Cell Phones

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62 thoughts on “Cell Phones”

  1. I don’t think that there is any one policy that can work in all settings. The kids we teach come from vastly different backgrounds and are different in their ages. What might work in a middle school probably won’t work in a high school.

    Bottom line: we need to be strong in support of whatever policy we adopt. I know, they always say that at in-services. That makes it no less true. But to take it to a deeper level here – it’s not about consistency as much as it is about having a spine.

    Some of us just wanna be so nice so bad it makes me want to toss my cookies. Why do we want to be so nice to everyone? Do lawyers and doctors do that? They are civil, but they don’t bend over backwards expressing a need that we like them. They can still do their jobs without our approval.

    Would we go into a prison and be nice to whomever we meet? No. Well, schools are prisons, and they often bring out the worst in kids. Be careful whom you befriend in all the feel-good fake settings of the first two weeks. It could come back to bite you in the butt.

    If a kid looks like she could become a potential problem in the class for you, be kind, but be strong and keep your professional distance*. Tell her the deal on the rules, fifty times if you have to.

    If you send the kids the message that you don’t mean it and are vacillating on a policy you might as well hand them the keys to the car while you’re at it. So mean it.

    Notice with Mildred**, for example, that I paid a lot of attention to her, drawing the class’ attention to her athletic prowess, but never once did I give her the impression that I needed for her to like me.

    Conclusion: We have to be strong and not vacillate on anything that has to do with the classroom rules or classroom policies.

    OK – end of mini-rant.


    1. Ben wrote, I don’t think that there is any one policy that can work in all settings. The kids we teach come from vastly different backgrounds and are different in their ages. What might work in a middle school probably won’t work in a high school.

      Bottom line: we need to be strong in support of whatever policy we adopt. I know, they always say that at in-services. That makes it no less true. But to take it to a deeper level here – it’s not about consistency as much as it is about having a spine.

      Word, Ben! Even though I have described what I do in my situation, it won’t work for everyone in every situation.

      Not only do we need to be strong in support our own policies, we need to be strong in supporting school and district policies – unless they are illegal, immoral or unethical. Sometimes we allow ourselves to fall into an antagonistic attitude toward administrators. This is especially true when we have to deal with an administrator who is clueless but adamant, but there are many areas in which we can offer strong support. School discipline is undermined by teachers who want to be buddies with students and therefore do not enforce the regulations. Students then try to pit teachers against one another – “Well, Mr. X lets us have cell phones out in class.” My response is, “I can’t control what Mr. X does; I can only control what I do, and I have a moral obligation to follow the instructions of my employer unless they are illegal, immoral or unethical. I can work to change them if I don’t like them, but until then I have to follow them.” Sometimes it amazes me how understanding students are about this.

      I recognize that last paragraph seems to fly in the face of many sentiments that are expressed on the blog, but just as we need a base of discipline in our individual classrooms for them to function, we also need a base of discipline in our schools for them to function. In both situations the policies need to be consistent. In my classroom I only need to be sure I’m consistent; in the larger school setting, I need to help create a school culture that applies the policies consistently.

  2. Since I seem to be on a roll here, I’ll go ahead and talk about cell phones.

    Electronic devices (MP3 players, earphones, etc.) and cell phones fall under District Policy. Students are not supposed to have electronic listening devices at school. They are allowed to use cell phones only before school, at lunch and after school.

    As part of the beginning-of-the-year process, I explain that I believe I have a moral obligation to follow the work instructions of my employer unless those instructions are illegal, immoral or unethical. Since that doesn’t apply to the policy on electronic devices and cell phones, I have a moral obligation to enforce the policy. Students understand this, and I can “empathize” with them. (Susan Gross has a wonderful story about showing empathy and having students actually thank you for doing what you do.) Of course, I have to remind them of this throughout the year.

    The concession I make is that if a cell phone goes off during class and the student turns it off without trying to answer it, I don’t react. At some point during the year I will accidentally leave my cell phone on and have it go off during the class period. (Usually I have the cell phone off during school and tell students that if I can do it, so can they.) I take the cell phone out, turn it off and tell students, “That’s why I don’t take yours away if you deal with it like this. We all forget it some time.”

    On the other hand, if a student is actively texting or listening to a device, I walk over to the student and hold out my hand for the device. They know what I want, and I will not argue with them about it. They have deliberately disrupted the educational process – even if it was only their own – and so have to face the consequences. The cell phone or electronic device goes in my pocket (I deliberately wear cargo pants so I have an extra pocket or two) until I have an opportunity to get it to the office. For morning classes I will try to get there during lunch so that it’s out of my hair. For afternoon classes it’s as soon as I can get there after class.

    Students can pick up their cell phone in the office after school on the first offense – usually accompanied by a conversation with an Assistant Principal. On the second and subsequent offenses, parents have to come in and pick up the phone. Parents have to come in on the first offense for electronic devices. Second semester I confiscated an iPod from a student, and he told me that his dad “said he wouldn’t come in any more to pick up my iPod.” (Obviously this was not the first offense) I looked at him with sympathy and said, “Bummer!” I also took the iPod to the office.

    Once students have seen me confiscate a cell phone or electronic device about twice at the start of school, I usually don’t have much of a problem, though they tend to get a little daring toward the end of the year. Not having desks and insisting that they put purses and bags under their chairs definitely helps with this. I also talk to them about, “If you can’t afford the consequences of your actions, then don’t do it.”

    As with everything, there are occasional exceptions. If a student tells me there is a family situation and needs to call home, I will allow it. If we do something in class and a student wants to take a picture it, I will allow it. Sometimes I have a number of students taking pictures of story drawings or something else that went up on the board. I’ll even let students take pictures of the structures of the day. Hey, I’m using technology!

    Speaking of technology, here are a couple of ideas to placate the technophiles.
    1. Type up the text of a dictation (either Word or PowerPoint). After the dictation, show it on the screen for students to copy down on the line below where they wrote their initial version of the dictation.
    2. When the class is working on re-telling a story together, connect a laptop or notebook to the projector and write down what students are contributing for the class story.
    -both of these could be done with overhead projectors, but those are becoming increasingly rare.
    3. Using one of the programs out there, create a target-language survey (multiple choice). Let students text their answer from their cell phones. (Totally gimmicky but a sop to the technocracy.)

