One of the persistent issues that we hear from educators is…we can’t keep these students off of their cell phones. Some schools have (largely unsuccessfully) attempted “no cell phone” policies which usually results in backlash from students and parents and a lot of sneaking around. Some schools have tried to allow cell phones broadly which results in significant distractions. Other schools have tried the teacher-by-teacher policy which results in student confusionon usage policies and teachers frustrated by the strictness or laxness of their colleagues.

I was with a school a few weeks back that fell in this last category. They gave teachers the agency to decide how they wanted students to use cell phones. With the intention of creating student and teacher agency, what they were really creating was confusion, frustration and a lot of classroom distraction. They asked me for a “quick-fix” or at least simple solution to their problem.

I gave them the bad news first…there is no quick fix to your student cell phone problem. The cell phone has become another appendage for today’s student, even for today’s adult. I have to remind my mom to put down the phone and stop flipping through Facebook. There are studies which indicate millennials check their cell phones 150 times per day and the average American adult is in front of a screen as much as 11 hours per day.

This is not an issue that is fixed with policy and it begs much more thoughtful and deliberate action. We must first acknowledge that the new role of the teacher whether we like to accept it or not is to help students learn and understand responsible and empowered use of technology. I recommended to the school three steps that they may want to try in a handful of classrooms:

  1. Have a student visioning conversation – Create a structured conversation with students about their role as 21C learners and how their changing world is requiring them to take greater ownership in the learning process. This is a conversation of student mindset and agency in and out the classroom.

  2. Create a Collaborative Classroom Contract – Follow this conversation up with the development of a collaborative classroom contract. Work with students to create norms and guidelines for their classroom. You will be surprised of how reasonable students can be when they are involved in the conversation of setting parameters. There may even be some ideas in the contract that every 30 or 45 minutes there is a structured 2 min break for “open tech time.”

  3. Build student stamina – At the heart of the cell phone challenge is a deeper issue of student stamina for independent learning. They have not yet learned what it means to drive their learning. In most school systems we are now combatting years of passive learning culture. As forward-thinking educators, we have to also accept that part of our role is to help students build this new muscle of agency and self-directed learning. This means gradually releasing students in the learning environment over weeks or even months by structuring increasing amounts of time and rigor of activities that are led by them. Below is a sample structure that can support this process demonstrating a deliberate and planned increase of student independent time over a series of weeks.

Stamina Building Tool - LINC

The cell phone challenge is part of a larger challenge which is helping to empower students to take greater ownership and responsibility of their learning. Policies and rules may seem like good solutions but ultimately we will have to help them build this new muscle to confront the new reality of their ever-changing world.

Learn more about how Learning Innovation Catalyst is empowering educators through the methodology of Generative Change.

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