How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Teacher Development, Technology  Comments Off on How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones
May 082015
 

There’s is a very nice role-play activity which our coordinator shared with me in my first year teaching a pre-sessional summer EAP course and which I like to use with my students in the last speaking lesson of the course (unfortunately, I don’t remember the book it comes from).  It’s fun, but also very useful as the role-play situations are authentic: student and librarian, student and accommodation officer, student and head of department, etc. There are no scripts. For each role, there is a role description, which they have to read carefully. Then, the pairs can sit together and prepare their role-play deciding who says what.

However, I didn’t like how students wrote down the complete dialog and tried to memorise and act it out. The dialogues were hilarious and we all had a great time, students did use the language well and it was speaking practise. But it didn’t feel authentic and it didn’t really show how good students where when they had to reply spontaneously. So, I changed the preparation part a bit the following year: I didn’t tell the students who their partners would be! This way, they could prepare for their role, but they would have to listen carefully to what the other person was saying and they would have to react spontaneously. Ingenious! Or so I thought.

When I had given each student their role-play card making sure pairs were not sitting next to each other, I started monitoring and helping where necessary. But I noticed that something was going on; the students had all started using their smartphones. First, I thought they were looking up words in their dictionaries, but that wasn’t it. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they had found their partners and where preparing their role-plays! I felt like a fool! We all laughed about my failed attempt to set up the role-play with surprise partners 🙂 I asked them to switch off their phones, so a bit of the surprise element was there in the role-plays. It was a lot of fun, as usual, but they could also show their real speaking skills. So, I had saved the situation, but learned a lesson too.

This happened a couple of years ago. Although, I was aware of social media apps and was using some tools myself, and although I knew that students were sometimes messaging during class, it didn’t occur to me that they would use it as they did for this role-play task. For them, it was the most natural thing to do, though.

Why I wanted to share this story

– We often discuss which tools we use in class and which we don’t, or even whether we use technology in class at all or not, but there is also the students and the technology THEY use. We need to be at least aware of how they use their tools they bring to class, whether it’s their electronic dictionaries, or their smartphones and tablets.

– Even teachers who like to use technology and who train other teachers in using technology can make mistakes. But it’s hardly ever a disaster as long as one has good rapport with the students and talks about these things in class.

What I learned from this

Since then, I’ve always shown more interest in what kind of apps my students have on their phones and we talk about this at the beginning of the course. Since then, I also try to manage the use of smartphones in class better by, for example, telling them at different stages to put away their smartphones (even if they insists they need the dictionary!). Am I always successful? No! But I’ve come to terms with this. If I see how teachers or other professionals “multitask” or chat with others during conferences webinars, or meetings (including myself) and “claim” this helps them focus, I don’t think I need to manage my students’ use of technology one hundred percent.

 

Do you have a story to share about a “failed” attempt to manage your class due to technology? What happened? How did you react? How did your students react? What did you get out of it?