    1. Thanks for weighing in on this one too Robert!

      Do you have a solution to teachers who do not consistently enforce rules so that kids “pit one teacher against another.” Your description is EXACTLY what I see at our school…. In fact, one day I approached a teacher who was allowing students to use phones and he told me that “that was not a battle he was willing to fight.” It really sets up a very difficult situation because obviously he is not the only one allowing students to break the school cell phone policy…

      I also wonder about when you said “As with everything, there are occasional exceptions. If a student tells me there is a family situation and needs to call home, I will allow it. If we do something in class and a student wants to take a picture it, I will allow”

      I have done this too…. Is this not undermining the rules? Why should I make exceptions? (I make exceptions because it saves from having the student run all the way down to the office to make a call, when he could just step out into the hallway real quick, make the call and return… Urghhh!

      Should these “exceptions” be built into classroom policy?

      Thank you for the good thinking on these tricky issues!

      PS – Would somebody please remind me what DEA is 🙁

      1. The only solution I have is the one I mentioned before: telling the students “I’m not responsible for what Mr. X does; I’m responsible for what I do, and I have a moral and ethical responsibility to follow the work instructions of my employer.” I won’t take the conversation beyond that statement, and I won’t denigrate any of my colleagues to students. I have, however, by this statement conveyed to perceptive students that 1. I am not the one who decided on the policy in question (most students get this) and 2. my colleague is not acting in an ethical manner by ignoring specific work instructions simply because it’s “too much work”. I’m teaching them that obeying rules and laws is a moral and ethical matter, not just one of convenience. (There are significant ramifications to this. When I see parents disregarding traffic laws and other regulations in front of their kids, I ask myself, “And what will your moral justification be when your kid decides he doesn’t need to obey your rules?)

        Skip, you’re right that this is a significant problem. That’s why I mentioned school culture. The administration needs to work on creating – and teachers need to work on supporting – a school culture in which flagrant disregard of mutually agreed upon policies is not tolerated. As a friend of mine in a medieval re-creation group observed, “You can get away with breaking the law, but you’ll get nailed every time if you disregard tradition and custom.” That’s part of establishing the culture: custom and tradition dictates that we work together to enforce policies. Of course, your administration needs to be smart enough to take these things to the faculty so that they become the faculty’s policies, not just the administration’s. (There’s application to the classroom here, too – create a classroom culture in which disregarding the policies is against “custom and tradition” because it disses fellow students, not just the teacher. Now, when someone figures out who to to that consistently, let me know!)

        Re exceptions: How long do you want your class syllabus to be? When you start writing legislation that tries to cover absolutely every eventuality as part of the stated policy, it gets very long, and you will still miss a situation that you must evaluate on the spot because you can’t foresee every contingency. I prefer to express principles of behavior in my class syllabus and allow exceptions to be precisely that, exceptions.

        One of the things I do include in my syllabus is the Six Pillars of Character from Character Counts:
        I also consider as one of my “prime directives” what is least disruptive to the educational process for everyone. In the case of a quick call to a parent, it is less disruptive to the educational process for the student to do the cell phone in the hallway rather than walking to the office, asking to use the phone, making the phone call and returning to the classroom. So far I have only had students ask when there was a true family need (ill parent or other significant issue), a sudden change to their after-school plans (a practice was cancelled, I assigned a detention, a try-out was scheduled, etc.), and they need to have parents come either earlier or later than planned or when there was something extremely important that they left at home (an assignment left on the kitchen table, sports uniform in the car, etc.). Those are situations everyone can relate to; I would rather have a student be concerned enough to make that phone call instead of blowing it off.

        When I make a considered exception, I am showing the student that I respect him or her as a person, that I am caring, that I find them trustworthy to do only what they have asked to do, and that I am treating them fairly. By asking permission the student has shown me responsibility for her actions, trustworthiness by not just trying to sneak a text or call, respect by not simply disregarding my classroom policies and citizenship by respecting the authority of the school. At this juncture I am the “point man” for the district, and it is my decision to make. I see this as a very different matter from the teacher who simply doesn’t want to “fight that fight” and abdicates his responsibility; I am exercising my authority, not relinquishing it.

        That last paragraph may be a fine bit of sophistry, but that’s my thinking and justification. I have also found that most of my students have a strong sense of fairness and recognize that an exception is an exception. The few that are looking for ways around the rules fail the test of character, i.e. they are not trustworthy, they don’t take responsibility, they aren’t showing anyone else respect, they don’t care about anyone but themselves, they want special privileges but aren’t fair to others, and they exhibit poor citizenship at best. As a result, I have to deal with them on a different basis.

        BTW, have you ever noticed that the students and teachers who are most vocal about being treated with respect are usually the ones who fail to treat others with respect?

        As far as using cell phones to take pictures of class work or activity is concerned, I see this as a very positive educational use of the technology, so it is easy to give permission. Again, students are showing respect, responsibility and citizenship by asking. Since my district is on the technology bandwagon, I need to talk to them about wording to policies to accommodate things like this as policy and not as exceptions.

        To answer your question, then, “No, I believe this does not undermine the rules but puts a human face on them.” We have all seen the absurdity that “no exceptions” to “zero tolerance” rules can bring (e.g. the third grader who was suspended for having a plastic butter knife in his lunch – “no knives, zero tolerance”).

        Sorry for the length of the reply.

        1. Thank you for the thoughtful reply…

          I guess where I get “caught up” is knowing the relationship between the “pillars” and the “rules.” Do you put both in your syllabus/course of outline? How are the “pillars” enforced… The same way as the rules?

          I have two of the “pillars” you mention in colorful poster form in the front of my room. I will add the others this year.

          Thanks again

        2. This thread is awesome!

          Thanks to everyone for their detailed contributions. I have a broad question (haha, actually a million questions) about all of this housekeeping and boundary setting: how do people use / distribute / process their syllabi?

          I am unclear about how to proceed on the first few days, since I understand the goal is to launch right into CI and address rules and such as they come up. But where does the syllabus come in? Is there discussion about it? If so, when? How is it integrated into the CI flow?

