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Archive for the ‘Cellphones in Class’ Category

KidsandCellphones

Schools and classrooms have changed after successive years of educational disruptions, shutdowns, home schooling isolation, and massive experiments in remote teaching. Serious gaps in student learning, psycho-social impacts, and academic achievement setbacks are now more visible from province-to-province in Canadian K-12 education. What’s less recognized and largely unaddressed is the profound impact of students’ near-total fixation with cellphones and complete absorption in cyberworlds.

Reading, in particular, is severely compromised in revved-up multi-task environments. Today’s elementary and secondary school students are essentially immersed in distractions. It’s next-to-impossible to learn or read with comprehension while keeping one eye on a phone, scrolling for videos, and being constantly interrupted, while attempting to pay attention to your teachers.

Promoters of ed tech have sold classroom teachers, parents and policy-makers a bill of goods.  Today’s students may be far more adept at accessing and using tech toys, but they have been profoundly affected by total immersion in constant connectivity, texting, and time-absorbing social media best exemplified by the incursion of Tik-Tok. Multi-tasking has been normalized and it comes with serious side-effects impairing students’ abilities to concentrate with adverse consequences for teaching kids to read.

Multi-tasking is being exposed as a myth. New evidence-based research is emerging which connects the proliferation of advanced cellphones with distractibility in workplaces and schools contributing to more frequent errors, higher levels of stress, reduced cognitive ability, and lower productivity. Focusing exclusively on banning or limiting cellphones sparks much debate, but it often misses the point.  Teachers are now facing an up-hill battle to reclaim the attention of the pandemic generation of students.

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Identifying the impact of mobile phones and social media is not new, as Teach Like a Champion founder Doug Lemov recently reminded us. American research generated by  Jean M. Twenge and others found that teenagers’ media use roughly doubled between 2006 and 2016 across gender, race, and class. In competition against the smartphone, the book, the idea of reading, lost significant ground. By 2016, just 16 percent of 12th-grade students read a book or magazine daily. As recently as 1995, 41 percent did. Meanwhile, social media was on the rise. By 2016, about three-quarters of teenagers reported using social media almost every day

The onslaught completely transformed teen culture with some detrimental side-effects.  Some 47 % of teenagers use the phone whilst on the toilet, double that of adults. Students who perform a task just in sight of their phone (regardless of if they are using it) do about 20% worse as it still distracts them. In addition, students who are on their phone more in class get worse grades, regardless of gender or previous grade average. Some 60 % of male and female U.S, college students, surveyed in long before the pandemic, reported feeling very agitated when they could not access their mobile phone.

The Pandemic has only made matters worse. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, virtually everything that might have been competed without smartphones suddenly disappeared. A recent Common Sense Media study found that children’s daily entertainment usage of screens grew by 17 percent between 2019 and 2021—more than it had grown during the four previous years. Overall, daily entertainment screen use in 2021 increased to 5.5 hours among tweens ages 8 to 12 and to more than 8.3 hours among teens ages 13 to 18, on average. These trends were even more pronounced for students from low-income families, whose parents were most likely to have to work in person and have fewer resources to spend on alternatives to screens.

Leading researchers like Twenge sounded early warnings that excessive smartphone use would likely have catastrophic consequences for teens’ well-being, and those seemingly alarmist warnings have been borne out in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Teenagers’ reported mental health concerns have spiked with only 47 percent of students reported feeling connected to the adults and peers in their schools. Some 44 percent of high-school students reported feeling sad or persistently hopeless in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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School disruptions and closures had a big effect.  Students who said they felt “connected to adults and peers” at school were almost 60 percent less likely to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness than those who did not—some 35 percent of connected students felt that way, compared with 55 percent who did not feel connected to school. The socio-emotional distress students are experiencing, according to Lemov, is as much a product of the so-called ‘cellphone epidemic’ as it is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The explosion of Tik-Tok fad is not only a prime example of the pervasive impact of mobile phone culture, but demonstrates how today’s kids can get hooked on continuous social media feeds. Peering inside the “Tik-Tok Brain,” neuroscientists have shown that “the dopamine rush of endless short videos” makes it hard for young viewers to switch their focus to slower-moving, teacher-guided activities. “We’ve made kids live in a candy store,” is how it was described a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal.

