“Should I ban phones from the classroom?”

Quick answer: No! In most classroom situations, you can use phones as a learning aid. Banning them is very hard to implement. But you can set ground rules about WHEN and HOW they should be used.

In today’s digital age, smartphones have become increasingly pervasive in our lives. This is also true in the classroom, and as an English trainer, you are probably wondering whether or not you should ban phones. This is an interesting question to consider since it will significantly affect the classroom environment and the effectiveness of your teaching. This article will look at the pros and cons of banning phones in the classroom and provide some guidance to help you make an informed decision that suits the needs of your students and your teaching context.

Pros of banning phones in the classroom.

One of the main reasons for banning phones in the classroom is to prevent a loss of focus. Young learners can easily become distracted because they are tempted to check messages, use social media or play games during class. By removing this temptation, you are more likely to get them to engage with materials and participate in class discussions. This effect is similar to what happens in social situations where people pay more attention to their phones than the people around them, which means they miss out on valuable opportunities to practice skills through real-life interaction. If your students are not preoccupied with their phones, they are more likely to engage in active listening.

In addition, recent studies provide evidence that allowing phones in the classroom has a negative impact on long-term learning retention. The authors of one paper write “These attentional costs are more likely to occur in younger generations of students who feel socially dependent on their cellphone.” Another paper demonstrates that “those without smartphones had higher recall accuracy compared to those with smartphones.” I think this issue is very influenced by the teaching context, as adult learners in a business English class are less likely to reach for their phones than younger learners who are much more likely to feel anxiety when they are not able to access their messages and social media accounts.

Cons of banning smartphones in the classroom.

If smartphones are so pervasive in the lives of our learners, should we not be teaching them how to leverage these tools to develop their language learning skills? Smartphones can provide access to many educational tools and resources that can augment language learning. For example, students can use their smartphones to look up words, check pronunciation and do research. This can be particularly useful for English language learners, as it can help them to better understand the context of the lesson and engage more actively in class discussions. There are many other ways that smartphones can be used in the classroom. For example, learners can take part in Kahoot quizzes, create short videos, scan QR codes to access information, collaborate with other students on Padlet, listen to podcasts, read articles, and use language learning apps.

Some key arguments against a ban are included in a white paper published by the Cambridge University Press. If you ban mobile phones, “students don’t see their devices as potential learning tools, in particular for language study.” In addition, the teacher “does not take advantage of the wealth of tools and resources available for language practice on mobile devices” and the class is seen as being separate from the students’ real lives. As a lot of language training is now online, trainers are not actually able to ban smartphones, so it is much more advantageous to get students to use their smart phones in a way that will enhance their learning, rather than distracting them. This can be a lot of fun for young learners who will find the classes a lot more motivating if mobile phones, apps, messaging apps, and social media are incorporated into materials and learning activities.

Other considerations would include the difficulty of enforcing a complete ban. Resistance from students can lead to conflict situations between teachers and students which can negatively affect the classroom atmosphere and learning outcomes. Teachers will find that constantly checking for mobile phone use can take up a lot of their time, reducing time spent on beneficial classroom strategies like monitoring language use and giving feedback. Students may also feel that their rights and privacy are being invaded, and they are not being treated as trustworthy individuals. As a result, an outright ban could have a very negative impact on the overall classroom atmosphere.

Alternative Solutions and Strategies

Teachers can work with students to establish clear guidelines for using mobile phones during class. This can include rules for classroom use, including designated times when students can check their messages, etc. Students are much more likely to adhere to rules that have been mutually agreed together.

Teachers can incorporate mobile phone technology into their lesson plans and activities. They can harness the potential and minimize distraction. There are a lot of stages in a lesson where mobile phone use can engage students, demonstrating to them that their devices can be valuable learning tools rather than distractions. The recent development of generative AI tools like ChatGPT will make this integration of technology even more complicated, and teachers will need to be able to demonstrate how to harness this powerful productivity tool, but without students becoming over-reliant on technology.

Teachers should also inform their decisions on the teaching context. A business English trainer in a corporate language class will have a very different approach to somebody training students in a university setting.

Self-regulation among students

Finally, it is important for teachers to promote self-regulation among students. This can help them develop the skills they need to manage their phone use independently and responsibly. Teachers should provide strategies for managing distractions, such as turning off app notifications, placing phones face down on desks, or putting phones in silent mode. By encouraging self-regulation, students can learn to balance the pros and cons of smartphone use in the classroom and become more responsible digital citizens.

In my opinion, despite legitimate concerns about the potential negative impact of smartphones on student learning and retention that are expressed in research papers, banning phones in the classroom is not a good solution. Instead, alternative strategies such as establishing clear guidelines, incorporating mobile phone technology into lessons, and encouraging student self-regulation can help minimize distractions and promote productive and responsible smartphone use.

If one of the students does not have a smartphone, then this could be used as a springboard for conversations on phone-dependence (or lack of).





Ruairi Braddell is a CELTA-qualified English trainer. He was born in Cobh in southern Ireland, but spent a large part of his childhood in Donegal. After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music in 2001, he moved to Germany in 2003. He has worked for corporate customers in various economic sectors, such as plastic and steel production, pharmaceutical, finance, and insurance. Ruairi started working full time for Learnship as a content writer in 2021 and was promoted to the role of Business English Editor in January 2022. Ruairi also taught business English at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf, and specialized in English for the Fashion industry at the Mode Design College Düsseldorf. Check out his blog: www.englishexpert.de

Categories: Methodology