          Annick Chen, in her iFLT debriefing session, said that she educates her high school students about CI from the start so that they understand WHY the rules are the rules. I didn’t think to ask her exactly how this goes down…explanation? Presentation? Day 1? ???? End of first week in the metacognitive session?

          I would love ideas on this, as I can see myself giving too much info in English at the outset that might “pollute the atmosphere.” On the other hand, I do see the value in kids understanding why we do what we do. ??? Help! Confused and waffling!

          1. It’s a great question. My own way to do that is to just pounce all over those moments when the kids express how weirded out they are by this way of learning. I just launch in and tell them – those are not moments lost to L2 CI. They support it. Nobody reads syllabi anyway. The metacognition that you and I and a few others here are into, with those posters that Clarice did, is going to help us. We should just keep this topic alive as we get through the first months of the year. It’s getting more and more away from memorization and more and more tied to Socratic discussion, don’t you think? Me likey.

      2. Skip, to make matters crazier, my admin got tired of enforcing the cell phone rule, so now, cell phones are allowed everywhere and the onus is on the teacher to deal with it. When I say everywhere, I mean the library too. I have seen so many kids wasting time huddled around a PED laughing, playing games, Facebooking, etc. It’s crap! The unintended consequences are: slow walkers in the hall because they are trying to walk and text, kids waiting outside the classroom until the last minute waiting to get that last text, and finally last year, I demanded that phones be left behind if they needed to go to the bathroom. I am really thinking of just collecting them in a large basket at the beginning of every class. Confiscation puts the burden on me and the powers that be don’t care anyway. If I stop teaching to deal with the cell phone for two minutes, maybe a ten minute after school stint – again, it’s back on me! Ugggghhhh!

  3. I agree here that consistency is the key. I have often made the mistake of getting too lazy or too nice and letting the kid keep the phone. If I do this I’ve lost my credibility because now students expect I should do this with the next phone I catch – and they are right because if I TAKE the next phone I catch then it looks like I’m playing favorites with the kid whose phone I didn’t take. Plus I’ve never seen my “niceness” in letting kids keep phones rewarded; in fact I’ve been stabbed in the back repeatedly by kids who keep taking the phone out again and again. And I have found that being fair is especially important because usually my worst cell phone offenders are my brightest kids! I think that they feel they have special privilege or something sometimes because they understand everything and therefore they think they must be above the law. Consistency and fairness no matter who the offender is.

    I don’t think I will ever tell them that they can text all they want for 3 minutes on a break because they will be constantly asking me for the break EVERYDAY, and it would be just my luck that an administrator would walk in during those 3 minutes. It’s not worth me getting an ulcer worrying about it so my kids can text for 3 more minutes of the day. Plus I think kids need a CLEAR boundary and NO PHONES should mean no phones period.

    I’ve also done some things to make it a little fun. When I’ve been on a role taking phones away (when I’m not lazy about it) I’ve kept a cell phone tally on the board and tried to break my record. I think my best was 6 phones in one block period and each time I got another one the class applauded and cheered. Then we developed some great PQA out of all the phones I had on my desk.

    1. This is probably just a ditto for much of what has been said. I think it may depend on our individual situations. My school has a pretty strong stance about phones out during the school day. Doesn’t mean that they don’t appear.

      My DEA rules state that there is nothing on the desk, in the lap or in the hands unless I ask for it. They are also learning this year that when I see them not following a DEA rule, I am making marks on my clip board so that at the end of three weeks when I give them a DEA grade, there is a record of why it’s a 79 and not a 100 (because Johnny, you had your head on your desk 8 times in the last three weeks and something in your lap under the desk 4 times with side conversations in English 9 times. Wow, and look how that has affected your other assessments . . . ). At least, that’s how I imagine it as I have not had that conversation yet. Actually, so far, the DEA rules are keeping things pretty clean.

      1. Bob, I really like this. You have mentioned your DEA (Daily Engagement Assessment?) rules in earlier posts. Could you elaborate on, or list, those? Or have you done that already in another post?

    2. David the badges who walk in are not our concern. If we are on a brain break, and they don’t know what a brain break is, then they are really out of it, and shouldn’t even be observing us.

      My prayer for all of us this year is that we become much more aware of the strengths that we have in ourselves and in the use of comprehensible input as the best way to teach. The time for living in fear bc we use comprhension based methods is over.

      It clearly is the time for the grammar teachers to live in fear. We are finally in that time after the tipping point, and if admins can’t get that, it’s their problem professionally. Every knows this now, it’s just a matter of time to allow the paint to dry and give a whole new look to the room of foreign language education in the United States.

      Teaching should never be a fearful experience, especially when those judging us are simply not qualified to do do, which is true in the vast majority of observations. They can’t see what we do. They don’t know the research. Let’s not worry about what they think when they walk into our rooms.

      Let’s believe that the levels of engagement we get with CI are vastly higher than that what can be oberved in a traditional classroom or computer lab. If the administrator gets it wrong, and listens to the grammar teacher down the hall that we don’t know what we are doing, and yet if the word in the hallway is that our class is kind of neat because we actually use the language in the classroom, then soon that grammar teacher will be exposed and our collective work in this change will have taken yet another tiny step forward.

      Don’t fear those fools who walk in. Definitely be proactive and give them Bryce’s checklist, a simpler variation on Susie’s checklist, and send the message to the administrator that you would like their help this year in becoming better at aligning with the current research on how people acquire languages.

      Ask the administrator to just bring that checklist with them when they come to observe you, or you can have a copy hanging by the door to grab when they walk in, and if they observe you in those terms, you would be very appreciative for their efforts in helping you become a better teacher. On the surface, you appear to be respecting their authority and intelligence, but below the surface, you are educating them, which is the need right now.

      Sorry to lecture. Didn’t mean to. You were talking about cell phones and I went off on that tangent about being observed. It just reminds me of how what we have here in this group of warriors fits in perfectly with Stendhal’s definition of happiness:

      Un bavardage sans détour, et la présence de ceux qu’on aime….
      An endless conversation, and the presence of those one loves….