Screen time is crowding out teaching and learning, most notable in declining reading proficiency. Spending so much time on mobile phones, even without social media, adversely affects attention and concentration skills, making it harder to focus fully on any task and to maintain that focus. When students are simply unable to focus or pay attention, learning to read through systematic literacy programs or tackling more rigorous academic tasks in higher grades becomes doubly difficult for teachers in today’s classrooms.

Banning or severely restricting cellphones in class is more of a quick fix when the problem is far wider in societal culture and runs much deeper in schools.  “If you want kids to pay attention,” Cincinnati pediatrician and literacy specialist John S. Hutton advises us, then students “need to practice paying attention.” Turning the phones off is wise, but only the beginning in the post-pandemic struggle to foster what Teach Like a Champion calls “habits of attention” and to reclaim today’s students.

How have successive disrupted school years made reaching today’s students a bigger problem for classroom teachers?  How much of the change is the result of remote learning and the further proliferation and dominance of mobile devices?  How can today’s teachers compete with “Tik-Tok Brian” to reclaim students?  Why is curtailing cellphone use, by itself, unlikely to make much of a difference?

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One of the Doug Ford Ontario education reform proposals that’s attracted relatively little attention is the June 2018 election pledge to ban cellphones in class. In the immediate aftermath of Ford’s election, education observers would be wise to take a serious look at the sweeping promise to “ban cell phones in all primary and secondary school classrooms, in order to maximize learning time.” While it is tempting to dismiss it as just another example of “back-to-basics” thinking, that would be most unwise. That is because it is inspired by openly expressed teacher concerns and policies now being implemented and debated in France, the United Kingdom, and a number of North American school districts.

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer is the latest to take action in the form of a National Assembly bill to ban cellphones at school before school resumes in September 2018. Deeply concerned about the phenomenon of “phone-addicted children,” he claims that the bill is a “detox measure” to combat classroom distractions and cyberbullying. More than 90 per cent of French children aged 12 years or older posess a mobile phone and teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to capture and hold the attention of their students.

“Mobile phones are a technological advance but they cannot monopolize our lives, ” Blanquer told LCI TV News. “You can’t find your way in a world of technology if you can’t read, write, count, respect others and work in a team.” Supporters of the French legislation say smartphone usage among children of junior and middle-school age has also aggravated cyberbullying, made it easier to access pornography, and interfered with social interactions in schools. Teachers, caught up in the proposed blanket ban, succeeded in being exempted from the cellphone prohibition.

Since the French cellphone ban was first proposed in December of 2017, school authorities in Britain and Ireland have been debating taking similar measures. The founder of London-based researchED, Tom Bennett, claimed, back in September 2015, that children should not be allowed smartphones until they were 16-years-of-age.  Teachers, he advised, should not allow them unless absolutely necessary, given the many challenges of managing modern classrooms.

The new Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, reports that “pupil behaviour” is “the number one concern of parents” and that steps must be taken to reduce the “low-level disruption,” including the inappropriate use of mobile devices in class. ” I am yet to be convinced of the educational benefits of all day access to ‘Snapchat” and the like, and the place of mobile phones in the classroom seems to me dubious at best.”

One of the most influential studies, “Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction and Student Performance, produced in May 2015 by London School of Economics researchers Louis-Phillipe Beland and Richard Murphy, is usually cited by those favouring restrictions or bans on classroom cellphone use. Based upon a study of moblile phone use in high schools in four English cities (Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester) in the Spring of 2013, the researchers found that banning mobile phones produced an improvement in student performance of 6.41% of a standard deviation, and rising to 14.23% among low-achieving students. The net effect of banning mobile phones, according to the researchers, added up to the equivalent of an extra week of school each academic year.

