Cell Phone Dos and Don'ts

Did you know that teens average more than 2,000 texts per month? Here’s how to deal with their tweeting thumbs in your classroom.

DO Develop a Mantra
It will be easier to enforce cell phone rules if you say the same thing every time you assign a consequence for cell phone use. Whether it's "You know the rule" or "It goes off; it goes right to me," say the same phrase every time you catch a texter in class and need to assign a consequence. Repeating the same words each time will increase efficiency of procedure and create a culture in the classroom-before long, the students will say the mantra to one another.

DO Use Texting to Teach Summarizing

Jennifer Kuszmerski, a language arts teacher, uses text messaging to invite students to summarize what they've learned in a given class period. To close a lesson, ask students, "If you had to text what you learned today to one of your friends, what would you say?" "Texts are short bursts of information that get to the point quickly, and students understand that," says Kuszmerski. "If a student can summarize what he or she learned in a sentence or two, it's easy to see if your objective has been met for the day."

DO Use Texting to Discuss Language
To teach students the formal rules of writing, write a sentence on the board, such as "Can you come to my Valentine's Day party?" Ask students to translate the sentence into a text message (i.e., "v-day party 2-nite u should come"). Then, ask them to rewrite that same sentence as if it were in an e-mail to a teacher. ("Ms. Walker, would you like to come to my Valentine's Day party on Thursday night?") Considering audience and revising for tone teaches kids that different forms of writing are appropriate at different times. Marika Dietsch, a seventh-grade language arts teacher, also uses text-speak to demonstrate how language evolves. "My students can't believe that Shakespeare is considered modern English!" says Dietsch. "We talk about how language changes over time, and they make the connection to the abbreviations they use for texting."

DON'T Play Favorites
No matter what your school policy is, be sure to avoid playing favorites when enforcing the rule. Follow through every time, whether that means you have to confiscate a cell phone from the class clown or the daughter of the board of ed president.

DON'T Take Away a Cell Phone That Is On
Tara Murzenski, a seventh-grade language arts teacher in Alexandria, Virginia, strongly suggests that teachers make sure a phone is off before confiscating it. "We had an incident in a neighboring county where an assistant principal was arrested on child pornography charges when she took away and inspected the phone of a student who had been ‘sexting,'" says Murzenski. "The charges were dropped, but we have been strongly encouraged not to look at the phones we take away. If we have suspicion that there is inappropriate material, we are to refer the student and their phone to our school security officer." Lesson learned: Continue to follow the school's cell phone policy consistently, but be cognizant of the liability that comes with handling personal property.

DO Be a Role Model

Reflect on your own cell phone use in the classroom. "Kids respond to the standard set not just by teacher rules but teacher actions," says Dawn Leonardo, academic intervention service provider in the Bronx, New York. "Follow the expectations that you set for them at the beginning of the year, and they're apt to do the same." Wearing a watch instead of checking your phone for the time and keeping your cell turned off at all times will show the kids that you take the rule seriously-and that they should, too.

DO Get Creative with Consequences
If your school policy gives some latitude for assigning cell phone consequences, why not get creative? Ask students to write an essay explaining why cell phone use is distracting in class or create a PowerPoint presentation that explores the downside of multitasking. Make it a teachable moment and the whole class can benefit.

-Jessica Rosevear


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