Devices are not a distraction

Teaching in a 1:1 environment is truly a great opportunity for both you and your students. It allows for immediate access to the most recent information, endless opportunities for students to create and demonstrate their understanding of the concepts, as well as personalizing the learning for your students. However, I am often hearing that the devices are becoming a distraction. Students become off task and are on websites or apps that are either inappropriate or unwanted at the time. The first instinct for the teacher is to take the device away. However, it is a learning tool, just as a paper, pencil, and book are learning tools. We certainly do not take those away from our students. We deal with the behavior, redirect students to get back on task and reinforce to use the device appropriately. So, over the break, I took an opportunity to read a book called Classroom Management in the Digital Age: Effective Practices for Technology-Rich Learning Spaces by Heather Dowd and Pat Green. I want to highlight some of the simple, but great strategies suggested by the book. However, I truly recommend you read this for yourself. But, before I share these strategies I do want to make a disclaimer. Just as you teach your students classroom procedures and expectations through a “Teach-Practice-Reinforce” model, it is imperative you do this when it comes to the digital practices too. It is not safe to assume students will understand or follow the first time you teach it.

Teach well-defined and clear technology procedures just as you would other procedures to decrease behavior issues. 
  • Establish a clear “attention-getting” signal. You may have one that you use while students are working on paper/pencil activities and may be able to use the same one. When it comes to devices, you will want to establish
    • earbuds/headphones off
    • screens not visible (clam-shut, 45-degree angle)
    • hands-off devices
    • have students make eye-contact
  • Establish expectations when it comes to the device use and care in your classroom.
    • If you have a classroom set model - how will students access and transport within the classroom? I suggest you assign a device to each student.
    • If your school has adopted the take-home model, devices should always remain in the case and also be zipped when moving around the classroom.
    • Also, consider where students should place a device when it is not being used (where on their desk).
  • When students enter the classroom, have a “bell-ringer” or “Do Now” activity to immediately engage your students.
    • This allows you to take care of attendance or other issues that arise at the beginning of the class while students are immediately getting focused on your content.
    • If this is something new, remember to “Teach-Practice-Reinforce” for a week or two to establish this new routine.
  • Just as you'd never give your students downtime or free time to do as they please in your classroom, it shouldn't be given on Chromebooks. Free time leads to distraction or misbehavior. Create a list of extension activities that are acceptable and appropriate to complete for early finishers.
    • Ensure you add specific instructions and expectations for the tasks to decrease the chances of students getting off task.
    • The more authentic and meaningful the tasks are, the more likely it will be that your students remain engaged and on task.
  • Set expectations, boundaries and support structures.
    • Review the RUP/AUP set by the district/school. This can be the basis for your classroom expectations/rules that can then be referred to if a challenge/unwanted behavior occurs.
    • I would also suggest you display the rules in your classroom for reference.
  • When students are working on the devices, be sure you are up and walking around checking the work with students. Students are less likely to get off task if they see you moving about.
    • A time saver and helpful strategy could be having all links and websites available in one location, such as a Google Doc.
    • Display a timer on the board to inform students of how much time they have remaining for the task.
  • Please do not think you must know everything there is to know about the website, app or software. Technology is ever-changing and it is difficult to keep up with it all.
    • Promote problem-solving skills to get the students to critically think about the technical issues they could be having. Ask the students questions - what have you already tried, what might you try, who could you ask, prompting them to explore the issue.
    • You could also try the “Ask 3 before me” rule and have students collaboratively work on the problem.
There are so many more strategies within this book to help you manage a 1:1 classroom, including managing projects, partnering with parents and digital citizenship. This post was intended to focus on the culture you can begin building to ensure the devices are a critical learning tool in the learning and instruction and provide some quick strategies to address some of those challenges that cause the technology to be viewed as a distraction. It may take time, in the beginning, to establish each of these new procedures and expectations, and then periodically practice and reinforce. However, it will save time in the end with less off-task or undesirable behaviors when it comes to device use in your classroom.


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