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The Positive and Negative Sides of Using Cell Phones for Teaching and Instruction in the Classroom

Updated on August 16, 2013
donnah75 profile image

I am a high school English teacher who is passionate about writing, theater, directing and enjoying a positive life with family and friends.

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We are living in an age when phone communication is changing and improving. Most Americans have a cell phone, even most American students. With the increase in popularity of cell phones, there are more cell phones in the hallways and classrooms of schools. This increase in using cell phones has sparked controversy in American schools. Looking at both sides of the issue, there are positives and negatives to having cell phones in school. Cell phones have the potential to be a distraction in the classroom, but they can also be a valuable learning tool.

For years, the school I work in was almost exempt from the issue of cell phones in the classroom, because most people didn’t get any cell service in the school building. The building is in a rather isolated location, and until recently, there were no bars on anyone’s phone unless they ventured out near the flagpole in front of the school. Last year, however, a cell tower was installed somewhere in the vicinity, and suddenly everyone has service in school. And with service, those cell phones came out in force. After my first period class one morning, my co-teacher informed me that several students were texting during class. They were trying to hide their activities, but frankly, they weren’t very good at it. She noted it, and then we discussed it. More on how we dealt with it later.

An Issue of Fairness

If you plan to write lesson plans that incorporate cell phones, consider the idea of fairness. There are some students who don’t have cell phones. There are some that have simple phones rather than “smart” ones. If teachers plan to incorporate the use of cell phones in the classroom in a positive way, this is certainly an issue to consider. If all students don’t have access to this tool, it may not be the right time to bring in this particular technology.

The Negatives

It may be that in some classrooms, the negatives of cell phones will outweigh the positives. I don’t think that anyone can deny the fact that a cell phone can become a major distraction. If the phone rings, the whole class is disrupted. More often, the distraction comes in the form of students checking their phones for messages and sending text messages during class. On occasion, I have even had a student make the attempt to play a game during class. Instead of being on task, listening and engaging in the lesson, students find ways to check out and focus on their phones instead.

Those individual distractions are not the only problem that cell phones are causing in classrooms. If you know anything about teenagers, you know that they can often use technology better than adults and they are inventive, especially when it comes to inventing ways to get around doing schoolwork. One of the newest ways to cheat on a test or assignment utilizes the camera feature of cell phones. A student in my morning class may take a photo of the test questions and send or show the image to a friend that has my class later in the afternoon. Students are using photos of homework to copy off of their friends. Although I would like to think that this hasn’t happened in my classroom, I know that it is happening. The subject came up in a faculty meeting, and a teacher told the tale of how she caught a student copying a friend’s homework off of an image on the screen of his cell phone.

Many cell phones today come equipped with not only a camera feature, but they often also have a video recorder and voice recorder as well. In the past few years, I have watched news stories that described how teens were taking a video of a fight. Instead of getting help, they were participating in the violence by filming it and sometimes cheering it on. It is scary to think of all the negatives that a video or voice recorder could be used for in a school setting. Photos or videos taken in a locker room could lead to disaster. Videos of fights inside the school could be posted on the internet before the chaos has even settled. Inside the classroom, students could take video or audio clips of what is happening in their classroom. As a teacher, this thought is quite scary, as a clip taken out of context could ruin a career. (I do allow that this last example could be used for good as well, as there are always a few bad apples in the barrel.)

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Allowing cell phones in your classroom? Check out randomcreative's article Cell Phone Manners and Etiquette Guide: Tips for Teachers

The Positives

As an English teacher, we read, write, analyze, research and discuss in my classroom. It is important to me that the fundamental pieces of our curriculum stay intact, but I recognize that the delivery of that curriculum can change and improve by use of technology, even cell phones. Although I am still a fan of students using an actual dictionary to look up words, it is not the first resource students will go to outside of my classroom. Sometimes a student will ask permission to use a cell phone to access an online dictionary or thesaurus. Looking up a word, doing a quick calculator calculation, referring to an online map, or checking a fact on the internet are all tasks that students can accomplish quickly and efficiently on their phones without ever leaving their seats.

Last school year, I taught an introductory drama class. My class did a video project which focused on movement and non-verbal communication. We called it the “Silent Movie Project.” Although we had access to a small handful of flip video cameras, there weren’t enough to go around. I organized students into small filming groups to solve the camera shortage problem, but students still asked if they could use their phone cameras to help accomplish their task. Outside of our classroom time, students used their phones to create additional video clips for their projects. I can imagine that cell phone video cameras will be useful going forward when we create video projects in my classroom.

