using a timer on your phone for it). Hard to get it totally right (why do they insist on such things on CELTA and DELTA courses, I always wonder?!) but I think the feeling that they're under a certain amount of time pressure does seem to keep them on course.

  3. Yay! I was worried you had betrayed me and started to actually follow lesson plans!!!

  4. Never 😉 !!!!

    "No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy" some general once said. Not that the learners are the enemy, you understand…

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