As a teacher and as someone who observes a lot of classes I see a lot of texting going on. Throughout class, students are checking their cell phones, sometimes under their desks and sometimes just right out in the open. As a teacher I have gone through a range of policies from outright banning cell phone use, to explaining how when they are texting someone outside of the classroom they really aren’t present in our writing community, to explaining that this class gives them the opportunity to “un-plug,” to, well, just giving up and turning a blind eye. None of these strategies worked. When I tried to enforce any kind of cell phone policy, I endured a lot of eye rolling, sighing, and looks of resentment. I suppose that some of this goes with the territory of being a teacher. Regardless of what level we teach (kindergarten-college) there is some level of classroom management that has to be done. But the constant policing of cell phone use was starting to make me feel more like a disciplinarian than a writing teacher. And the just giving up strategy—well . . . I think you can imagine how that worked.
So this semester I decided to try something different. I asked my students to develop a cell phone policy for our class. I explained my past experiences as a teacher dealing with students texting. I explained that I saw two extremes—one extreme being no cell phones in class to the other extreme of everyone free to text/check Facebook/the internet all through class. We agreed that neither extreme would work and that together we could come up with something in the middle.
Throughout this process we talked a lot about our experiences with cell phone use. I explained how I felt students weren’t focusing on what we were doing in class when they were texting and they explained how they felt anxious if they couldn’t check their phones. In other words we talked a lot about context – my context as a teacher, their context as a student in our shared classroom space. As a result we learned something about each other—well at least I did. I didn’t realize how anxious they felt being un-plugged and if they were too focused on not having their cell phones, then it seemed they wouldn’t be focusing on what we were doing in class.
And we talked about respect. The students voiced their dislike of being in social groups and having people texting rather than interacting with the group. They discussed how important it was to focus on what we were doing in class and taking responsibility for their own education.
So here is what we settled on. As a class, we need to be respectful of our educational space. Cell phone use is okay if it isn’t interfering with someone else’s learning. Working in peer response groups, reading someone else’s paper, participating in group work and class discussion is not a good time to check your cell phone. However, if you are working alone and want to check your phone or send a text it’s okay because you’re not interfering with anyone else’s learning.
This works for me. At least I hope it does. We’ll see. But I’m also hoping that just having this discussion has enabled my students to take more ownership over the class and their own learning. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to focus on just being a writing teacher.