Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Teachers can't compete with smartphones

I admit it. For all the trying in the world, I still can't compete with a smartphone. And although a very technologically oriented person myself, I'm all for banning them entirely from my classroom.

I mean, I have a small love affair with my iPhone. I even have a smartwatch, for Pete's sake. I get it. I used to not bring the phone to class, ever. Then, I started bringing it to class since I thought I might be able to make a bigger impact by modelling for students that I can control when I look at it. When it sends me a notification and I'm in the middle of something, I can continue teaching or helping a student or the conversation I am having. Students interrupt and urgently say, "Ms. Barz, you got a message!" or,  "your phone just went off; shouldn't you check that?"

No, no, no, no and no.

These "no" statements are how I feel when I interact with students who are distracted - scratch that, rather, controlled - by cell phones. It's all NEGATIVE. In fact, with a handful of students, I can count on one hand how many times I've had a positive interaction with them in almost 90 school days this semester. And yet multiple times everyday, I ask them to put away their phones and get insolence, a snarky response, a lie ("it's my Mom," or "I'm not even on it!" or "I'm just checking the time, geez" or "I'm just changing the song.") or even a profanity for me having the gall to ask them to do what their supposed to be doing in class.

I thought I could try some humour to help the issue starting this past fall. My classroom door has had this sign on it for the entire school year:

It didn't work. Pretty sure that the students didn't even notice it. And, honestly, I do find phones a useful tool in a classroom when used for only the task at hand. In some classes, they are regularly used since computer labs and the change to newer technology has necessitated the move to support student and staff Bring-Your-Own-IT initiatives.

So, this semester, I started with a bin for cell phones with the label below.

That didn't last, either. I asked students to put them in the bin when they walked into class. Simple solution, right? Not so much.

Then I actually started to walk around the class with the bin and to prompt every student to put their phone in the bin, again prompting a negative interaction with nearly every student to start the day. Unfortunately, it also singled out the few kids who don't have phones, too, which added to the negativity as a whole. So I crossed that strategy off my list.

A suggestion that has come up several times is having a three strike rule. Given that many classes have 25 students in them, that would mean 75 reminders or negative interactions. To put the potential severity of this into perspective, this could mean that I would have one negative interaction for EVERY MINUTE of class, as 75 minute classes are the norm in Ontario. In short, I could basically do nothing but desperately plead with kids to put their phones away for the entire period and spend no time at all actually teaching to the curriculum, EQAO standardized testing or anything of any conceivable value. This seems woefully wasteful of both their time and mine.

Negativity goes against everything I stand for as a person and that I hope to encourage as a classroom teacher. My simple goal is to have a positive interaction with every student every day. After all, the research says that even a 20 minute conversation can make an impact with a student, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time. Those 20 minute conversations grow out of trust and positivity; I'm convinced of it.

Ask most people who know me well and they will say I'm definitely on the glass-half-full side of life...bordering on full-out, relentless positivity. So, I don't want to be the person who has to start my class three times each day with a negative interaction with almost every student. I do want students to be able to mature and grow into people who can focus when necessary and who can use phones at appropriate times that are agreed upon in our class. And, I do want the classroom to be as positive as possible. We're not perfect in this education system...but we can be better.

Any and all positive solutions welcome from all integral parts of the education trifecta - parents, students and school staff.



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  2. Beth! A strategy someone told me about but I have not yet had to use with my 6s. How it works is, you would have a code word that the students would all know. When they hear the word they have x amount of time to flash the display of their phones. If the display is at all unrelated or inappropriate, they have to give up their phone. Same goes for a delay in flashing their cell displays. Not sure how disruptive the technique is or if it would be effective but worth a try! :)


  3. Beth, this topic seems to grind everyone's gears, so here is a suggestion.
    We need consistency in the school on how every classroom is going to deal with the cell phone issue. My idea is to have a School Policy in place regarding cell phones that is attached to to The School Code of Conduct and Behaviour outlining the rules and consequences that the parent's have to sign and return. I even suggest to send it to the parent/guardian by email so that they can electronically sign it and send it back.
    Here is my suggestion for the policy.
    1. Student comes in and turns off cell phone and places it in the bin which is to be locked during the class. At the end of the class, the bin is unlocked and the phone is returned.
    Here are the consequences for not following the simple task.
    1. First offence of student not complying with the rule, student has phone removed by teacher and it's locked in the vault for the remainder of the day. Student can retrieve it at the end of the day.
    2. Second offence of student not complying with the rule, same as above, plus a detention at lunch.
    3. Third offence of student not complying with the rule; student is banned from bringing a phone to school. If parent insists that student must bring a phone, then the phone will be locked in the vault every day.
    4. If the student does not adhere to this, then suspension.


  4. I like it in theory...just need to add a spreadsheet to track it. And, then are we tracking for offences in each class or within the student's timetable as a whole. Does it restart every year? Is this something admin wants to add to their plate?