They haven’t understood it yet.

This week I came across the photo below on different friends’ timelines:


Elaine 1

Under the photo you read: ‘The perfect place for a cell phone while classes take place!’

Reactions to the photo varied. Some of these friends thought this was a good idea. Some, on the other hand, criticised it. Two of these comments caught my eye. In one, you read ‘What a sad scene’ and in another, responding to this comment, you had ‘They haven’t understood it yet.’

I was intrigued by the word ‘they’. I believe the person who wrote it was referring to teachers. But what can ‘they’ refer to if you consider different perspectives? I believe that in the context shown it can be analysed and interpreted taking into consideration at least two different points of view: the one represented by the comments I mentioned above, and the one represented by the people who thought it was a good idea:

‘They’ meaning the teachers who forbid the use of cell phones in class

There are several arguments in favour of the use of new technologies, especially smart phones, in the classroom. I’m not a specialist in the area, but I’d like to name a few: smart phones are a fact, and the number of people connected via different digital tools has been increasing steadily (MOLLICA, PATUSCO, BATISTA, 2015). Very often students download apps that can help them learn vocabulary and grammar, students use their phones to look up words in search tools and online dictionaries, they can take photos, download activities, record and/or film activities they do in pairs and groups and watch and/or listen to them later, and so on and so forth. Besides, it is essential for schools to engage in multiliteracies as well as seeing students as co-authors of knowledge and co-participants in what happens in class (ROJO, 2013). New technologies definitely help do that. If teachers deny students the use of such a tool they are denying a reality that is part of their lives and therefore preventing them from using a very effective tool in learning. In this case, ‘they’ in ‘they haven’t understood it yet’ means that teachers fail to realise the positive impact cell phones bring to learning.

‘They’ meaning the students who use the cell phone in class

Do all students who use cell phones in class use it for learning purposes, at least most of the time? What makes a teacher or a school have a box like the one shown in the picture? Are teachers technophobic? Are teachers so old-fashioned that they cannot understand the use of cell phones in class? Although I would not collect my students’ phones, I believe I can understand what motivates such a drastic attitude. One could argue that using the phone for learning purposes only is a matter of having an agreement with students. This way, instead of having an imposition, we would have an agreement. In this case, the teacher would, for example, have students do specific activities on their phones for a limited amount of time. As I have worked for about 16 years in language courses and about 10 years in regular schools, I believe that this might work well in the former, but when it comes to the latter, which seems to be the situation depicted in the photo, things are very likely to be different, for two basic reasons: first, language courses are not compulsory, so, in theory, students choose to attend a language course or not; second, the number of students per class in a language school is much, much smaller than in a regular school. In practical terms, it’d be much more realistic to devise and follow an activity in a class of about 15 students than in class with at least 35 (and if you can see that by counting the number of slots in the box). To put it in a nutshell, it’s a bit naïve to believe that even the most engaging teacher in the world would be able to conduct lessons with such big groups for an extended period of time without students doing things on their cell phones which are not related to learning at all. If that is the case, ‘they’ in ‘they haven’t understood it yet’ means the students who have not realised that the problem is not use, but the extensive misuse of cell phones in class.

When you have laws that forbid the use of cell phones in class and studies that indicate that such a prohibition can be beneficial to learning ( and but at the same time you know that technological tools, which become more and more pervasive in school life, can be a motivational factor, a superficial judgement of teachers, which seems to be the case of the comment in the post, is as inappropriate as the misuse of phones in class.

MOLLICA, Maria Cecília; PATUSCO, Cynthia; BATISTA, Hadinei R. (orgs.). Sujeitos reais em ambientes virtuais. São Paulo: Parábola, 2015.

ROJO, Roxane (org). Escola conectada: os multiletramentos e as TICS. São Paulo: Parábola, 2013.













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Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at Email:

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