They’re often the cause of argument, disruption and off-task behaviour. So how can you reduce the negative impact of mobile phones and MP3 players in the teaching and learning environment?

In spite of increasingly clear rules, boundaries and expectations regarding their use, phones and MP3 players remain among the most popular and prized of all personal possessions and students continually bring them into, and try to use them in, school. School and classroom rules range from a complete ban while on the premises to guidance asking that they are switched off, left at the office or handed in when entering the classroom. All of which have led to arguments, accusations and the attempted secretive use of the items, which in turn has led to confiscation, detentions and parental involvement.

There are legal guidelines regarding the confiscation of property which are perhaps not that well-known or understood by students, staff and parents. They make clear reference to the appropriateness of confiscation being linked to the student’s behaviour, being reasonable, only being carried out by an authorised member of the school staff and only being undertaken when the student is within the care and control of the school.

Most members of staff who have initiated some form of confiscation of property will doubtless report the associated problems that such an action can lead to, for instance:

  • arguments
  • defiance
  • refusal to comply
  • threats
  • parental involvement.

These are just a few examples. For schools which operate a total ban on the use of these items, this will only be effective if it is consistently applied and not watered down by staff members who allow the use of phones and MP3 players under certain circumstances. The inevitable response from students will be ‘Why can’t I listen to my music/make a call/send a text? Mr X lets us!’

In such circumstances it is the responsibility of all staff members to apply the rules consistently. As with all behaviour management techniques, it is probably more effective – and certainly less stressful – if the problems of mobile phones and MP3 players are managed proactively rather than reactively. Don’t wait until the phone is in use, have a clear and fair policy which enables students to take responsibility for their actions and stops the disruptions caused by arguments and the use of phones.

Practical Tips
Clearly, a complete ban on the possession of phones and MP3 players will eliminate any future arguments and problems, but equally problematic is the implementation of such a rule! Solutions such as handing in all items at the start of each lesson can lead to accusations of theft and will invariably lead to damage to property as phones are sorted, thrown, dropped and generally mistreated by students anxiously trying to find their own phone in the box/drawer!

If the school has chosen not to go down the ‘complete ban’ route, then there needs to be a proactive stance on the possession of phones in the classroom. Whichever action is decided upon, success will depend entirely on the consistent application of the rule/action.

If we recognise that students will own mobile phones and MP3 players and will bring them into school, we should operate a system which accepts this but also teaches students the requirements of differing environments. Imagine the outrage if the steward on board your flight to Spain or Greece came round before take-off with a large cardboard box and asked you to hand in your phone, which would be returned when the plane lands! Instead, we are are asked to simply turn them off.

A very effective strategy in the classroom would be to allow the student to retain his/her phone, but to turn it off on entry to the classroom and place it in sight on his/her desk. There is no need to confiscate, no need for students to hand them in and the personal property is not at risk of damage or theft. The phone remains on the table, turned off and out of use.

Using such a strategy gives the student a level of respect, ownership and responsibility for his/her actions and, as long as the system is employed by all members of staff, a clear understanding of the rules that apply in a variety of environments.

There will be other techniques to reduce the associated problems of phones and MP3 players, but the most successful will be those which recognise current trends and promote mutual respect.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a wrtier, consultant and trainer.