      Here is Bryce’s checklist:


      1. Okay, this is Off Topic, but Ben started it. :-p

        One of my former students just arrived in Germany under the California State University International Studies Program. Currently he is in an intensive six-week language course prior to university classes. He is keeping a blog, and the following is an excerpt from today’s post:
        My class at the language school is entirely in German and I’m understanding everything, much to the anger (jealousy) of my fellow Californians. By the end of the 6 weeks that we are in Horb, I should be 100% fluent! At least that’s what we all aim for, right?
        Reading reports like this makes me smile, because I know his ability to understand spoken German results from hearing so much in class.

        Now back to the regular discussion. David wrote: Plus I’ve never seen my “niceness” in letting kids keep phones rewarded; in fact I’ve been stabbed in the back repeatedly by kids who keep taking the phone out again and again.

        I once heard a psychologist and family counselor talk about boundaries. She said that it is innate in children and teenagers to test the boundaries. However, a large part of that testing is not trying to break free; it is a subconscious search for security. They need to know that the boundaries are firm because that gives them a sense of safety. When there are no boundaries the world becomes a scary place. Our job as adults is to give students a feeling of safety by letting them know that the boundaries are firm. I also heard a sermon once in which the preacher said that God destroyed Pharaoh by letting him have his own way. Just some food for thought.

        1. I think Bryce’s is better for taking to your pre-observation meeting with the person who will be evaluating you that year. It looks more “quantifiable” and includes the rationale for each of the sections. Administrators will perceive it as more authoritative.

          Both of them are too long for the casual, “pop-in” visit. I have reduced Susie’s to a single side of a sheet of paper and have several copies hanging next to my door. That way I can ask anyone who stops by to do a quick evaluation, and it doesn’t appear daunting to them. In our world, anything that goes beyond a single page is too long for spontaneity, and I want to be able to guide even the most casual observation of what is going on in my classroom. I’m going to look at Bryce’s version more closely and may make some modifications to my sheet, but it will not go beyond a single page.

      2. Ben, you’re right that we shouldn’t fear when administrators walk in; I have had a big boost in my confidence the last couple years in knowing that the the way I teach is founded on solid principles, effective and student centered. I feel much more professional in actually being a teacher, and not just a manager or “deliverer of educational services.”

        And at my school I feel there is a high level of trust between my admins and me – they respect how I choose to run my class and we have had honest conversations about it. In fact, last year our principal observed my class and I gave him Susie’s checklist along with a personal letter explaining what I do and what he would be observing in my class. He was wrote me an awesome review and touched on numerous subtleties of how I structured the class in a way to encourage active participation from students and language acquisition. He even had his daughter visit my class for a day who was thinking of switching to our school from hers, so that told me he had a high degree of appreciation for what I do. My other admins are also supportive too and I am thankful. When they walk in they have a smile, no clipboard and just want to see and hear what were talking about. I know I’m probably in exceptional circumstances but I just like to share it when it comes up because I think it can be an encouragement to others.

        Thanks too for attaching Bryce’s list. I had Susie’s up in my room, but I’ll take a look.

        1. Bryce’s is simpler. Susie’s was too long. It made the point for comprehensible input but Bryce’s can be used in a more practical way and should be by all of us. However, read what Robert says above. We need a single page document. Maybe he will share this new one page doc with us when he develops it and we can adopt a single page. What he says is true. It’s time for a single page Observation Checklist.

          You did it right by being proactive in telling your admins what to look for, etc. We all really need to do that this year. How hard is it? We print the doc from Bryce’s site and hand it to everyone who will be observing us this year with a warm smile and an “I know you’re busy but I would like you to take a look at this when you have time so that when you come by to observe my classes we can be on the same page about what you might be looking for in terms of the current research and the move to the Three Modes of Communication and the national standards. I’ll tell you what, I’ll keep a copy hanging by the door when you come in and remind you that it’s there, and by looking at the class in terms of what is on this checklists, I may be able to benefit most from your visit. Thank you!”

          1. I did this today!!! Stopped in to see my principal and gave him Ben’s letter on his website “What is TPRS” (designed for Admin’s), an ESL blog’s letter about what TPR is (talks a LOT about repetition and kinesthetics and differentiation) and Bryce’s checklist, as well as “What does rigor look like in this classroom.”
            Then I wrote in the cover letter to him, “Just including these to you, not to say how everyone should teach, since all teachers have their own style; but to make you aware of why and how I will be teaching this year. I have embraced comprehensible input, rather then ‘immersion’ so I can get away from a grammar-focus of instruction to be more in-line with ACTFL, and to be more student-centered in my teaching methods.”
            Wish me luck! 🙂

          2. Sabrina Janczak


            I told you over the phone a few minutes ago but it’s worth repeating. You ROCK girl!! You dared. You planted the seeds. Now you are going to have to water them, you may have to give your principal more on the research and invite him in your class and advocate for your cause and most importantly for your kids but it’s sooooooooo worth it.
            I bet you are the only teacher who did that!

          3. Hey mb

            GREAT story! David Maust wrote something recently that applies perfectly here. He wrote:

            Ben, you’re right that we shouldn’t fear when administrators walk in; I have had a big boost in my confidence the last couple years in knowing that the the way I teach is founded on solid principles, effective and student centered. I feel much more professional in actually being a teacher, and not just a manager or “deliverer of educational services.”

            That is where your (and our) confidence needs to come from and it is a powerful thing!

            GOOD LUCK!

          4. yes, Skip – I read David’s post the other day, and that combined with ALL of this group’s support, AND going to Breckenridge this summer and meeting so many other CI teachers (AND Steve Krashen!) and remembering how Frank learned to talk again (read my bio for those who don’t know what I’m talking about) I knew I had to lay it out for him; otherwise, I would feel uncomfortable and fearful of people finding fault with what I was doing. I had to turn in the research to him (or at least start) so he at least understood what the method to my “madness” was all about.
            So, thank you EVERYONE in this PLC for your ongoing and never-ending (redundant, I know!, but it fits!!! 🙂 ) support.

          5. Sabrina Janczak


            Don’t forget to send me the flyer for the October conference with Joe Nielson and Anne Matava, and I’ ll sign up. You may want to tell people on this blog about it too.

