Tag Archives: classroom_management

Taming the Student Cell Phone

https://www.flickr.com/photos/afsusa/9284763561I love Facebook as a professional development tool, if only for the way it encourages easy conversation and the spread of ideas. Teachers in our district have embraced it as a way to easily reach their audience- students, parents, and peers, and I’m no different. It’s a great way to distribute ideas and tools that relate to my job as a technology integrator.

A colleague recently shared an article to our Tech Goodies page called How to Manage Cell Phones in the Classroom. In it, author Ben Johnson suggests that teachers decide on a classroom cell phone policy, get support from the administration and make expectations clear to students- even posting the policy on the walls as a constant reminder. Consequences need to be clear and enforced. He also suggests creating an environment where there is little downtime so students are more engaged in learning and less apt to check out by checking texts.

It’s all good advice and it’s what many good teachers already do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. The degree of success of a cell phone policy often is in direct response to the relationship the teacher has with students.

Think about this from a student perspective. We lay down all the rules, and we are as tough about enforcement as our management style allows. They, in turn, have been trained through however many years they’ve been in school to assess the risk- and then do what they want. This is business as usual for them.

Many schools are shifting towards a student-centered learning model, yet our policies still read like  court judgments. Legally we do need to have broad policies in place to ensure student safety and comply with federal law. Outside of that, however, we have some leeway. Because our school culture hasn’t kept up with our students’ digital culture, we have some catching up to do. It’s work that might better be done without a “top-down” edict.

What about if we included students in the process of developing a classroom cell phone policy? I’m not suggesting this from a “student-council-input-into-policy” discussion. I’m talking about a classroom by classroom policy. Think of it as a whole lot of social science experiments taking place, collecting data on what works and what doesn’t.

I can hear the feathers ruffling from here. “We need consistency. We already have a ‘no-cellphones’ policy. The rules have to be the same for everyone building-wide. The kids just have to comply or face the consequences.”

The idea of different rules in different rooms is a hard sell- but truthfully, don’t we already have it? Some teachers accept late students, some don’t. Some require seating charts while others allow free seating. Classroom management has ALWAYS differed from room to room- thank goodness!

As a classroom teacher, I was always ok with the overarching guidelines of our building. It was the details that sometimes made me a little crazy. One principal outlawed any food at all in the classroom. I thought the student who skidded in late with breakfast in hand stood a better chance learning while eating than he did having to sit in the cafeteria and missing half of class- or worse yet, sitting in class hungry and unfocused. A modification to sit away from the computers until he was finished suited us both.

And so it is with cell phones. We can’t pretend they don’t exist- but we can’t allow free range. Where’s the middle ground? I propose that we ask our students what they think is reasonable. Sure, at first they will say they should be able to have them out and use them whenever, wherever. Explore that idea! It will open up many topics of discussion as you develop the framework of your classroom culture:

  • respect for a space students can work in
  • management of distractions
  • accountability for work in a timely fashion
  • ethical conduct and personal integrity (cell phones are widely used for cheating)
  • real world workplace expectations
  • reflection and revision of what is working/not working
  • how their cell phone use meshes with the school’s code of conduct guidelines

Students that have ownership of their classroom cell phone policy are more apt to work within the parameters they set for themselves. You might ask them for ideas for formative assessments of how the policy is working at certain times throughout the first couple of weeks of school, with ways to adjust the policy until it is a functioning part of their classroom workflow. Making students an integral part of that assessment piece is critical for continued improvement.

What about those that just can’t comply? Perhaps they are not ready for the responsibility of having a phone available in class. For those without the skills to manage the tool, separation from the device may be the only answer. That said, their policy should provide them a way to grow into the skills necessary to be successful within their classroom rules. Keep in mind that you are asking them to change a deeply ingrained habit. In some cases, it’s one of continual and constant contact. Habits take time and strategies to change.

You’ll notice I left out the concept of punishment. I’m a firm believer that the consequences that students set for themselves will always have more weight than detentions or other punitive actions we set up. Time in detention teaches a student NOTHING. Time in a reflective intervention with you (and/or peers) can help students identify the issues that cause them to move from the learning environment to a distracted realm. This is the time to find ways to bridge the gap and keep them moving forward.

Finally, look at your own habits. Are you modelling the cell phone use you want your students to employ? Students don’t miss a trick and will be more apt to buy into change if you are setting the example for acceptable use.

Helping Students Stay Focused

Today I had a text from a student who (finally!) has recognized that her laptop is sometimes more of a distraction than a learning tool. In her senior year, she has  ground to make up and she wanted  help to stay connected with her work and disconnected from the things that pull her off track. She asked me if I could block a particular site that drags her off course.

I’ve played with the parental controls on the laptops and have found that when it comes to blocking websites, parental controls do more harm than good. For some reason, the parental controls DO block the websites we put in…and then they go a bit further and block ALL secure websites (those with https in the beginning of the address.) This makes it nearly impossible to use the internet- defeating the purpose of the controls in the first place.

And truthfully, it’s important for HER to regulate her internet use. I can clamp down the internet but it won’t keep her off her phone or her friend’s computer. She has to realize that the power to control herself lies ultimately within her- but it’s ok to add the needed supports.

And so rather than take her laptop and do unnecessary surgery, I pointed her towards the Chrome WebStore. A search of the webstore produced a number of apps and extensions that students can use to help keep themselves off of distracting sites. Here are a few that I like:

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.03.58 PMStrict Workflow– allows students to block sites for a particular time period, give themselves a break, then block them again. The default is 25 minutes of blocking with 5 minutes of break, but this can be customized as the student wishes. It can also be set so that it only allows certain sites for a time period – for example, a student could ONLY go on a limited list of sites during a 50 minute class period if it was on that setting.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.15 PMStay Focused – similar to Strict Workflow, StayFocused allows students to create a list of blocked sites. It allows a lot of customization- for example, there is a nuclear option that allows them to block sites or allow only certain sites, set the time, and go- with no way to cancel it until the time runs out.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.56 PMBlocksite- like the other two, Blocksite lets a student customize a list of sites that won’t be allowed. The student can set a time to begin blocksite and a time to end it. In addition, Blocksite gives the option of creating a list of words that can’t be searched.

All of these tools are free. They are installed and controlled by the student.
They can just as easily  be uninstalled by the student. They don’t give teachers any control whatsoever- which is a good thing. What these tools DO give teachers is the opportunity to take advantage of a teachable moment. Telling a student who is addicted to Facebook to “just stay off of it” isn’t going to work. Nor is trying to watch their every move.  There is scientific evidence from brain researchers that says there is a chemical change in the brain that makes us seek the attention we get from others in social media. It’s OK for kids to understand that sometimes they don’t have the willpower to stay focused on a difficult task. I’ve used these tools myself to save myself from getting sucked into Facebook rather than doing homework.

I’m sending a link to this post to all of the students in grades 6-12. When the time comes, remind them that they have the ability to self-monitor themselves.