Today, I randomly looked up from helping another student and caught a glimpse of another student's laptop screen. I recognized Yahoo Messenger immediately. The young lady said that she was chatting with her mom. Now, me being Mr. Quick-Thinking-Teacher, I said, "I'd love to chat with your mom."
I grabbed the laptop and started typing. I introduced myself, explained what we were doing in class, and what her daughter had chosen to do instead of the correct assignment. Her mom apologized and said that she thought it was free time in my classroom. She was on task the majority of the remainder of the hour.
Perhaps this incident will help students realize that I want them to work independently but that I am also staying on top of their independent work.
I also passed along my email address. I hope that she does email me.