But for us to be able to use cellphones and other mobile devices for instruction, we have to be honest about what we are doing to manage these devices in class. There are behaviors, like the one I mentioned above, that need to be addressed. I’ve found a sizable gap between what we hope our classroom behaviors around cellphones accomplish, and what they actually accomplish.
Here are four mistakes you, as an educator, might be making and suggestions for what you can do differently to achieve a better result starting tomorrow.
What we do: Tell kids to keep cellphones out of sight.
What we hope it does: We hope out of sight means out of mind. Conventional wisdom says that if kids don’t have their phones out, they’ll be less likely to experience the urge to use them.
What it actually does: The opposite. Lack of proximity to a device does not correlate with lack of desire to use it. Don’t believe me? Go sit in a church or other house or worship. Pick a denomination. Most religions are equal opportunity offenders. Divert your eyes from the pulpit and to the congregation. You’ll see adults and kids alike all too frequently pull their phones out to check the source of a vibration in their pockets or purses. Think about that. For some, digital ranks higher than divinity. That means your lesson could walk on water . . . and still lose a face-off with a cellphone.
Instead: Designate a cellphone spot at the top corner of desks or tables. I’ve seen many teachers tape it off with blue painter’s tape. Develop a classroom culture, inclusive of procedures and consequences, whereby all cellphones are turned off (yes, actually off) at the start of class and placed in their designated location until the teacher decides he or she wants them included as part of the lesson. It is far easier to manage the visible than the invisible. Furthermore, you still have the option to use them as needed, without developing yet another classroom procedure for their retrieval.
What we do: Take cellphones away from kids when they are being used in a way or at a time that doesn’t serve our purpose.
What we hope it does: We imagine this will be a sufficient deterrent or consequence to prevent future undesirable use.
What it actually does: Nothing close to that. If this consequence actually prevented kids from using their phones at inopportune times, schools wouldn’t need policies, procedures, bans, or restrictions around cellphone use. Furthermore, if this actually worked, you’d only have to take one cellphone from one student at the beginning of every school year. Poof! Problem solved. We know that’s not reality. The fact is, no matter how many phones you confiscate, you’ll continue to fight this battle and lose.
Instead: Interpret this behavior for what it is: feedback! If kids are wandering off task and onto their phones, you can infer two things:
- They’re disengaged. We need to check in with our pacing, our activities, and our delivery.
- Something about your lesson needs a jolt of engagement.
Kids don’t have a strong foundation of understanding relative to your expectations of technology use. Are your rules unclear? Are your consequences too weak? Is your follow-through inconsistent? Chances are, one of these things is true.