The critical question of whether mobile phones are a necessity or a distraction had resurfaced here in Canada long before an outright ban ended up as a key plank in the Ford Nation education agenda. One very active and informed Ontario elementary school teacher, Andrew Campbell, presented a very thorough review of Ontario cellphone policy and practice on April 14, 2018, at researchED Ontario.  Since the arrival of the Apple iPhone in January 2007, mobile phones have proliferated among children and teens, necessitating changes in school policies. Canada’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board, reacted by introducing a system wide ban in April 2007, only to reverse it four years later.

Much  of the mobile phone proliferation was sparked by the adoption of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, formally recognizing their acceptance as tools for learning. While BYOD proved to be bad policy, school systems were simply unable to curtain the technological tide or properly regulate the use of such devices.  In 2013, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) passed a resolution proposing that cellphones be “turned-off and stored during school hours,” unless authorized for use by a teacher. By 2014, some 60 per cent of Ontario schools had adopted BYOD policies and allowed students to use their own devices, in most cases, for cost-efficiency reasons. One Quebec English school board, in the Eastern Townships, went even further, distributing tablets to all students in Grade 5 and up while maintaining a rather open and permissive smartphone policy.

Mobile phone policies have tended to be reactions to technological innovations. Thierry Karsenti, Canada Research Chair on Technologies in Education and professor at the University of Montreal, told Maclean’s Magazine students will find a way to bring phones into the classroom regardless of the rules. A survey of more than 4,000 high school students showed that while 79.3 per cent of respondents owned a cellphone, they did not figure prominently in day-to-day teaching and learning. Cellphones were widely used in and around schools, even though some 88.4 per cent of student respondents claimed that the devices were banned either in class or at school altogether.

Defenders of cellphone use in class tend to cite research based more upon student attitudes than on the perceptions of their teachers. One online survey conducted for Verizon with 1,000 students in grades 6-8 claimed to show its positive effect on student learning.  Students who used smartphones in the classroom were more likely to ‘feel smart,’ be happier, and show interested in pursuing STEM subjects. More affluent students were more likely to be allowed to use smartphones in the classroom.   “Our research supports the fact that mobile technology can inspire and engage students today. We need to meet children where they are and leverage their use of mobile devices to increase their interest in STEM” claimed Rose Stuckey Kirk, President of Verizon

Another September 2014 Stanford University study focussed on “at risk’ students and purported to demonstrate how technology aids in learning when there is at least one device per student and the devices are readily available for multiple uses by the student throughout the school day. A 2017 study conducted by Dr. James Derounian at the University of Gloucestershire found that 45% of students in a small-scale 100 student group believed that the use of phones in classrooms aided in their education, making it easier to access online text resources.

Clearly defined class expectations and procedures are essential if teachers are to see benefits from cellphone use in class. Strict rules, established at the outset, work best and, without them, student attention is hard to establish and maintain. Many of the most effective teachers now use some form of check-in and check-out system for devices. The “Stoplight System, ” developed by two Halton DSB teachers, Troy Tennant and Cindy Cosentino, shows potential and is being mimicked elsewhere in Ontario.

Maintaining good student behaviour is becoming more of a priority and that explains the renewed popularity of restricting mobile phone use by students in schools and classrooms. Tom Bennett’s School Report blog post, June 23, 2018, again identified mobile phones as a major contributor to the discipline challeges teachers face in today’s classrooms. “Low level disruption sounds cute,” he wrote, “but it’s kryptonite for any lesson. It normalises rudeness, laziness, and grinds teachers down over weeks and months. It is no small issue. It is the most common reason for classroom behaviour to disintegrate.”  The Guardian concurs with the stance taken by Bennett and Ofsted boss Spielman.  A recent  editorial argued that schools would be better places for learning without the constant and distracting presence of the devices.

Should schools continue to welcome mobile phones in class? Why has France taken the lead in banning mobile phones at school? Who is promoting and supporting the continued and expanded use of cellphones in the classroom?  Is it possible to enforce a ban on the use of such devices in schools? Where is the evidence-based research supporting the widespread use of mobile phones in class? 

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