I started Slate & Tablets with one burning question in my head: “why do we force kids to put the most incredible invention of our entire history in their pocket so that they can learn?” I had been through school and this had frustrated me to no end, despite sometimes using my personal device for educational purposes, and other times for passing the time in class. No matter what classroom I walked into, every single teacher seemed to be under the assumption that no learning could take place when a student has their hands on their cell phone. As a student who grew up using one in class, this is wrong, and as a teacher who invents new ways to use cell phones in class, this is also wrong. Not only is the cell phone an incredibly valuable resource to a teacher and a student, but the education of how to use one appropriately and to manage one’s own distractions is a vital lesson for students of all ages to learn.
This blog post started because of this meme. This is not an uncommon classroom management strategy. It successfully removes the distraction of the cell phone from the class, allowing students to be “distraction free” for the period. Let’s all be honest here: for many a student, the cell phone is the least of the distraction worries. If it’s not the phone, then it will be a classmate sitting next to them, what’s going on in the bathroom, or doodling in their notebook. In addition, removing the phones from kids hands does not prepare them for the world they’re growing up to. Cell phones are not going away. When I retire in a million years, cell phones will still be here. It’s time we understand this fact and start adapting to it. Here are a few rules I live by in my own classroom that have proven effective. If you have read this blog for a little while now, you’ll notice that none of the philosophy behind any of my work is “high tech” or ground breaking. All I do is apply tried and true teaching methodology using our technology as my tool.
Model Appropriate Text and Email Usage
When students have the phone in the classroom, they will use it. You should use it too. Check your email, go ahead. Send a text message. But here’s the important piece: like with all teaching you do, make a big deal of modeling the behavior that’s appropriate. Check your email and/or send a text message for no more than 30 seconds, then put your phone away. Do it when the class is working on practice problems, or writing in their journals, when it’s not disrespectful to a speaker. The first few times you do this, announce that you’re doing it so the kids watch you. Then, announce that you’re done. As teachers we model all kinds of behaviors for our students and appropriate cell phone usage is no exception.
Set Expectations For Where The Phone Goes During Class
Just like with backpacks, rulers, colored pencils, and other tools, decide where students will keep their phones during class. I instruct my students to keep their phones right on their desk. This serves two purposes. First, it makes them fully aware that there is nothing to hide. Second, it makes me fully aware when they’re actually hiding something. Students sneaking their phones underneath the desk to watch a movie or play a game will put it there naturally, and it’s an automatic tip off. By keeping the phones on the desk, you’re able to more easily enforce the boundaries of appropriate usage.
The Way to Stop Cheating is Not To Take Cell Phones Away
Since the beginning of time, students have cheated on exams in millions of different ways. Cell phones are not some magical cheating device. Tell the students to put their phones flat on their desk during an exam, again enforcing the fact that there’s nothing to hide. This (again) automatically tips you off if they are in fact using it to cheat; they’ll be touching it. Allow the students to use their phones after the exam to look up and send you the link to a content related video. This gives them an educational task to use the phones for, and it sets the expectation that they may touch the phones again when the test is over, signaling to you that it’s time to pick up their exam.
Picture Perfect Picture Taking
Encourage your students to take pictures of your class, make memes out of it, and blog/tweet/post about it. The cell phone is an incredible communication tool and we all know how annoying it is for students when mom asks child what they did at school at the dinner table. Students who tweet and post about their classes are accomplishing the same cognitive feat that students who talk about their classes accomplish, not to mention the technical skills they will build in photo sharing and editing. Once again, model the behavior, take a few of your own photos, and don’t be scared of the tech when it comes out. Every time I do a demonstration I always ask my students who tweet or instagram their pictures to use at least one vocabulary word from the demo in their post. Again, nothing groundbreaking.
Music is Good
One of the best reasons to allow phone use in the classroom is because it allows students to listen to music. It’s been proven that music can help productivity so I’m not sure why teachers haven’t tapped into this power. Allowing students to listen to their music on worksheets, practice problems, or during project work sessions allows them to focus better. Music is also a great connecting tool, and asking students what they’re listening to is another great way to make the connections that a teacher is so valuable for making. It also builds upon the idea that the mobile device is there for a certain set of reasons in school, and not for being a target of disciplinary action. Some teachers will play music over speakers for their class, but there’s no reason not to differentiate here.
This is a small sample of tips for cell phone management. The most important one of all is not to be afraid of the device. It’s not going to bite you and I promise, the cell phone is generally the last reason for students not succeeding in school. If they’re unfocused, they’re not going to focus with or without the cell phone on their desk. As teachers in this generation, it’s our job to educate students about appropriate usage of many tools, and the mobile device is no exception. If you have any tricks you use, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear.