How to Manage Cell Phone Use in Your Classroom

In today’s technological world, there is no escaping the smartphone phenomenon. The average person uses their smartphone anywhere from 8 to 10 hours a day. Most people are even checking their phones every 15 to 20 minutes while they’re awake. The ways in which smartphones have become such an essential part of modern life is staggering, and something to be aware of when teaching in a classroom.

Smartphones can be both a great educational tool and a great distraction in the classroom. It should come as no surprise that almost every child in the US owns or has access to a smartphone. Statistics show that 56 percent of children age 8 to 12 have a smartphone. That number jumps up to 88 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 17 have or have access to a smartphone. And a whopping 91 percent of middle and high school aged students primarily access the internet via their smartphones.

This change in the way we interact with technology and integrate it into our lives has come dramatically and fast. It’s sometimes hard for teachers, many of whom grew up in an era with no mobile phones or even the internet, to adapt to this fast-paced technological generation. While smartphones can easily be the downfall of your students’ attention spans and performance, they don’t have to be. More and more educators these days are incorporating modern technology and students’ own smartphones into their classroom to engage and excite students about learning. Below you will find useful tips on how to manage cell phone use in your classroom, and use it for your teaching benefit.

Establish Expectations

At the beginning of the school year or semester, it’s a good idea to be blunt with your students about what you expect of them when it comes to using their smartphones in class. This is also the time to tell them about any plans to incorporate technology into the classroom. The best way to create a set of rules when it comes to cell phone usage is to do it together with the students.

Set aside a class period at the beginning of the year where you and your students talk about the best way to keep their attention focused on classwork.

Include a clear list of times that it is and isn’t appropriate to be using your phone in class. It’s also important to agree on and clearly lay out the consequences of breaking the rules. You can even write up a contract or agreement laying out all of the expectations and effects you agreed upon as a class, and have them read it over and sign it. This way students know what to expect, and there are no surprises when they’re caught using their smartphones.

Engage Your Students with the Technology

The best way to manage cell phones and other technology isn’t to ignore it, but to use it as an educational tool. There are several different apps such as Socrative and many others that you can easily incorporate into your classroom and use for fun activities. These apps engage students by allowing them to use their own smartphones or mobile devices in an educational setting. Using these apps for activities like exit tickets—activities students have to do before leaving the class, or bell ringers—activities that students do at the beginning of each class period, can bring diversity to your curriculum and keep the interest of even your most distraction-prone students.

Take the Time to Walk Around the Classroom

It’s hard to tell whether or not your students are staying on task when you can’t see their screens. You can easily fix this by re-arranging the desks into a semi-circle or small group design, making their screens more visible to you. Another solution is to increase the time you dedicate to walking around the classroom. If students know that you’re likely to come their way with little to no warning, they’re more likely to stay on task. You can also tell who is busy with other distractions on their phone or mobile devices, by those that exit out of tabs quickly or double tap their home screen when they realize you’re walking by.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Them Away

It’s just as important to engage your students with technology as it is to give them a break from it. They’re on their phone all day every day, at school and at home. While they may not be fans of the idea, it may be beneficial to both their attention spans and mental health to designate a technology-free period of time. A sure-fire way to enforce this technology-free time in the classroom and rid your students of any temptation to check their phone while you’re not looking is to have students put their phones in a basket or on your desk. By eliminating all temptation and ability to check their phone for a portion of the class, the can focus better on the task at hand. This strategy works great for group discussions, tests, and quizzes when students have the hardest time focusing.

Give Your Students a Tech Break

Every 20 to 30 or so minutes, give your students a chance to check their phones and have some free time. Most students claim to experience anxiety when they’re unable to check their phone for more than 20 minutes. Giving your students three minutes to respond to text messages, look at their notifications, and check social media gives them a chance to get some anxiety out so it’s not distracting them when they should be focusing on learning.

Can you think of any additional ways that teachers can manage cell phone use in their classrooms?


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