Debate #6 – Should Cellphones Be Banned in the Classroom?

Although both teams put up some good arguments and many relevant viewpoints came up during this debate, I’ll have to admit that my original opinion of “agree” with this topic has not really waivered. I feel that where people stand on this topic may have a lot to do with the schools they work at, the experiences they have had, and what sort of access exists. I’ll elaborate more on these ideas below, but for now let’s get into the debates and some research!

YAY-TEAM

The agree team (Echo, Lovepreet, and Amanpreet) presented my reasons as to why cellphones should not be allowed in the classroom. Some of them include:

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Banning cellphones can help to instill focus & eliminate distractions
I’m sure most of us teachers know how easily kids can be distracted, espcially by cellphones and other technologies. Brenna Carels states that “one major concern for classroom teachers is that cell phones may threaten classroom learning because of the effects they are having on students’ ability to focus“. Not only does being on a phone distract the student that is using the device, it can also distract those around them as students may be messaging with others in the same room, be trying to show someone else something on the device, or the general sounds coming from the device may be bothersome to others. Many studies (referenced in Carels’ article) demonstrate that there is a connection between students being distracted by their devices and poorer academic performance/cognitive controls.

Banning cellphones can help to limit bullying
Taking away students’ phones during the school day limits access to another way that students can target others. If a student does not have their device, they can’t use that device to bully others. A study by Beneito & Vicente-Chirivella (2020) supports this as their results “point to a reduction in bullying after the mobile ban” for students aged 14-17. Other schools, such as my own, have also reported similar findings. Each year, students in our district in grades 4-8 fill out a survey regarding many things. One topic covered is bullying. Students have reported that since the school has eliminated use of personal devices during the school day, bullying (especially cyberbullying) has been a lot less frequent.

Allowing cellphones in class can cause education inequality
By now, we are all familiar with the digital divide and the impacts it can have on people around the world. One argument often presented for allowing phones into the classroom is that it gives students opportunities to use devices/the internet in cases where the school is not able to provide 1-1 tech. However, what happens if the school doesn’t have (or have enough) devices and there are still students left with no device to use? Do they sit out of the lesson? Are they able to finish the work at home? Statistics Canada’s 2021 internet use survey indicates that only 88.1% of residents over the age of 15 have access to a smartphone/phone with internet capabilities. This means that there are still 12% that don’t have access to a device. This number is likely even lower if you are considering students who are under the age of 15. Allowing cellphone use in the classroom can further this divide. It can also make some students feel lesser due to their lack of access, and cause issues when asking students to complete work at school/at home by using a personal device such as a cellphone.

Some other points by the agree team were: stress and frustration, connections to lower test scores, online cheating with a device while at school, and a disconnect from face to face activities.

NAY-TEAM

Even though they could not sway my personal opinion much, the disagree team (Reid, Bret, and Leona) still did an excellent job laying out some points to think about as to why we should allow cellphones in the classroom.

Cellphones can allow for more accessibility
Cellphones are just another form of technology. Thus, they can be used in similar ways to computers and other assistive tech to help students in the classroom. This article does a great job of outlining all the assistive technology (AT) features that are available on every Apple and Android phone. It also outlines how these features can be used to help writing, reading, motor skill, attention, and organizational issues. These are all tools that students could theoretically use in the classroom if needed. Finally, in this article Veronica Lewis, who suffers from low vision and vision loss, details her experiences with using her phone in the classroom as AT as well as the applications she uses for certain academic tasks.

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Using cellphones can make learning exciting
Again, since cellphones are a mini form of popular technologies similar to computers, there are many fun and engaging things that we can use them for in the classroom. Similar to a laptop or ipad, students can access many fun review type games such as Kahoot and Quizizz on their phones (if they have internet access). Students can also use their phones to connect to platforms that allow them to communicate and learn from others (Twitter, blogs, Zoom etc). Finally, as the disagree team mentioned, there is also a strong use for VR in certain classes to enhance learning experiences.

Cellphones in school are inevitable
As we know, many students will always have access and will bring devices such as cellphones to school. We are living in the 21st century where technology is only becoming an increasingly important part of our society.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

John Dewey

Todd VanDuzer makes refence to this quote by Dewey in his article Cell Phones in School: 11 Reasons Why They Should Be Allowed.” He goes on to point out that this quote is still relevant today as “Dewey understood that schools should be the first place in society to implement visionary new methodologies, take risks, and challenge well-established notions. He saw the introduction of new technology as an opportunity to enhance the learning experience!” and that cellphones in the classroom follow this path. It is something that we should be advocating for as they have great potential to positively impact student’s learning and they aren’t going anywhere.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned previously, I think that my stance on this topic is heavily influenced by my experiences and where I work. To begin, I work at a community school where many students do not have phones. I also teach grade 4/5, so a majority of my students are still quite young. I would say there are 3 students who regularly bring a phone (and turn it in) and about 4-6 others who have one at home, but it is not allowed to be brought to school. My school does not allow for students to use their devices during the day and this has been well received, especially in regards to bullying. I am sure there may be some senior teachers who may decide to give students their phones for certain activities, but our school rule is that anyone can take a phone from a student who is using it on the playground/in the halls etc.

We have computer carts that are shared amongst 1-2 other classes, but this also means that when I sign it out I am able to have enough computers for each student to use their own. So, there is really no need for phones in my classroom. Having worked at other schools where there aren’t policies like this in place, I have seen how distracted some kids can be by their phones. I also remember my own days in high school when phones were becoming more common and how many students were busy playing on them or texting under their desks the entire class. Perhaps if I taught a different grade, or more of my students had them, or my school did not have enough laptops for each students to have one, I would think differently. Overall, I think that they are more of a nuisance and distraction than a tool in many cases.

What do you think?
1. Do many of your students have cellphones?
2. Are your students allowed to keep their phones throughout the day or are they turned in?
3. Does your school have a device policy? How does it work? If not, do you wish your school did?

3 thoughts on “Debate #6 – Should Cellphones Be Banned in the Classroom?

  1. Great questions!
    1. I have about 5 students that bring their cellphones to school.
    2. They keep them throughout the day, but most of the time, they have them in their backpacks.
    3. We have a byod contract, no social media, and students know the consequences of they break any rules. They also have to ask to use it before so we know why they are on their phones.

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  2. I had a lot of the same viewpoints as you, although I think classrooms should have cellphones in them to learn self-discipline, responsibility, and self-control. Mostly we think of our own experiences, and we use these to base our decisions around these experiences we have had in the classroom. Additionally, if we have had mostly positive experiences we may believe that cellphones are all right in the classroom, and the opposite for negative experiences. That being said we have to think about the equity piece as you stated in your blog. If most of the students in your school do not have cellphones than maybe it is best for them to be banned from the classroom. Every school is different, so does one idea really fit all. I would say no. I also think it is important, as you shared your students are fairly young, to look at the ages. One rule for one grade may look differently at higher grade levels. The debate topic itself is a tricky one with lots of aspects to consider. I appreciated the perspective from an elementary standpoint, as I teach high school.

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  3. Loved your prompt questions at the end. At the last school, I was at, most kiddos had their own phones or devices that they were allowed to bring to school. At my current school, very few in my class have phones that consistently work, or devices that they are allowed to bring to school. We do have access to Chromebooks, but we have to share them within our classroom which can sometimes be difficult.

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