10 Ways to Manage Cellphones in the Classroom

The chatter about cellphones or no cellphones needs to be redirected toward a conversation about classroom management. These devices are foreign to many educators (not really) and challenge the way we've always done it.

Try some of these strategies, and ask yourself if your decision is what's best for you or your students. 

1. Don't Put Them Away

Powering down is not what you want for students. Put them to work. The students are only on their phones because the way they're being taught isn't the way they want to learn. Give them something better to do or they'll find it on their own. 

2. Place Face Down

When I taught middle school percussion, it was hard to keep the fidgety little drummers quiet while I gave directions. My assistant band director came in one day and said, "Place the sticks on the stand and take three steps back." It worked perfectly. 

Placing the phone face down conveys that phones are acceptable when used at the right time.

3. Ask Questions to be Researched

We use our phones to look up information everyday. Why should it be any different in school? The great thing about using phones to research in school is that you'll get ten different sources in one minute that could lead to a discussion on evaluating sources.

Sure, Joey and Sue will finish early so they can sneak a Snapchat (or whatever they do). This is not much different than students finishing early and passing notes, doing work for another class, or chatting with a neighbor. It's not the phone's fault (see number 9).

4. Use Learning Apps 

If students have smartphones, they should be expected to use them for learning. Let's think about this. If they don't use their phones in a formal setting, they won't develop professional digital literacy skills. They won't have the social and emotional connection between their device and formalized work.

It's not too much to require them to have four apps on their phone. In fact, get their parents involved and the circle of stakeholders is complete.

My must-use apps are Remind, Google Drive, Quizlet, and Verso.

5. Encourage Parents to Try the Apps

Don't stop at explaining to parents about the apps their kids are using. Ask them to install them on their cellphones. Involving parents means they are included in their child's education. They want that and deserve it, too.  

6. The Basket

Our campus policy says that I can turn a student's phone into the office. That means they have to pay to get it back.

I don't like touching student property, so they place it in the basket when they don't heed the warning. Students can have their phone back when they need it for the lesson or at the end of class.

But I can count on one hand how many times this has happened in three years.

7. Say What You Mean, Don't Be Mean

If you treat anyone like they're not good enough, they will eventually realize that they can succeed at controlling your emotions through their misbehavior. Put away the ax you're trying to grind and remind yourself about how amazing your students are and that they are still kids.

They'll respect you for it, especially if they test you several times before holiday break and you maintain your composure with every response. You just might change someone's life.

8. Remind Students Who You Are

I've had to tell students over and over that although we do things a certain way in our class, they have to respect the ways of the other teachers and not throw it in their face that "Mr. Zahner lets us use our phones."

Coach them on those conversations. Ask them to try saying things like, "If we were allowed to use our phones to search Google, we could then share our responses on the board." I've learned that teachers who are resistant to hi-tech are more comfortable when the finished product is completed using low-tech.

It only takes one story from one individual who persuaded another teacher to let them use their phones before their respect for your rules becomes solidified. It's not the rules they respect. It's you!

9. Tell Tale Look

Students have a particular set of mannerisms that go with sneaking an unsanctioned use of devices. They look up and down and try to not look up and down by positioning their heads at a weird angle and moving their eyes as little as possible.

I can feel it when they do this. It's easy if you're paying attention. The important thing to remember is to not hassle them (see number 7). Let them reveal their poker face – if they have one.

10. Phones Do Not Distract 

I loath the looks people give me when I'm on my phone – perhaps reading or communicating with someone important, like my Mom. Why is it any different than reading a book? Or writing in a notebook?

People make it different. We are terrible self-regulators when it comes to mobile device use. Where do you think kids learned to walk and text? Adults are the worse offenders.

Be an upstander by modeling appropriate use of your smartphone, but please do not be negative about it. Address the behavior, not the device. 

Also read, "10 Reasons to Allow Cellphones in Classrooms." 

Resources (Very Good Resources)