Wednesday, January 21, 2015


My first two years of teaching were from 1999 to 2001.  Back in the days before the iPad or the iPhone.  I didn't even own a cell phone.

 When I returned to high school teaching in 2013, one of the biggest changes I had to get used to was students and their phones.  My school does not have a school-wide rule about cell phone use.  Students are allowed to use their phones during passing periods and lunch, and then individual teachers set the policy for their own classes.  My rule is no cell phone use from the beginning bell until 5 minutes before the ending bell.  

I have this sign posted in several prominent locations in the room.  After the bell rings, I greet my students with "Guten Tag, Klasse!" followed by "Tschüss, Handys!"  (Handy is the German word for cell phone.)  After we bid farewell to our phones, they are to remain silent and out of sight for the next 80 minutes.  Then, during the last 5 minutes of class, when we are cleaning up and writing down assignments, I announce "Hallo Handy," and students may use their phones if they wish.  If a student has a phone out during class, I collect it in a basket on my desk, which is called the Handy Haus.  The phone stays there until the bell rings for the end of class.  

Cell phones are without a doubt the number one classroom management annoyance I deal with on a daily basis.  Usually the students are good about keeping their phones in their bags the first week or two of school, but then one or two start to appear under a desk or inside a sweatshirt pocket.  If I don't get out the Handy Haus, pretty soon most of the class is using a device all period long.  It's tempting to throw up my hands and give in to the onslaught of digital devices, but I think the Handy Battle is one that is worth fighting.

One of the things I want my students to learn (in addition to German!) is wise use of technology.  We need to teach young people when an appropriate time to text is and when is not - they don't automatically know this when an iPhone is placed in their hands.  If I think it's rude for them to use a cell phone while I'm teaching (which I do), then I need to explain this and follow through with classroom policies that support this. Research tells us that multitasking is inefficient - when we try to do several things at once, we actually don't do any of them very well.    I have certainly observed that students don't learn German well when they are distracted by their phones.  Ideally, I would like my students to have enough self-control that I don't need a Handy Haus, but realistically I know many of them haven't developed that level of self-discipline yet.  But it's something I think they can learn, with practice. And since they will soon be (or already are) driving cars, it's vitally important that they do learn it. In the meantime, I want to give my students every opportunity possible for success in German, so I'll continue to keep my Handy Haus nearby. 

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