  4. My middle school used to have very simple and concrete rules about cell phones. They were not allowed and if confiscated the assistant principle keeps it for 30 days and parents must come in to collect it after the 30 days.

    This year will be completely different. Cell phones will be allowed to be brought in and used for instructional purposes. I was thinking that this year I would have students clear their desks and along with sitting with shoulders squared looking at me and I will add that hands must be above the desk (like my parents taught me at the dinner table). I have not worked with middle schoolers who are allowed to bring cell phones before so not sure how it is going to go.

  5. Last year, under the guidance of a visionary colleague who taught Spanish and was also the school’s Instructional Technology Coordinator, my independent PK-12 Quaker day/boarding school instituted a new mobile device policy in support of 21st century learning. It states, essentially: the guiding principle is that mobile devices support the teaching and learning process and never detract from community interactions. The policy goes on to specify registration procedures and times and places where use of mobile devices is prohibited (meals, hallways, assemblies, meeting for worship– it’s a Quaker boarding school), because it would detract from community interactions. The rules governing use of mobile devices in the classroom are left up to the individual classroom teacher.
    So far, this seems to work.
    I teach elementary grades, so none of this is particularly relevant to my school day. Kids leave their cell phones, if they have them, in their cubbies. The only time they might need them is once they’re on the bus and they’re going to be late. Otherwise, all phone use goes through the homeroom teacher or the main office.
    However, we are beginning to look at ways to use such devices in the classroom. I’ve just downloaded some TPRS novels, which I could see making available for FVR on an iPad or smartphone. In addition to the ‘gimmicky’ polling use Robert Harrell mentions, I wonder if there are other ways we might make interesting use of cellphones in a CI classroom. A colleague who teaches History in the high school has students text their parents to ask their real life experience around certain events in recent history. The responses come back immediately and can be shared in class. Can you think of ways this sort of strategy might be useful in a CI class?

  6. Like Robert, I tell the kids the FIRST day how I stand on the school/district rules and policies. (face it – the world in which we live is full of rules; otherwise we would be faced with anarchy. Why should a school building, where students are learning to be citizens of the world, be any different? — I am constantly reminding students that they are not only learning academics in school, but are learning to be ADULTS. Their practice at adhering to the rules of school, is preparing them for the REAL world. Would a boss allow constant texting at a job? NO! — then this opens up a discussion of a manager firing a kid at McDonald’s the other day for doing that, etc. etc. BEAUTIFUL! )
    Regarding 3 minute “breaks” for texting: what about the other teachers who have the recipients of those texts in THEIR classrooms? You don’t want your instruction being interrupted, why interrupt the other teachers’ instruction? (bc you know they’re not texting each other – they’re texting their friend in SS, Math or English or Art or Choir, or more dangerously – in SHOP class!)
    I even go so far as to request them to be sure to leave their phone behind when they go to the bathroom. If they don’t leave it on my desk, I make it a point to watch them put it in their backpack – rather than their pocket – or down their pants or shirt. (Often this results in no longer needing to go to the bathroom)
    SKIP: regarding colleagues’ lack of enforcement…..one time last year the principal actually gave us all (on hot pink paper!) a very polite letter asking that we all stand united enforcing the rules…..cell phones, hats, food & drink. He tried, and I commend him for that, but as Robert pointed out, there are still those teachers who still go against the principal (great message to send to kids who we are trying to teach morals to!). One teacher last year, when asked by a colleague, “why do you let them eat everyday, and you often bring in food for them, when the principal has pointedly asked us not to?” her response was, “well, he hasn’t told me PERSONALLY! so until then, I will continue to bring food in for my classes.” (WOW! – and just what was that hot pink letter we received????? ) It is just like Robert said, state that what they do in another’s class is not for you to monitor or control; but YOU will do your job and adhere to the rules. Funny – this is when I bring up the ANARCHY lesson and give a short Social Studies lesson — (actually it turns out that it’s the SS teachers who let the rules “slide” in most schools from what I hear! hmmmm why?)

    1. So mb I agree with you about the texting bothering other teachers. But what can we do? Can anyone in a comment below, which I will make into a separate set of three posts for the categories, give a definitive best response, best practices kind of summary that encompasses the best of all the comments made on these three topics so far?

      There is so much to read and I don’t feel like I am getting any closer to a good solid policy for this year. Somebody please summarize and write in a simple way a solid statement about the best way to deal with each topic, or just take one and hopefully somebody takes another and we end up with a clear summary of all that has been said over the past few days on these three topics:

      Seating charts
      Bathroom policy
      Cell phones

      1. Can we get a plan to complete the task that Ben puts forth? I don’t feel like I can do it by myself but I would be happy to collaborate? I would love to see this done with all the minds having input on the final product….

        Any suggestions? I will have to say that it feels like an overwhelming task…


        1. Seating charts:
          Skip, I ended up adopting Susie Gross’ philosophy that she outlined in Maine last October……
          I have the kids’ seats paired up like this (x= student; i = aisle for me to walk up and down):
          i xx i xx i
          i xx i xx i
          i xx i xx i
          Since I have up to 24 students in a class, I make 6 rows of 2 sets of desks (24). As Susie suggested, these are then the “partners” – each student will be working with that partner as long as I have that seating chart. Partners are “responsible” for each other – to work together in pair work, to give each other missed work/structures/info, etc. if absent (this cuts down on my trying to remember to get stuff to everyone!) quick attendance – I simply ask, “who’s absent today?” and the partner will tell me. and the BIGGIE…..if there is a fire drill – to tell me if their partner is missing.
          I do not assign seats at the beginning of the year – as per someone’s suggestion, I let them sit where they want, then pay attention to the dynamics that go on for the first week or two (last semester I had a class that worked SO WELL with their friends, that I only changed seating for a couple of kids the whole semester!!). I do tell the students though that they will be getting seating assignments, and they will change every 3 weeks or so.
          ** I also make a caveat (and I put this into my syllabus, which parents sign off of) that states, “I reserve the right to change seating assignments every few weeks. If there is someone in this class that you CAN NOT sit near and work with you are to tell your guidance counselor NOW, and have her tell me of controversies that I need to avoid between you and the other student. I will NOT honor your ‘request’ after I have made up a seating chart. This classroom is a community and we all need to learn to work together. Drama is to be left outside the door.”
          (I do this bc they invariably come running to you when you give new assignments to complain about their new partner bc they just want to be with their friend, or they are having drama that particular DAY with that particular person! and again, I got this suggestion from someone else – sorry! I have read SO much over the past 4 years, I don’t know where I have learned these great bits of advice from!!!

