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Cell Phones in the Classroom: Teacher Strategies

Student access to cell phone technology has forced teachers and administrators to take a stance on classroom and school cell phone policy debate, and the degree to which cell phones in the classroom are allowed varies wildly between schools and teachers.

For instance, Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan has implemented a strict no cell phone during class in the classroom or hallways. Alternatively, schools like Three King’s Fork High School in Suffolk, VA allow cell phones in class at the teacher’s discretion, and many teachers integrate them into their teaching model as a tool for engaging students in the class lesson and materials.

So what are some strategies teachers use to enforce a “No Cell Phone Zone,” or adapt them into everyday lessons through a “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT) policy, and what are some benefits to either model?

Cell Phones Classroom Teacher Strategies

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Strategy: Create No Cell Phone Zones

While cell phones have become a huge part of students’ lives, many teachers remain obdurate that cell phones should be 100% out of sight, and students should have no reason to use them during class. In an LA Times article, many teachers outlined their methods for maintaining strict no phone policies. One teacher, for instance, will have students put phones in a paper bag on their desk and staple it shut if they are caught using their phones in class. Another teacher will take a student’s phone if they see it and lock it by entering the wrong security code several times so they are unable to use their phone. One teacher even states that they discipline students who use their phones with grade reductions—a half letter for the first violation and a full letter for a second violation.

Teachers and administrators who choose to align with the “No Cell Phone Zone” policy tend to voice the concern that allowing phones in the classroom opens the door for unneeded distractions, and that it is difficult to ensure that students who have their phones out are using them for strictly academic purposes. In a study carried out at the London School of Economics and Political Science, researchers found that students aged 16 at schools where administrators implemented a ban had a 6.4% increase in test scores. Moreover, researchers in this study found a 14.23% increase in academic outcomes of low-achieving students. With the results of this study in mind, teachers and administrators could argue that banning cell phones in the classroom could be a way of reducing educational inequality.

Strategy: Using Technology in the Classroom

Some teachers and schools have adapted a more flexible, “Bring Your Own Technology” model, which allows students to bring their own cell phones or tablets to school. In these cases, teachers adapt them into their lesson plans and strategies in various ways. In the above mentioned LA Times article on cell phone policy strategies, many teachers mentioned the fact that they have become increasingly flexible regarding cell phones and mobile technology into their classroom. For instance, one teacher asks students to look up information on their phone (if they have one), access links posted on the teacher’s Twitter account, or to record and transcribe interviews. Another teacher who also allows students to conduct class-related research on their phone states “By letting the kids use the phones this way I have a lot less trouble getting the students to put the phones away when I ask them to.”

Our previous article, “Advantages of Using Cell Phones in the Classroom,” lists other cell phone uses that some teachers have adapted in their classroom. Cell phones can be used as a reference tool, such as the case as using dictionary, thesaurus, or foreign language conjugation apps. Many teachers have encouraged students to use cell phones as an organizational tool to set calendar reminders for upcoming assignment due dates or exam dates, or to transcribe and save class notes. Other teachers have utilized cell phone technology to allow students to participate in class through polls, or text the teacher questions if they are shy or timid and less likely to raise their hand.

Apart from the common concern that it can be difficult to keep students with cell phones on task, one broader common concern regarding allowing cell phones in the classroom, as briefly mentioned above, has to do with making income inequality more apparent among students and schools. According to a Pew Research Center study, 84% of the teachers surveyed agreed with the statement that “Today’s digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts.” Moreover, 56% responded that today’s digital technologies are widening the gap between the most and least academically successful students.


There are certainly many strategies for either banning cell phones in the classroom completely or for adapting them into lessons, and with any educational policy debate, there are many pros and cons to either stance. This raises the question of how teachers’ and schools’ policies will continue to evolve as a result of technology becoming even more ingrained in all aspects of students’ lives, and the role to which income and funding inequalities among students and school districts will play in access to technology if many schools continue to move toward a more technology-adaptive model as a whole.

If you are a teacher, we would love to hear from you in the comment section below regarding your own strategies for either banning or adapting cell phone technology in your classroom.

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.