In the past, a teacher’s desk drawers might have been filled with confiscated candy, passed notes, cheat sheets, or prank toys. In more recent years, teachers began confiscating personal cell phones or gaming devices from their students. Today, with the introduction of 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs or shared classroom devices, teachers now have to balance the distraction of technology with the need for students to use digital tools for learning purposes. Here are a few ideas to control the proper use of electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and cell phones in the classroom.
A note for elementary teachers: If you’re thinking that the issue of personal cell phones in the classroom won’t affect you, think again. The average age for children receiving their first cell phone is 10 years old.
Set Clear Expectations
One of the best ways to manage electronic devices in the classroom is to set clear expectations from day one. Work with your students to outline the rules for successful use of devices. You’ll want to discuss and come to a conclusion on the following points:
- What devices are allowed in the classroom? Are students allowed to bring personal devices or only school-supplied devices?
- Where can students safely store their devices until they are needed — off to the side of their desk, in their bags, or in designated storage areas?
Additionally, you’ll want to touch on these key guidelines:
- Only touch/use the device to which you are assigned.
- Come to school with charged devices.
- Only open the websites or apps that are necessary for the lesson.
- Follow all teacher directions on closing, flipping over, or putting away devices.
Reconsider Classroom Layout
With an increased use of technology in the classroom, it may be necessary to switch up your classroom layout and your location within the classroom.
If you’ve traditionally set up your classroom seating in rows, it can be more difficult to monitor the students in the back of the room and ensure they’re staying on task with their devices. Instead, you might want to try cluster or pod seating in groups of two or four desks. This will make it easier for you to move throughout the room as you teach and as students work on their laptops or tablets.
Before Each Lesson
As a visual aid, many teachers use the Stoplight Approach which allows students to quickly see if they’ll need electronic devices for the upcoming lesson.
- Red Light: Devices will not be used and should be stored away.
- Yellow Light: Devices will be used eventually, but should be closed or flipped over and set at the side of their desk.
- Green Light: Devices are necessary and should be open and ready to go.
When your lesson does include the use of devices, clearly state the websites or apps that your students should open. Stress that these should be the only tabs or apps open at this time.
Additionally, put forth all the assignment details before students turn to their devices. This way they won’t be distracted by the screens in front of them.
Know the Sneaky Signs
One of the biggest drawbacks to using electronic devices in the classroom is the risk of students straying off task during lessons. The temptation is right there and students don’t always have the best impulse control — it happens.
If your school has implemented a device management solution that allows you to monitor all student screens on your device, this task is a bit simpler. If this is not the case, your physical presence, moving throughout the classroom, is so important. If you feel a student is off task, take a look at the tabs open on her laptop and ask her to close anything not related to the lesson. On a tablet or cell phone, double tapping the home button will show you all the open apps.
Look for the sneaky signs that students use to hide their unapproved activity. Students may move their devices off their desk and into their laps. They may also draw the device close to them to hide it from your watchful eye.
Have Consequences and Follow Through
Julie Davis, a K-12 instructional technologist, gives the perfect advice for handling consequences for improper use of electronic devices: “A disruption should always be a bigger headache to the student than to you as a teacher.”
If you’ve given adequate warning to a student, you can take away his device and give him a “paper punishment.” This means he has to take notes or complete the assignment using old-fashion paper and pencil. Alternatively, you can require that a student complete the task at home, on his own time.
Consistent follow-through on consequences can quickly curb the temptation for students to stray off task.