Saturday, September 21, 2019

Where we are with phones in the classroom

Students being distracted by phones at school began registering in the early 2010s. By the late 2010s, the problem was full-blown.

Teachers and administrators were somewhat flat-footed in their response. They didn't understand the depth of the phone addiction epidemic because they hadn't ever suffered from it. That was a mistake.

Amid the generational gap in understanding, teachers were overrun. Many wearied of pleading and admonishing and bribing and punishing students to keep them from using their phones in class. 

As in any profession, teachers populate a spectrum of professionalism. And at one end of the spectrum, some teachers were delighted to discover that they could produce a silent classroom of happy students by letting them "phone out" (zone out on their phones). Teacher effort required: zero. A perfect pacifier. 

There were also the "treat-em-like-adults" optimists who felt that given free anytime access, 14 year-olds in class would exercise  only use their phones if they truly needed to. They were shocked by the ubiquity of that need. 

There were also jerks like me. I never harbored any patience for unauthorized phone use in class. And my authorizations were few and far between. Very few. The "No Phone Zone" policy is displayed and repeatedly announced. But there were always students who were undeterred. 

Those students were accustomed to teachers begging and pleading. They'd often make an attempt at discretion by hiding their phone behind books or a backpack on the desk. They were in complete disbelief when I assigned them Saturday school upon their very first phone infraction. But that tended to keep subsequent infractions in check to some extent.

Two years ago I cleared out part of my room to make space for a backpack cubbies. Thirty-two: one for each seating location in the classroom. And I authored an accompanying limerick:

The phone goes into the pack
The pack goes into the rack
Kindly observe
That the parking's reserved
In an hour you'll get it all back

The backpack rack is reasonably effective. But phone addiction is strong among teenagers. And getting stronger. Some keep their phone in a pocket rather than surrendering it to the pack which will lie feet away from them for the duration of the period. And, as mentioned previously, my zero tolerance casts me as an intolerant jerk who just doesn't "get it". Some colleagues would suggest I'm not meeting the students where they are.

In 2019, we have sporadic tales of schoolwide attempts to minimize phone distraction in class. My own school flirted with Pocket Points. It required no expenditure and was simple to defeat. Other schools are trying magnetically locked phone bags. The logistics seem cumbersome and, again, teenagers know how to defeat these measures. The addiction is strong.

There is no research that I'm aware of that touts the benefits of student phone use in class. Research to the contrary doesn't seem hard to find. For example:

France has banned phones from classrooms. I don't foresee this happening anywhere in the US. Because
1. many parents delight in having immediate access to their children throughout the school day.
2. classroom teachers, many of whom have all but surrendered on the phone issue, strive to find positive uses for the phones they know will be up and running during class.
3. administrators fall behind in assigning phone-violation discipline as it is. That only stands to get worse with an all-out ban

I will continue to be a No Phone Zone jerk in my own classroom, allowing phone-friendly colleagues to appear "chill" in comparison. Some will argue that students won't be able to concentrate, anxious from having been separated from their phones.

I plan to retire in 2023.


Lee Trampleasure said...

Hang in there Dean, 2023 isn't that far away (and maybe my retirement year as well). I'm bothered by the "chill' teachers who make the rest of us seem like ogres.

I like your backpack cubbies. My create these in my classrooms.

Caroline said...

I have a plastic Shoe holder hanging up in my classroom. The students leave the phones in there at the beginning of class and pick it up at the end. They are numbered so I know who is who. So far, all of my students have been complying!
Unfortunately, at 40 years old, retirement is a ways off for me.

Dean Baird said...

Remember that the addiction is strong. Our countermeasures can be defeated.

The most strongly addicted will bring burner phones that they will happily surrender to whatever sequestration we demand.

The burner phone is surrendered; their active phone remains accessible and on their person at all times.