The student had requested permission to charge his cell phone at the front of the class and Mary allowed him to do so. However, he accidentally hit the menu button for a second too long and SIRI was activated.
Teachers are accustomed to dealing with student interruptions, but when technology is the disruption, it can be difficult to know the best way to respond. Mary chose to laugh about the interruption, which put the students at ease and made for a memorable class.
“SIRI actually had a smart thing or two to say,” Mary said. “The students thought the whole thing was hilarious and became much more involved in the discussion than they might otherwise have been.”
Interruption science is a field of study that looks at the damage interruptions cause in classrooms and the workplace and how much productivity is lost. Think for a minute about how long it takes to get students back on task after an interruption. That is all time lost that those students could have been learning. Multiply that time by the multiple interruptions during any given class and you’ll see why interruptions are damaging to the overall educational process.
In a New York Times article, “Meet the Life Hackers,” by Clive Thompson, Gloria Mark, a University of California at Irvine interruption scientist, shared that interruptions take up about 28% of a worker's day.
She also found that when a worker was interrupted from a task, it took as long as 25 minutes before the worker was able to return to that task. Constant interruptions impact productivity in the classroom, so it’s smart to limit them when possible.
There are a few things teachers can do to prepare for the inevitable interruptions from cell phones, intercoms, urgent emails from the principal, tech support coming into the room, and any number of technological “pardon me” moments.
You’ve spent untold hours planning out your classroom schedule, preparing lessons and getting ready for whatever concept you’re currently teaching. An interruption can derail all of those plans and be an aggravation to a teacher trying to meet already stringent standards. One of the best things you can do is to create some flex time into your schedule. If it isn’t SIRI that makes the students giggle, it will be an announcement over the intercom, a student coming in late, or the principal visiting the classroom.
A study cited in the Florida Communication Journal looked at how students use technology during lecture time in college classrooms and found that the use of devices is both helping and hindering education. This translates into secondary education situations as well.
Let’s use the example of SIRI accidentally interrupting the class. The student wasn’t trying to be disruptive; the interruption was an accident. By staying calm and continuing with the discussion, the teacher didn’t waste precious class time disciplining the student for something accidental. She used the activity to enhance learning by finding out what answers SIRI came up with, including visiting a website SIRI recommended, which helped students come away with another perspective on the topic.
Ultimately, if you have an outline of planned topics, you simply move on to the next item on the list after the interruption is handled.
If you don’t already have rules in place, now is the time to implement them. Make sure your classroom rules match your school’s rules about the use of technology. Some things you can implement:
The stages of consequences should be clearly outlined. Put them into a document, print it, and have both the parent and student sign the rules. This way everyone knows what to expect.
Despite the best efforts there will still be moments when technology takes over. Perhaps the SMART Board refuses to work and you can’t share a video of a cell multiplying. Or a student takes a phone call in class, even though she knows it will result in a trip to the principal’s office. It’s going to happen.
Whatever the interruption, keeping a sense of humor is vital. The last thing you want to do is lose your cool in front of students. As soon as you let frustration get the better of you, you’ve lost all control of the classroom.
Laugh off the interruption and then redirect students right back to the task at hand. By staying calm, keeping a sense of humor, and having a plan in place, you will minimize distractions and maximize test scores.
*The teacher asked that her real name not be shared as her principal’s policy is to not allow the use of smartphones in the classroom.