Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cellphones Out Instruction In

Before we started the school year, I made sure that I would not forget all the changes that I wanted to implement for the new school year. I love being a teacher, it hardly ever gets repetitive. New students, new challenges, and new ways to make the learning relevant. One of the changes I could not wait to implement was my cellphone use policy.

For the past two years, I was so excited about technology integration that I wanted to use whichever kind of technology was available. The school tablets that we were using were slow and would block a lot of helpful websites for classroom activities. In my desire to utilize technology in meaningful ways I had a very relaxed policy on cellphone use. Students were instructed to use their phones with instructional purposes only….
That did not work well in the classroom. I spent an entire school year competing for my students’ attention. Their interest was always divided between trying to do their work and having a peek at their phones to conduct personal business. I felt lost. My “put away the phone” routine soon became old. Students would justify their use by pretending they were looking for class information. It was an uphill battle, one that I did not win.
Even though my cell phone policy has not changed, my monitoring of it has. Here are the incredible benefits that I see now:

In the past, when there were a few minutes of down time, students would pull out their phone and engage with their phone. Now, students even bring book to read while they are waiting on others to finish an activity or they engage in conversation with others.

In the past, Google was the to go place to have questions answered. Now, students are actually forced to work together, ask questions, help each other, and use their knowledge to solve problems.

Allowing phones in the classroom provided a tool for students to engage in cheating and plagiarism as they would copy the work of others through pictures. Even if I was monitoring the classroom, having a phone on the table at all times created too many distractions and negative behaviors.

My policy now allows for cellphone use only for a structured learning activity. Students pull out their phones during the activity and have to put them away once we finished. I know it seems like a “no brainer”, but it took me a whole year to refine my cellphone policy. I see too many teachers nowadays taking the lay back approach. Their thinking is that students should know what to do and not to do even if their phones are out. I disagree. As I explained to parents during Back to School Night: “My cellphone policy might be strict now, but rest assure that when your students are in my class, they will not be taken care of personal business on their phones”. As a parent, I want the confidence that if my child is in school, there are learning opportunities taking place.

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