There are various online learning programs that students and teachers can access to support classroom learning. One of those programs is called Castle Learning. My school district subscribes to the Castle Learning site, which is a large database of questions for all subjects and grade levels. I use the site to assign homework on a regular basis. At times, I have students who finish a class work assignment early. I allow those students to use the remainder of their class time to work on English homework. Since I only have three computers in the back of my classroom, students have utilized their cell phones to log on to Castle Learning and complete their assignments. I can imagine a day where a teacher could use a site like Castle Learning to give a quick assessment checking on what students learned by having a whole class clicking away on their cell phones.

In the English classroom, utilizing e-books and audio books is becoming more necessary at times. I have had students in my general education classroom that have had severe learning disabilities in the area of reading. There is nothing more embarrassing for an eleventh grader than his peers knowing that he can’t read. It is nice to be able to assign an in class reading assignment where students who can’t read on their own can access the text using an audio version. Setting those students up ahead of time with the audio version on their phone could be a solution that allows them to stay in the classroom and do the reading on their own with the support that they need to be successful.

Recently I handed the summer exam schedule to a group of my students who were in for summer exam review. Within seconds, they all had their phones out to enter the information and set up reminders. In my opinion, that is a huge positive, because those students are not likely to lose their cell phones, and they probably wouldn’t have made it home with the paper copy. With that in mind, I recently found an interesting website that allows teachers to send reminder messages to students and parents. The site is called Remind101. I created an account on this site, where I can post reminders about homework assignments, due dates, parent nights, etc. Students and parents can choose to subscribe to my account if they want to receive the information. This is a great time saver for teachers, as now I won’t have to take the time to create a database of emails for my classes every semester. I’ll let you know how it works out.

The reality is that cell phones are not going away, so teachers can consider using them to support instruction and learning in the classroom. The list of possible uses is endless, especially as the technology improves. Over the last year, I have allowed the use of cell phones on occasion when they were used in a productive way. Going into this next school year, I am trying to think of useful ways to incorporate the technology into my classroom. At all times, I am keeping in mind that striking a balance is going to be the key to success.

Do you think cell phones should be utilized in the classroom.

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Classroom Management

Whether you decide to incorporate cell phones into your classroom or not, they can still be used in a negative way. It is important to manage the use of cell phones. Set the ground rules early regarding cell phones. Be vigilant and follow through with the consequences. As I stated earlier, we had an issue in my classroom with texting. After that morning, I set out a very clear rule in my classroom that students were not to use their cell phones unless given permission by me to use the phone in a productive way. I told them that I was going to have a no tolerance policy, which meant that if a student used a cell phone without permission, it would lead to an automatic discipline referral. No questions would be asked. I would not discuss it. Those were the consequences. For the most part, that policy worked. I had one student who severely resisted and received a few referrals. We ended that conflict with a negotiation. I would not take his phone. He would put the phone on my desk where he could keep his eye on it. However, it had to be turned off and out of his reach. That worked on most days.

Final Thoughts

As technology improves, I get excited about the possible uses for that technology in the classroom. I have to admit though, that I am not as excited about the use of cell phones. I think they may prove to be more of a distraction than an asset in the long run, but the jury is still out on that.

Written by Donna Hilbrandt.

© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I really do admire your positive attitude about cell phones and the way you found positives about them. At the last two schools I taught at there was a zero tolerance law in effect and a student would lose their cell phones if they used them in class...first for one day, then a week, then for the year. Only once did a student lose a phone for the year and the parents fought it tooth and nail. Sigh!

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Bill. I think it is an issue that will only get more difficult to deal with. Parents are often the ones texting kids when they get messages in class! Those same parents won't take too kindly to us taking away the phones. I don't know if it is a battle worth fighting to ban the phones altogether, so finding positive uses for them might be the key. Might be.

      Thanks for reading!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      This is quite an interesting article and very relevant to the times. I am a retired teacher, who like Bill, worked in a school that had zero tolerance for cell phone use. I can also see the positive uses of cell phones in the classroom and I think they are great. It all depends on the school and the students and each school is so different. There are some schools, probably affluent ones, that are using the iPad's in the classroom, so more technology will be coming to all schools. This is a most interesting and informative article. Voted up!