          1. That’s how I arrange them too…. except I don’t put two desks together.. works well… but I DO put them in alpha order…. I do think this year I will switch up the alpha though….
            Start with A’s in the back, A’s on the side, A’s in the front…

            That will add variety – something the brain craves!


  7. Oh!!! rumor has it that they will not even be allowed to bring backpacks to their classes this year!! – they will have to stay in their lockers!!! And, we instituted the same cell phone policy last year as Robert’s school — only before school, lunch IN THE CAFE! (i took many away in the bathroom last year during lunch periods!), and after school. (we were asked to take them away in bathrooms and hallways to be consistent) iPods are still allowed….which are tricky, bc kids use their iPhone as iPods!!! where is the distinction? I just don’t allow them — I tell them (if they are doing quiet work, i.e. writing, they ask to listen to their iPod) that I don’t want them listening to English lyrics – it will mess with their brain! So I play calming Hispanic music at this time — brings in culture.

  8. All the way over here in France we have the same school policy as Robert’s school. If a teacher sees a student using the phone, she confiscates it and hands it over to the administration. A parent has to go pick it up, and listen to the lecture. It worked pretty well.

  9. Confiscation doesn’t work in my building. Things are misplaced (read stolen) all the time and the attitude of kids when you take the only thing of value that they own in the world can be very very confrontive.

    My current thinking on the cell phones is to tell them that they can text during the brain break half way through class. This has the advantage of making me stop and actually give the break, which I normally roll through bc I am having so much fun listening to the sound of my own voice going too fast.

    That idea kind of worked last year. But here is another idea to combine with that one:

    Wait until the first phone comes out, and then collect all of them in a basket as soon as I see it. This would turn the class against the offender bc they would then have to give up their phones during class and collect them on the way out. I’ll try it, and it probably won’t work.

    Grasping for straws here. There was so much written about this topic in the thread a few weeks ago – 37 comments – that I couldn’t keep it all straight and was unable to come up with a decent plan for this year.

    Anybody havde a plan that they think kicks ass? Anybody have an opinion on what I wrote above? Other ideas?

  10. well, Ben, you know how I feel about letting them text during class! 🙂
    BUT….one of my professors during teacher training was a school principal – he suggested having a basket that they put their cell phones into at the beginning of class – PERIOD. That’s the way things work here. “Sorry! school rule. Not mine!” (that’s what he said to tell them so you have a “us against them ” mindset WITH the students.
    Several teachers in my building, before Admin set up the no tolerance policy last year, got hanging shoe holders (the kind that holds a dozen or so shoes) or cubbies, and put the kids’ names on them, and called it the “cell phone locker” and they had to put their phones in when they entered the room.
    Do this on Day 1 and stick with it. I suggest the cubbies because their names will be on them. They are VERY territorial about their phones….they don’t want them touching other kids’ phones, they don’t want other kids to be able to touch theirs, etc. If they have their own “home” then also when they are being taken at the end of class, other kids will see if they are taking the phone from the cubby with THEIR name on it – keeps from being stolen. Be sure to give time at the end of class to retrieve phones (and to text if they HAVE to!) so there is no ‘mad dash’ and the ‘accidental’ lifting of someone else’s.
    If you do it on Day 1, in a firm but nonchalant manner “this is it and that’s that.” no discussion. As Robert stated once this past week, “kids will test you – they have no stability and consistency at home – they WANT it at school and will test you to see how firm YOU are.” They won’t hate you for this rule (OK – yes they WILL, but only for the first week or two. But, they’ll forget it when they start to see what a cool teacher you are and how much you LOVE them.)
    DON’T BUCKLE and give in…..you ARE stronger than them!! 🙂

  11. Who do we think they’re texting when we give them a break to text “during” class? My guess is they are likely texting someone who also goes to their school in another class–which would interrupt that teacher’s instruction and that other student’s attention. Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I doubt they’re all texting their moms or students who’ve already graduated. 🙂

  12. Yeah Mary Beth made that point a few weeks ago. I don’t know. I have a week of inservice now to decide. So far, if I had to do it, I would go with Mary Beth’s Cell Phone Locker idea and keep the locker behind my desk. Moreover, in a 43 min. class I rarely give brain breaks anyway, just being honest. The cell phone and bathroom deals is enough to make me want to just go sashaying right out of the building.

  13. My dep’t. convinced me today that the shoe rack thing won’t work. Stealing is the justified concern. Since cell phone use is such a true example of defiance, I am going to just go straight to security if I see one. It’s not heavy handed. I refuse to be caught up in a confrontation with a kid who has been clearly told that the law of the land in my classroom is “no cell phone visible”. To me, that is defiance. I’m not going to call security after they refuse to give it to me, I am going to call security (which is very strong in our school and I hope will work with me on this) when it happens – when I see the phone out – and have them meet the kid at the door and they can deal with it. I think that the fact that we have now, counting this one, 42 comments on this issue and yet no real response that we all agree will work. I think that we need to call it what it is – defiance. So if security refuses to do this for me, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll find out tomorrow. If cell phones don’t ruin the class, at least they mess it up a lot, and that ain’t gonna happen after all the training I’ve done to get better at this stuff. If we don’t have a really simple policy that has real teeth in it, we’ll be singin’ the Cell Phone Blues all year.

  14. Here is the Cell policy that my colleagues and I drafted in June… We are considering Ben’s idea of allowing two bathroom passes each day. Our only concern is the potential drama of having the same kid(s) use the two passes each day….

    Bathroom/Drink Policy:
    I will maintain a binder with a class roster in a designated part of the room. When you want to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, you must get the binder, open to your class page, and have it dated by the student responsible for this duty.
    You will be allowed a bathroom/drink leave 6 times per semester.

