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Cell Strategies

Some Tips On Creating Any Change In Cell Phone Policy.

There is new research suggesting that cell phones may not be as bad for young brains as some have thought, yet every teacher knows that they are a significant distraction and that when they are available usually little learning takes place.

Several school districts are shifting polices – and some are putting new ones in place or tightening them up. So, what is the best way to take into consideration that students have a very close connection to their phones (their extensive use is often now categorized as an addiction) and that they may even be a tool for learning, but obviously are too alluring to be allowed in class?

The pros

A recent article in Slate magazine suggests that some of the research about the detrimental effect of screen time on young people may not have been conclusive, while other researchers are finding that there are conditions under which cell phones cause distractions, but that the young people who are most affected may have struggled anyway.

In addition, some schools have loosened up their policies as useful cell phone applications have developed that can enhance learning. As one teacher advocating for their use in classroom put it: “They have a very powerful computer in their pocket. Let’s figure out a way to use them.” Others believe controlling cell phone use has become another burdensome area where overworked teachers must monitor and discipline students

The cons

Yet total bans have been put in place in several places and educators report good results.

School districts throughout Wisconsin  banned cell phones in the classroom at the start of the 2018-19 school year and when Principal Robin Kvalvo and her staff confiscated more than 200 phones during the past school year, and classroom performance improved, she says.

Bethel, CO., Middle School Principal Shawn Parris has said there have been multiple benefits to a ban. Better attention in class, more face-to-face communications between students and with the staff and even a positive response from parents who are afraid they can’t monitor cell phone usage in school and want their students to be paying attention.

One study has also shown that just the idea that a cell phone is nearby can be distracting to students – and even if their use is allowed just outside the classroom in school it can easily seep into class.

Without an outright ban, phones became a slippery slope, with students sneaking a peak in their book bags, pockets or under their desk,” Parris told a local paper. “We are just taking that temptation away,” she said.

Other research  at Rutgers University indicated that students who had the devices available on average scored a half-letter grade lower on exams and students who didn’t use a device but were in the same classroom scored lower than those in classrooms where devices were banned.

The policy

So, given that, what are some considerations about rules related to cell phones. Here are some ideas.

Get input. Most schools or classrooms by now have some sort of policy, but if a change is being considered or a firm policy is going to be enforced, get all staff and parents involved – even students (with the understanding that they can have a say, but that they may not have the final word). Students might be asked to come up with workable ideas that limit cell phone use.

Make is consistent. Enforce the policy across the board, in each class and all the time, with the same consequences for breaking the rules. Don’t let it be a flexible rule because it is too easy to bend it and find the policy has no power.

Ban or no ban. There are really only three approaches to cell phones – use any time, use in specific, limited circumstances or a total ban. Open use is uncommon, but if some use is allowed the specific times and circumstances have to be spelled our concretely. Some schools allow use outside of classrooms and some teachers provide a period when students can use cell phones in a break from studies, with loss of the privilege to anyone caught using one outside of those parameters.

Confiscation, or control. Whether there is a ban on cell phones for the entire school or during certain periods or outside of the classroom, school leaders have to consider whether they will confiscate phones, ask that they be kept in lockers or just require that they be out of sight.

Monitoring some use. If some use is allowed two things have to be considered: Time and location. When can they be used and where, and how those will those parameters be enforced? Finding a way they can be used, particularly if a teacher wants students to use their phones for educational purposes, can be challenging. Some educators at the college level and in some secondary schools have found that it helps if only a portion of the class can use them at any one time, and in a certain spot where their use can be supervised.

Make it positive. Research has repeatedly found that any time educators try to establish boundaries, students are more likely to accept them if they are involved in the decision, understand its purpose and get on board because they believe it is for their own good. Also, students know the phone can take up too much of their time, and many will support controls. So, some schools have made cell phone control a “cause” in the school that benefits everyone, rather than a policing matter. So, themes for the policy might have a “Let’s not let cell phones control our attention” feel to them rather than a “no cell phones here” tone.

Written by Jim Paterson, Education World Contributing Writer

Jim Paterson is a writer, contributing to a variety of national publications, most recently specializing in education. During a break from writing for a period, he was the head of a school counseling department. (

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