Modern smart phones are truly amazing devices. They allow us to stay in touch through voice, text, and video. They allow us to access the Internet, play games, and even perform research. As a new grandfather, I may use my phone’s camera more than any other feature! I also find it indispensible for navigating when driving.
Young people use their phones for everything. Along with using phones to maintain every aspect of their social lives, students often use them to read books, type essays, and check on assignments.
During the Twitter chat, I was the lone challenger. While everyone was polite and respected my stance, with some even admitting that phones can be distractions, I was clearly on my own. As an English teacher, I just do not see the need for using phones in classrooms. My goal is always to help my students become more effective writers, and I just do not see how phones help me do this.
My first objection is that phones provide an unnecessary distraction for students. It is just too tempting to stay on task and resist checking text messages, watch videos, or play games. I get it; I fight the same temptations. While teaching, it is also a distraction to have to monitor student phone use. This is nearly an impossible task as students can instantly switch to different screens.
During the Twitter chat, I mentioned that some parents add to these distractions by sending text messages to their children throughout the day. This undermines the efforts by schools to maintain some control over phone use. Some teachers wrote that we can improve this by educating parents on the importance of this issue, and my school tries to do this, but we are not always successful.
Most educators would agree that students at all ages need to develop reading stamina. The ability to focus and read effectively becomes more important at every grade level. In a 2009 Washington Post article, “Why Reading Doesn’t Make Us Better Readers?” cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham noted that reading and literacy scores were down across the country from 1980 levels, although Americans were actually reading more overall from sources such as websites and social media and even video games. This high volume of reading might seem like a good thing, but Willingham referred to these sources as “lightweight.” He concluded by suggesting that people ought to spend more time reading “content rich material” such as books, newspapers and magazines as they have a “higher probability” of containing material that will improve reading ability.
Another problem with cell phones in classrooms is that I believe they stifle creativity. Jeff Vandermeer in Wonderbook, his book on creating imaginative fiction, writes that one’s imagination needs “curiosity and imagination” but adds that, “being available to social media 24/7 does not count as receptivity; it’s just fragmentation.” Students need time to think and create and dream; I do not see how staring at their phones helps them to develop their imaginations.
I realize my opinion is a bit on the outside here, but I just do not see the benefit of allowing phones in classrooms. While there are certainly times when lessons include going to interesting websites and even communicating via social media, there is time for this outside of class. With only 45 minutes per class, I cannot give up the time required to monitor my students and make sure they are not texting or doing other things over the Internet. Technology for the sake of technology is just not worth it. I want my students to become better writers, and I do not believe phones help me to do it.
Sixth Grade English Teacher
Community School of Naples