    Cell Phone Policy:
    1. Cell phones are not to be visible or used during class.
    2. 1St Offense: I will take the phone and return it to you at end of the class session.
    3. 2nd Offense: I will take the phone to office and submit a behavior report. You will be able to pick up your phone from the office at the end of the day.
    4. With D/I Block, I will take it until end of block and write up a behavior report. It will not be taken down to the office because it is the end of the day.
    5. 3rd Offense (overall, including from other classes): I will take the phone to the office and submit a behavior report. Your parent/guardian will need to pick up the phone from the office.

    My only concern with the cell phone policy is keeping track of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd offenses…

    We are also thinking about having them leave their cell on the teacher’s desk before they go to the bathroom…

    That’s all we’ve got

  15. …our only concern is the potential drama of having the same kid(s) use the two passes each day….

    skip I have never seen that happen. What helps a lot is the common understanding that nobody can go in the first ten or last ten minutes of class, as well. When they can’t go for those conglomerate 20 minutes, and when only two kids can go during a class, it makes it fairly easy to enforce, and the kids self police the repeat offenders as well.

    On the suggested Bathroom Policy above, my failure was that I didn’t care after a few weeks and I let the sign out book go by the by. But your idea of having a kid in charge of the book might make it work.

    On the Cell Phone Policy here:

    …my only concern with the cell phone policy is keeping track of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd offenses….

    I personally could NEVER keep up with those four stipulations, trying to count how many times I’ve collected it and all. I just want to get reps on cool French expressions. If I did that, it’s like my mind would be more occupied with cell phones than with teaching. I don’t think anyone knows, except classroom teachers, how disruptive the phones really are and how they represent billions of minutes of lost instructional time each year nationally. If administrators knew, they would come up with a uniform policy that actually works, like not letting the kids have the phones in the first place. By putting it on each individual teacher without a uniform school policy, it invites the chaos we have seen since phones were first allowed in schools, a choas which we certainly will see again next year. Wasn’t it true at one time that the kids were in school to be in school and couldn’t be contacted for that reason? Now, schools have become interruptions in the days of the students. Would doctors and lawyers allow patients and clients to sneak some texting in during their professional interchanges with those people? Oh, but teachers are different. They have to work with 35 patients/clients at a time, differentiate their needs in real time, assess their progress, and let cell phones in for texting purposes in case there is an emergency. Can you tell I’ve kind of had it with ineffective cell phone policies? That is why I am going batshit on my policy with security coming in as I mentioned somewhere else here today. I am glad skip brought this up. I am not letting one kid text this year, not one, as long as I can get this security thing going.

  16. “I personally could NEVER keep up with those four stipulations, trying to count how many times I’ve collected it and all.”

    Maybe I could have a student job for that too..? Just a ? on a roster of names next to the kid’s name that used the cell…. ?


  17. I dont’ see that working. Might be a little partisan if you catch my drift. See what we have to go through just bc the people we work for don’t have the courage to stand up to the community and say that cell phones are, in a very subtle yet real way, ruining our instruction? That is not too strong a statement when applied to a CI teacher whose entire job is to get FLOW in L2 going and cannot afford those bullshit interruptions all the time. The kids have won this one.

    1. The kids have won a number of them if the faculty and administration are not consistent in enforcement – and almost no one is. We have a no electronic listening devices rule, but students walk the halls with ear buds in their ears because only a very few people even try to enforce the rule. We have a pretty explicit dress code, yet when I send students to the office for dress code violations they tell me, “I’ve been dressed like this all day, and you’re the first teacher to say anything at all.” (Interestingly, they are only fleetingly upset with me over this; I think they are more amazed that no one else called them on it.)

      I believe we should have as few rules as possible, but when a rule is made, it needs to be enforced or the authority loses its credibility.

  18. “See what we have to go through just bc the people we work for don’t have the courage to stand up to the community and say that cell phones are, in a very subtle yet real way, ruining our instruction? ”

    And I really think that that really is the whole issue…

  19. I’m trying to keep my policy simple in class. If I see the phone I will take it and I will take it to the Guidance office. That’s it for me and I’ll do this each time it happens. I’ll also make a quick note of it on my seating charts that I keep for records of tardies, absences and any behavior infractions; this is just a quick way of having evidence on hand easily if I need to justify a student’s low participation grade.

    Once it goes to the Guidance office it is logged and stored until the student picks it up after school. And in the Guidance office they follow a 1st, 2nd, 3rd offense sort of thing in which parents have to pick it up after a couple offenses (these offenses are for any class and the kids keep track). This is nice for me because I don’t have to deal with keeping track of anything. I just take the phone and take it up.

    I might consider calling in security too, BUT it will necessitate me having to make a phone call (lost instruction time and disruptive) and the end result will probably be the same: the kid’s phone is taken to the Guidance office and they follow the offense policy. So for my situation the security piece isn’t really necessary, unless I want to just “go batshit” as Ben so aptly calls it; and I think “going batshit” is probably a part of my teacher personality I could expand on a bit, so maybe I’ll go for it…

    1. My school’s policy is for the teacher to confiscate the device (phone, MP3, etc.) and take it to the attendance office, where it is logged in and kept. They or the Assistant Principal keep track of the number of offenses (from all classes) and deal with the student accordingly. Since that’s school policy, I follow it.

      The district also has a policy of progressive consequences. Calling security for a cell phone first offense starts the consequences at too high a level and doesn’t follow the established policy, so that is not really an option for me – unless the students refuses to relinquish the phone and becomes overtly defiant; that’s an immediate referral (with escort to the office).

      1. …calling security for a cell phone first offense starts the consequences at too high a level and doesn’t follow the established policy, so that is not really an option for me – unless the students refuses to relinquish the phone and becomes overtly defiant….

        That’s it. I figured that out today in a meeting in which my AP was explaining what defiance was and it has to be a lot worse then refusing to follow the rule. So I read our school policy carefully and saw that behavior incidents (phone out for me is an incident) in our school can be written up in a behavior atom in Infinite Campus. Three of those, along with one successful parent contact, and I can write a referral. This is when the system takes over. I’m going to do that. Of course, if the kid refuses to put the phone away when I ask, that is actual defiance and I can call security at that time, which also takes it out of my hands. This is a good idea that I will call my new cell phone policy as of today until it changes tomorrow or fails in the classroom next week. I am really bad at remembering to do the behavior atoms in IC. I might just write it up when it happens. It’s actually pretty fast. Open up the atom, write in “cell phone out” and go back to the lesson. I think I’ll do that. Thank you for the point about defiance, Robert.

