Sunday, June 08, 2014

But Mister, I'm Not Using the Phone for That

There are a whole lot of reasons why we grab our smart phones. I'm as guilty as anyone. Though I wear a watch, I don't trust it anymore. My phone has atomic time or something, and it's always accurate. I will pull it out of my pocket in class to check the time. If a student doesn't know the population of her country or something, I just might ask Siri and have her tell the class.

Students have different reasons they may look at phones. Some of the girls in my classes say they aren't using it to text. They're using it as a mirror. Often it's evident that they're doing just that, so I tell them to put their mirrors away. That's what I tell kids using real mirrors. But that's just one more odd use for the phone.

Many of my ESL students use smart phone programs as translators. This is really helpful in that stand-alone translators, which I almost never see anymore, cost hundreds of dollars. These translators replaced paper dictionaries, which I used to frequently see. The thing is, I don't actually want my kids to depend on translators. Students who use translators are focused on whatever happened when the word came up, and they're completely tuned out of the moment.

Some of my least successful students spent an inordinate amount of time with dictionaries or translators. I tell them they don't need to do this in class, and that if they want to they can sit with a newspaper at home and translate the whole thing. In a live classroom, as in every live situation, they need to train their ears. They'll have ears even if they forget their translators. Also, a lot of translators are notoriously awful, giving my kids words that are either outdated or never used by those of us who are native speakers. Ears are almost always better.

I'm constantly suspicious of kids who have their hands under their desks, and more often than not find them using phones. Sometimes they defend themselves by saying they're using translators, but it's plainly visible that they're texting. Sometimes they think I can't tell they're texting because they're doing it in a language I don't understand.

It's a fact of life. I might place a phone on my desk for a period, but I won't have a phone confiscated unless someone does something really egregious. The cardinal rule in my class is that we use only English, and I don't care how inconvenient anyone thinks that is. Once, a phone rang, and a kid picked it up and began having a conversation in a foreign language. That phone got confiscated. Another time, a kid went into the trailer bathroom and deemed it a good idea to play music the whole class could hear. His mom had to come in and pick up that phone.

I have one kid who pulls out an empty case to distract me. When I call him on it, he proudly turns it around to reveal he isn't using a phone after all. Clever. "Don't bring your toys to class," I tell him, and make him put it away anyway.

With all the uses for a smart phone, I've yet to find the one that makes it OK for kids to use it in my classroom.
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