Be the change, being a teacher, technology

One Week Into a Phone Free Classroom

We went phone free in our classroom five days ago.  Five days of no phones allowed.  Five days of fewer distractions.  Five days of being conscious of when we pull out a device, and when we purposely put it away.  Over spring break, I had sent the following email to students and parents letting them know of the decision, worried about the top-down approach I was taking with this decision.  And yet, I felt like we had to try something new and now was the time for the change.

I hope your spring break has been nice!  Just a heads up that we will be going phone free for most of the 4th quarter in both literacy studies and informational studies in our classroom, as well as independent reading.  Students will be asked to leave their phones in their lockers on in a basket on our shelf as they enter the room.

There are a few reasons I have made this decision:

  • While there will be times we will use our phones and with the accessibility of Chromebooks, there are very few times where students need to BYOD anymore.
  • Students are given little privacy or room for risk/failure in our classrooms as other students are quick to pull out their phones and snap pictures or videos to share on social media.  Often they are faster than we are or do it on the sly, this leads to less risk-taking, and a heightened sense of anxiety when it comes to actually doing the learning.
  • One article here discusses how even having it nearby versus out of the room lessens your thinking.
  • Another article here discusses how the constant stimuli from phones are rewiring our brains to constantly seek stimuli rather than dive into the “zone of learning” 
  • And another article discusses the shortened attention spans 

If messages need to be sent to your students during our class together, they can be sent through the office.

While I didn’t know what the response would be, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many parents/guardians loved the idea, how many wish we would go phone free as a class, how many were in favor.  And yet, how would the students themselves react?

Well, it turns out many of them read the email and already were onboard when they came.  A few had questions, but most agreed that it was nice.  So the week went on, the phones disappeared and we dug into our new learning  I noticed there was less scrambling to get to work.  Less distractions from the few kids that would pull them out to check throughout the class.  My phone was in my bag as well, sure, there were less pictures shared of our learning but not having it around was really not a big deal.  Today I asked them what they thought of the policy.  Boy, was I surprised…

I think it’s fair because we don’t need them.

I like it because I don’t get distracted.

It is nice to not have to think about them.

It’s no big deal.

I am grateful for it because I no longer have to worry about being filmed and it shared on Instagram.

Sure, a few voiced their complaints telling me they didn’t like to be without them, these were also some of the kids that were distracted by their phones the most playing fortnite or snapchatting in class, while a few voiced that they didn’t really need the policy because they already left them in their lockers.

What struck me though was how many students were positive about the change.  How many were grateful for the policy because they then didn’t need to police themselves.  It makes sense in a way too as we see just how addicted we, adults, are to our smartphones.  When they aren’t allowed to be around we naturally use them less and yet have a hard time putting them away ourselves.

One comment that did stand out though was that a child didn’t like being without their phone in case something bad happened at school.  Let’s just have that sink in for a moment…  In an age of school shootings, schools are no longer viewed as safe by the very kids we teach and cell phones are seen as a way to find out when they need to run or hide.

So this first week of no phones, it turns out that perhaps going without was not that big of a deal, once again making me wonder what we really needed them for in the first place.  It has been nice to have this one less thing in our classroom.  To see the students focus on each other, rather than on what is happening on their phone.  To see them be more present if even for a little bit.

I’ll keep sharing as the quarter goes on, but I have a feeling that going phone free is here to stay.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

8 thoughts on “One Week Into a Phone Free Classroom”

  1. This awesome and I just might steal it. I’ve been struggling with this because I was one of the first teachers in my school to embrace BYOD. However, we have Chromebooks now and the cell phones continue to be such a distraction in my high school classes. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. We went school-wide phone free in classrooms – it’s been 5 school days for us, too. We are gr 7-9 and it has been a smooth transition for students and staff! Loving it!

  3. This is a great idea. I teach High School and will announce at the beginning of class to put away their phones. They need to be reminded that they don’t need their phones all the time. Thanks for some new ideas.

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