        1. Thinking back to my long-ago college psychology class and advice from a mentor I had when I was youth director at my church, here is a good piece of advice we need to remember:

          You have to distinguish between when a child [teen] is simply being a child and when he is being defiant. A child forgets, is flaky, doesn’t think about consequences, is impulsive, wants instant gratification. You have to correct those behaviors but not punish them because those are not deliberate acts of rebellion. Defiance is a different matter because that is deliberate and strikes at the very fabric of social interaction.

          In dealing with students I have tried to keep this in mind. I will take students into the hallway for a conference. There may still be a consequence of the action that made it necessary, but often an apology and a promise to try to be more aware in the future is all that is necessary. If the student chooses to escalate the situation to an act of defiance, then I have to escalate the consequences. Last year I had a student at the beginning of the year who did precisely that and received an immediate referral. The Assistant Principal (who knows me) looked at him and said, “Mr. Harrell gave you every opportunity in the hallway to settle the issue there before he wrote a referral, didn’t he?” The student had to admit that I had. Parents were contacted and supported the administration and me. The student suffered the increased consequences, came to me and apologized. We got along fine for the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to having him in German 4 this coming year.

          1. I keep thinking of something else . . .

            That’s also why a cell phone ringing in the classroom isn’t a big deal to me, as long as the student shuts it off immediately without trying to answer. Everyone forgets at some point. I hear cell phones going off in church, at concerts, etc. These are adults who have been reminded just before the event started. I think the height of this was a piano recital at UCLA, when the pianists cell phone rang while he was playing. Normally my cell phone is off at school but I have forgotten on occasion and had the phone ring. I shut it off immediately and tell students, “That’s why I don’t take cell phones away when they ring, as long as you deal with them the way I just did.”

            It’s when students choose to talk or text during class time that I confiscate the cell phone. I think that is an appropriate “corrective” to the offense, and the consequence fits the infraction. Earphones or ear buds in the ears also results in confiscation because, again, that is not a simple matter of forgetfulness.

          2. Three great points. The quote about forgetting vs. defiance is huge. The kid coming back and apologizing after the referral is a lesson he may have not gotten from his parents so very well done on that as well. Really well done!

            I also will rethink and probably update my (last updated one hour ago) continuously emerging cell phone policy to make it a no call/no foul even if the phone is visible as long as it is not being used and to only react if it is being used. Then that would be immedieately, on the spot, logged into the behavior atom (in a matter of seconds), and three such incidents would be the referral, taking it out of my hands.

            Good point as well on the buds/earphones. That is a conscious move and needs to be documented bc it is equal to using the phone, being a conscious act. I love it when they are sitting there with the buds and you motion to them to take them off and they act surprised that they are in their ears. They’re not surprised.

            Robert, the sole big difference I see in our policies (your policy) is that I won’t confiscate anything. I’ll just write up the incident in the atom, get that record going, and after three of them and one successful parent contact, send it along. Of course, as I said earlier, if they refuse to stop using it, then we have an immediate visit by security.

            Ain’t it great? Thirty five years of this stuff and still feeling like a baby in my classroom management? Dang, bro.

            Hey Robert, what did the pianist do? I love that one! Do you remember what he was playing, just so I can savor the absurdity of the image a bit more? Why didn’t he just knock over a music stand?

          3. We don’t have the atoms or I would definitely use that.

            I believe it was a Beethoven piano sonata, but I don’t remember which one. [For the sake of your imagination, assume it was the Apassionata] The pianist paused, turned off the phone, apologized and resumed playing.

            There are plenty of horror stories. In January of this year the New York Philharmonic had to stop near the end of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and ask an audience member to turn off his cell phone. During a viola recital a Nokia went off; the violist improvised on the ringtone. While a student was playing a Handel piece at a recital, someone’s phone began playing “Ode to Joy”, so the pianist began playing along with the ringtone. I’m afraid it isn’t just our students; our entire culture has succumbed to the onslaught of technology and capitulated in the area of manners and consideration of others. (I’m thinking now, not of the forgetful lapse, but of the stories of people actually answering their cell phones and talking during a concert, opera performance, play or other event.)

  20. I hope the stopping in class “when it happens” works on my Three and Done policy (three entries in the behavior atom is an automatic referral). Writing things up when they happen in class is something I have never done, wanting to keep the flow of learning going, but, upon reflection, when the kid texts or when the kid gets up to go to the bathroom, or just starts talking to a neighbor, those are already interruptions to class, so why not just take the opportunity to write it down, get it done, bc rarely do I follow up on stuff like that, given the nature of our jobs. Yeah, I am interested to see how writing up the incident in the moment works. Thank you for the discussion. It was skip’s idea, and we already have 57 comments on it.

  21. Our staff committee passed a policy that cells are not to be used in class, period. If kids use ’em, the teacher takes them away, andngives them to the office. The kid has to have his/her parents come in and pick the phone upnstarting 1/2 hour after school ends.

    Best policy we ever passed.

    1. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak


      We have a similar policy in our school. Actually if the parents/guardian doesn’t come the same day or next, the dean keep it for 2 weeks. The problem is not the policy, but the execution of it. The enforcement or lack thereof is the problem, also the inconsistencies amongst teachers. I m the first guilty of this. For instance I confiscated a phone the other day after it rang but decided to return it at the end of class b/c I know the kid goes to work after school everyday. Kid told me her parents can’t pick up the phone b/c they work. She is a good kid and I just couldn’t bring it to the dean knowing they will hold it for 2 weeks . The kid needs it as she works everyday till night. What if something happens to her. I cannot in my conscience do that…..

  22. The point of it all is to teach the kids not to use their cell phones in class. If the girl is a “good kid” who really needs her phone, I’d think that she’s probably learned her lesson and will never again risk taking it out in class. And if she does, next time you do turn it in. Staff policies are wonderful, but teachers should have the possibility to mitigate them and be human when the strictly interpreted policy would do too much damage.

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