In-Class Cell Phone Use and How to Make Peace with the Issue

  • No cell phones in my classroom. If I see them, I take them, telling the kids you can have them back at the end of the day. Cell phone use in class interferes with learning and is disrespectful.
  • I would never take away a student’s cell phone only because I do not want to be held responsible if the phone were to get broken somehow. So what I do is let them have them on their desks face down (except during tests). And if they do get on their phones while they should be working, I just tell them to get off of their phones. That works well for me. Students, I’ve found, don’t respond as well to teachers who make a huge issue out of in-class cell phone usage.
  • If they have their cells out, I don’t say or do anything. If they want to be on their phones, earbuds, whatever, during class and, as a result, miss out on instruction, that is on them.
  • I tie it all to their participation grades. “If I see it out,” I tell ’em, “you lose your participation points for the day. Period!”
  • For the last ten years or so, I have used a numbered wall pocket/calculator chart. Each student has an assigned pocket. The kids can see their phones up there, and I never have to touch them. I hang the chart at the front of the room and use it to take roll. If a phone isn’t in a student’s pocket, I count that student absent. I make a paper grid with the names and numbers for each class. Occasionally, I have to remind one or two kids who “forget,” but it has worked very well. I start this procedure on the first day of school and continue it all year long. There is a long power strip under the chart, so they can charge phones during class. I give them their phones during weather emergencies, and if a student has a special circumstance or family emergency, they may keep their phones with permission.
  • I too have turned to a phone caddy to deal with the issue. It hangs in the front of my room, so everyone can see their phones at all times, but they can’t be on them. I offer chargers on the windowsill only, and if they plug in their phones, there is a card to put in the pocket
  • I try to circulate a lot whether I’m presenting or it’s flexible work time, and if I see a phone out I will just stop and ask the cell phone using student this question: “is it helping or distracting?” Most respond appropriately. If not, I just remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing and leave it up to natural consequences.
  • With my 9th and 10th graders, in particular, the cell is a horrible distraction that causes students to miss work and not understand directions. So I require my 9th and 10th graders to place their cell phones at the start of class into a clear “pencil pouch zip bag” tied to the bottom of each desk. Kids can check them and see them, but they have to leave them in there.

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Peter Paccone

Peter Paccone

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High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.