Cellphones in the Classroom: The Controversy Continues!


Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation or in the midst of telling a story and the other person pulls out their phone to text or scroll through social media? It might seem hard to believe, but trust me, it happens. It can be hard to carry on a conversation or keep a story going when this occurs because you lose attention, connection, and engagement from the other person.

Similar circumstances often happen in our classrooms. As a grade 3 teacher, this kind of scenario doesn’t play out all too often in my current classroom, but I understand the difficulty that teachers have with the increase of cell phone use during class time. I hear from countless teachers how distracting cellphones in the classroom can be. Paul W. Bennett from the Globe and Mail says “cellphone proliferation has affected student behaviour and compounded the very real challenges of class management.” Cellphones have the power to interrupt, disrupt, and disengage students. Does that mean we should respond by banning cellphones in the classroom altogether? I would argue no.

Last week, our #eci830 class had a debate about the use of cellphones in schools. Should cellphones and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) be banned in the classroom? We debated and discussed to find out. Jill and Tarina, who argued that cellphones should be banned, brought some important arguments forward. They said that cellphones not only distract the user, but others in the class as well. They argued that students should use school devices instead of bringing their own devices because school devices are safer to use with their privacy and firewall settings. They also talked about the negative behaviours that cellphone use and increased screen time can bring, such as cyberbullying, “sexting”, and screen addiction. These are all important points to reflect upon, but the argument that cellphones shouldn’t be banned from the classroom still rings true for me.

Instead of banning cellphones from the classroom, Skyler and Alyssa argued that there should be an emphasis on responsible cellphone use instead. Their catchphrase, “don’t make a ban, have a plan”, lets educators know that personal technology can be used as a powerful tool for learning if there are guidelines set in place. Lucie Renard reminds us that, “it’s better to embrace them than to ban them.”

Yes, using cellphones in the classroom can add new, difficult elements of change. Change is not easy, yet it is necessary. As educators, we need to ask ourselves if we are going to take hold of this change and use it as an opportunity to empower our students. Are we going to encourage our students to use our classroom as a “safe space to make mistakes”, as Alyssa pointed out in our debate, or are we going to ignore the technology that students use on a regular basis outside of the four walls of our classroom? Instead of banning cellphones altogether, let’s talk about some productive ways to encourage responsible and inspiring use in the classroom.

In a post called, “Mobile Phone Etiquette: How to Promote Concentration in the Classroom”, Lucie Renard poses 5 ways for maintaining focus in the classroom when cellphones are present.

  1. Create your own mobile phone policy
  2. Make use of educational apps
  3. Use smartphones to assess learning
  4. Encourage the use of organization apps
  5. Let your students have some fun

After reading her list, it got me thinking about the way I would implement cell phones in the classroom and what my “Top 5” would be. Here are some of my ideas:

  1. Integrate Digital Literacy and Citizenship Skills Authentically and Regularly

Kids are using their devices outside of school, so why wouldn’t we take that into consideration in our classroom? We are raising students in a digital world, which means we need to teach them how to navigate it in positive ways. Using resources like Common Sense Education, Media Smarts, and the Saskatchewan Digital Citizenship Policy Planning Guide will help you implement digital skills in your lessons so that students can use their cellphones and devices with a greater understanding. Teachers need to be intentional about modelling and implementing digital citizenship with their students so that cellphones can be used for a greater purpose.

2. Responsibility Takes Practice

Just like any other skill, using cellphones in the classroom takes practice. Students should not only learn basic digital citizenship skills, but they also need to learn how to use their devices responsibly in social settings. Some teachers start by implementing systems to teach them regulation and self-control, such as the Cellphone Stop Light System, like Amy mentioned in her post. When the green light is highlighted, students can use their cellphones for learning purposes. When yellow is marked, the cellphone is at their desk, but they need to ask before they use it. If the red light is highlighted, it’s either off or on silent. Some teachers have Cellphone Parking Lots or Phone Pockets where students can leave their cellphones during class to limit their distractions. These are all procedures some teachers find useful when monitoring cellphone use within the classroom.

3. Have a Unified Plan as a School

It’s always hard to implement routines in your classroom if other teachers are on vastly different pages, especially when it comes to technology. Establishing a plan with your school or grade-alike teachers at the beginning of the school year can ease the transition with cellphone use in the classroom. Discuss the guidelines you want to implement for BYOD and what types of skills you want to teach your students early on and throughout the year. It’s also important to discuss equity and equal access for your students as a staff or even school division. What are your plans when students lack access to devices or connection? How will you create an environment that benefits all learners? Having these discussions with your school are crucial if you are implementing BYOD or encouraging cellphone use in your class. When you have a unified plan as a staff, you will bring more opportunity for unity among your students.

4. There’s a Time and a Place

It’s important to recognize that cellphones are created for connection and community, but it’s also necessary to have physical and face-to-face connection in the classroom. ISTE suggests 3 Tips for Balanced Digital Wellness and remind us that “technology and smart devices are integrated into our lives. Just as we teach the importance of physical exercise and healthy eating, digital wellness and balance is a critical skill that children must be taught early and often.” There is a time and a place for cellphone use in and out of the classroom and students need to learn that before they are able to carry it out as a habit.

5. Empower Your Students

When students have access to technology and social media, they have access to empowerment and leadership online. As educators, we need to empower our students to use technology for good. When students are given the chance to use their cellphones in class as a learning tool, we can teach them how to positively influence and impact other people online. Just last week, there was a group of six teenagers who “organized and led a 10,000-person protest in Nashville against racism and police brutality”, which all started on Twitter. They were able to use social media for social justice. We can inspire these types of actions in our classroom, all with the use of their devices and cellphones.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

So… Should Cellphones Be Banned?

With all that being said, there are so many different aspects to consider when using cellphones in the classroom. We need to understand that it’s not as simple as banning or not banning. There are issues that arise when integrating technology in the classroom, especially personal devices. However, I believe that when we model responsible use, come up with a plan with our school team, and empower our students to use their devices for good, then we can see a lasting positive impact of cellphone use in the classroom. So I’m curious…

Have you had positive or negative experiences when implementing BYOD or cellphone use in your classroom? Are there specific guidelines or structures that you have implemented in your classroom to make BYOD successful?

Debating these controversial topics in education are essential so that we can widen our perspectives and see issues from all points of views. I am looking forward to hearing your perspective!


3 thoughts on “Cellphones in the Classroom: The Controversy Continues!

  1. Great article Amanda! loved the video. It is a tough one.. So many great points on both sides. I am still in awe of the tally that teacher made on the board to document the distractions… Yikes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like your FIVE ways you would implement devices in the classroom Amanda. I especially like the idea of integrating digital literacy & citizenship lessons throughout the year, not just in one unit.

    Liked by 1 person

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