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Suzettenaples: I would love to have iPad's for all the students in our school. Imagine the possibilities! They could replace textbooks and put a computer at the tips of every student's fingers. I think we will get there someday. Thanks for reading.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      A very interesting and well written hub and you cover the negatives and the positives of it very well .

      Vote up and more !!!

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, kashmir56. I appreciate the support :-)

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      You have done a great job of covering the way in which this technology is becoming part of all our lives. I teach college English and that makes the whole thing trickier. I can't refer a student to the office if they disobey my instructions not to text in class. However, I've had many students tell me how distracted they are by other classes where students are using phones, iPad or laptops not for notes but for games, facebook etc. Frankly, I've been glad to have my phone with me for emergency calls from my kid's school during class. Yet I think we are going to have to find a balance. Voted up! and pinned

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      VirginiaLynne: I can't imagine the problems it creates on the college level. I suppose I would take the approach that they are paying and if they want to tune out, then that is their loss. If I were in that position, I think I would politely ask them to take their cell phone outside until they were ready to join in and listen. Maybe the craze will die out. Maybe we will find a balance. It's a journey! Thanks for reading and pinning!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Donnah, I am so interested in how to use cells in the classroom. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on how to use them effectively. I think it's something that we have to address today in school. I think that we should learn to balance it with standard learning methods and provide guidelines as well, so that it is not exhausted. Great hub!

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      teaches: Balance is key, I agree. If it can't enhance what we are doing, then we need to let it go. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • PatriciaTL profile image

      PatriciaTL 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley

      I enjoyed reading your article, Donnah. I'm a retired English teacher who found it so frustrating to contend with the texting-behind-the-backpack

      phenomenon. You've done an admirable job of presenting both sides of the cell phone issue.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Patricia. It is like a modern day way to pass notes, isn't it? Thanks for reading!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      This is an increasing problem and one that is only going to grow. The teacher pranks and ratings can destroy careers, as you mentioned, as unfair/biased reviews can be purposely twisted online. However, phones can also be excellent resources and very handy when running outdoor activities or trips. In some schools in South Korea (where almost every student has a mobile), teachers make the students put their phones in a box on the teacher's desk at the start of class. Then, if needed, they are allowed them for activities, otherwise they stay in the box turned off, or set to silent.

      Shared, up and interesting.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Brett,

      I love the "box on the desk" idea. One of my colleagues tried that in summer school this year. It didn't go over well. Students lied and said they left in their car, when it was in their pocket. Frisking them at the door was not a viable option! Consequences from outside the classroom were too lax. In other words, the consistency needed for that to work were not in place. We must figure this out.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

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      ignugent17 4 years ago

      You have a very good point in the negative and positve of using cellphone in the classroom. I still don't like to have cellphones in the classroom because I am just traditional . It will take time for me to accept all the gadgets inside the classroom. Thanks for sharing voted up and more.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      ignugent17: It is a tough balance. Nothing will replace the basics, but somehow I think the gadgets will continue to try to creep in. Thanks for reading!

    • mmsu profile image

      mmsu 4 years ago from Pakistan

      A good hub indeed:)Really like your topic.I think there is a balance between the two and in the what matters is how the person uses it in the classroom.Voted up and shared!!

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, mmsu!

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 4 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      This is a really great appraisal on the pros and cons of cell phones in the classroom...I think students do need to be allowed to use them in class, I personally use mine for everything now, appointments, banking, reminders, I google everything and take notes on my phone and rarely use pen & paper, so I can understand the benefits of using them in class...no doubt some rules would need to be applied...voted up interesting, useful & shared...

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, carter06. It is important to consider the tools our students use in their every day life when we are teaching. We need to stay current. Thanks for the read and share.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 4 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      As former high school English teacher, I am watching this dilemma with great interest. Your hub not only covers both the pros and the cons, but does so without taking sides. Thanks. Voted up and shared.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, sandrabusby. I am a firm believer in professional teachers being the main decision maker in their classrooms, so I appreciate that you think I was neutral here. If the teacher doesn't take charge, then chaos ensues. Therefore, teachers need to choose their stance on this issue for what works in their own classroom. Thanks for the read and share.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting read. There are so many positives and negatives to using a cell phone in the class that the discussion could could never end. You have covered this issue very fairly.

      Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, rajan. It is proving to be a daily battle / negotiation in the classroom. It is certainly a discussion that we need to continue with students and parents. I appreciate the read and share.

    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      I agree with some of the comments. There are so many teachers that get in trouble for trying to use their cell phone during the school day. With this said, there should be an allowance for the time allowed on the cell phone.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      MarieAlana1: Thanks for reading and commenting. I am not as concerned about teacher cell phone time. Teachers, just like students, should only be focused on instruction and learning during school / work hours. If a teacher wants to use a cell phone contructively for instruction, I think that is great. For personl use though, I think teachers need to be a model for their students and wait until their lunch or after their work day is finished.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Donnah,

      This is a very interesting, thought-provoking hub. Students are not allowed to use cell phones in the school where I teach in Thailand. After reading your article, however, I can see the advantages of students using cell phones in the correct ways which you have described. The problem is managing the phones so that they are not used for texting, cheating, and other distractions. Voted up and sharing with followers, on Facebook, and Pinning.

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      Single Shot 4 years ago

      Great Hub Donnah! I give it a 8, where I live and go to usually people are not allowed to use cell phones during class. Though like Paul said after reading it...maybe there is a small advantage to it..I mean after all technology is always growing so fast we can barely keep up - know what I mean?

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Paul. Managing the negatives is definitely an issue I appreciate the read.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, single shot. We have to change with the times :)

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      Single Shot 4 years ago

      Yeah! Which a lot of us find it very hard to do now a days> :)

    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      I would like to see a poll about how many teachers are allowed to use their cell phone in class.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      MarieAlana: as long as it is for instructional use, I would assume any teacher can. This isn't about personal use. That is a definite no. Personally, I turn my phone off at work, but a teacher I know who travels from room to room uses his to keep notes, take attendance, etc. there are pros and cons. Thanks for the read. Maybe I will add a poll question.

    • trusouldj profile image

      trusouldj 4 years ago from Indiana

      Interesting topic. I think it would be great if the school could provide gadgets, so that students will still see the line between professional and leisure time.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      trusouldj: It would be great if schools provided technology and gadgets for learning. It would be more equitable as well as drawing that line. Sadly, school budgets are getting smaller, not bigger. Thanks for your input!

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      khmohsin 4 years ago

      Very interesting hub and very important as well. It is very necessary spread information about this topic. Very nice work, Informative.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      It is a hot issue. Thanks for reading, khmohsin.

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      Chloe123 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for writing this article! It has helped me find facts for my school project in language arts. (I remembered to cite evidence that I used your article for facts.)

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Chloe: glad to be of help. Thanks for citing and giving me credit for my work.

    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      I think the youngsters and children are so used to technology today and if that can be used with structure in the classroom I think it is really great. As you mentioned it can be both positive and negative effects. But I think it depends a lot on how the tasks are presented. A great structure and well defined tasks distracts the students from using the phones in privat matters. Very interesting hub!

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, kerlund74. You are right, it is all about the structure and classroom management.

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      lukeeee 3 years ago

      okay. that's all great. however, my forensic science teacher lets us use our phones in class sometimes to help with projects and homework. (she doesn't let us use them for naything else, but it isn't hard to hide it..). More often than n0t, everyone is texting. Sometimes, phones do help the classroom, but more often than not, they only hurt the education. As a student, I would say I want my money's worth. I'm not going to high school to text all day. I'd much rather go out with friends than text them. That said, teachers should be required to take cell phones away because they would be helping the student. Or, take away .5% of their grade. That would stop it, I hope. And yes, I'm 17, a senior in high school. And I don't have an iPhone.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Lukeeee: You have your priorities straight, and that will allow you to take the best advantage of your education. Cell phones, like all technology, can be useful tools when they are used for the right reasons. Texting is happening. Students try to hide it, but we see it. We must pick our battles wisely. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      Mata Topa 2 years ago

      Never ever learn your kids with mobile phone when he or she is first born in this world. Always teach him how to avoid mobile phone in his or her life when growing up because he will be a wise person in the future to understand the positive and negative effects of mobile phone and decide the effective way of using it.

    • Authenticz profile image

      Authenticz HubPage 17 months ago from North America

      Great hub Donna. A state of the art issue in post modern society!

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