Earlier this school year, I wrote about my ongoing battles with secondary students and smartphone use in the classroom. My ‘new’ attempt at controlling the issue was to educate students about the dangers of smartphone use and to let them set their own classroom guidelines collaboratively with me so that we could all co-exist with cell phones in the classroom. See my earlier blog about this topic here.
Although the ‘solution’ described in my semester 1 blog had a legitimately strong start, it soon lost steam and come the end of semester I was again in a grudge match with students about their smartphone use in class. Throughout the last couple weeks, I gave up entirely and let it slide as I had more pressing issues….ahem….credit completion, grading, exam prep, etc. If my students needed me to babysit them during class lessons and work time due to phone use in those last couple weeks, they were up a certain creek without a paddle. Too bad for them.
But as the dawn of a new semester began, by problem solving started anew; moreover, I was triggered by many educational articles about bans of smartphone use in schools all together. This movement can be credited to France, where it has been widely publicized that cell phones will be banned in schools come September 2018. See article: France Moves To Ban Students From Using Cellphones In Schools.
So, I went back to the drawing board and really thought about my options; I also did some more research and reading about the topics of: smartphones, teenagers, the teenage brain, impulse control, etc. etc.. After much reading and contemplation, I came to the following conclusion: the only solution for teenagers is a full out ban in school. However, since I have no control beyond my classroom walls, I’d have to stick to that for now.
My conclusion was derived from the following information gathered from my research:
- smartphone use is increasingly being connected to teen depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
- teenagers have limited abilities to control their impulses, especially those that are physically rewarding (i.e. dopamine surges from smartphone use)
- students who are not allowed smartphones in school test groups were found to achieve higher academic results and increase their focus in the classroom
- my own students admit (via personal reflections and questionnaires) that they know smartphone use effects their school achievement negatively
- my observations have consistently noted that my weakest students are the most prone to excessive/abusive smartphone use in the classroom
- my observations and sociological studies show that our youth are losing the ability to build emotional intelligence and communication skills due to their smartphone use
- my students have daily access to Chromebooks for schoolwork and research, having smartphones in the classroom had no benefit at all but to distract them from classroom lectures, assignments and activities
Based on this evidence, I marched into semester 2 classes ready for a battle, but also armed with research via an article of the week:“50% of Teens Think They are Addicted to Their Smartphones”and a Google Form worksheet/questionnaire about smartphone use in the classroom linked to articles, statistics, etc. I didn’t start with a discussion of a ban, instead began with an open discussion, then moved to having students complete my questionnaire and article of the week.
I believe that these visual statistics generated from the student questionnaire connect beautifully with my research.
Clearly, student questionnaire results demonstrate that my students are not ready to make appropriate decisions for themselves regarding their smartphone use. They admit to bringing them to class, know that it negatively effects their achievement, but can’t make the connection that a ban is necessary. Case in point. Shockingly, the same results plagued each individual class, which for me translated into some great ‘hey look at this data’ conversations.
After those conversations, sharing all the results of the questionnaire and participating in my article of the week activity, suggesting an all out smartphone ban in my classroom was met with……nothing. Nada. Not a word. Since that day on, students have either left their smartphones in their lockers or in a box I’ve set up on my front counter.
It’s been over a week and I have had NO, yes NO complaints or offences related to smartphones. The result? Focus. Work completion. Student communication and collaboration. I’m never going back, no way, no how.
To add insult to injury after all these years of smartphone issues, I’ve had at least three students tell me that they are glad smartphones are banned in my class; that making the decision for them helps with the temptation of using the device inappropriately.
What this experience has taught me is simple (and something I’ve known all along): our students need and crave boundaries, and we are responsible for setting them. Like parents, sometimes we need to make decisions for our students that aren’t popular, but we are doing so for their own good. One day, when they are adults and their brains have matured beyond immediate gratification, they will be able to make logical decisions about smartphone use, but right now most of them just aren’t ready for that.
To be honest, the reading and research I completed regarding this topic was really scary. At times, in my own home I feel like the technology Nazi with my own kids, but I have no issues with that now. Smartphones are not toys, babysitters or entertainment systems. They are sophisticated devices that are proven to be addictive, and allow children and teens access to the entire world at their fingertips. Yes, in terms of information and immediate communication this is wonderful. However, it can quickly turn hellish if the information and/or communication acquired is inappropriate, abusive or malicious.
I’ve pretty much hit the wall regarding smartphones in the classroom. Any benefits are minuscule in comparison to the drawbacks faced by many, if not all students. I can’t wait to see the results of the ban in France come this time next year. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see many other countries follow suit.
What do you think about cell phones in the classroom? Should they be banned from schools? Comment below!