Responsible Classroom Management

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: November 16, 2015

Classroom management is evolving with the introduction of 1:1 and BYOT programs and, understandably, some teachers find it intimidating. When students have easily-concealable smartphones or screens that are not immediately visible to a teacher, they find it difficult to tell which students are on task and which are focused on other things.

Fortunately there are several products that make this easier. Districts can choose from several different products to monitor student activity to ensure they are being productive during class. Teachers can see what a student is working on, and in many cases, teachers can see what tabs a student has open in a browser, close some of those tabs remotely, or even lock students’ screens completely.

Many teachers regard these abilities as the savior of their classroom. However, these tools are also incredibly easy to abuse by teachers, and can quickly turn students against them.

When a teacher goes in remotely and closes students’ tabs or simply locks out devices for the entirety of the hour, it creates two different perceptions.

The teacher expects something like this:

To the students, however, it feels something like this:

Clockwork Orange

While the temptation is great to zap every browser tab a student opens that isn’t related to their class work, doing so is going to create resentment in the student. The student is going to seek out a way around being monitored. Everyone deserves a brain break now and again, and sometimes a brief diversion helps develop a thought. It’s not uncommon for adults to multitask, so why should we not expect students to do the same?

For example, I have yet to attend a meeting or conference where most of the attendees (myself included) were not also checking email, visiting Facebook, playing Solitaire, surfing the Web, working on other projects, or otherwise not being 100% focused on the speaker. Can you imagine the outcry if someone sat at the back of the room, managing those adults’ screens?

Digital classroom management should focus more on developing behaviors and habits than micromanaging a student’s time. Teachers should focus more on what is not getting done with class time than what a student is doing at a particular moment. If they’ve been wracking their brains for several minutes, why shouldn’t they clear their head wth a short game? If they’re sweating something that happened during the day or at home and they need to communicate something to someone, is preventing them from doing so really going to solve their problem, or make them any less distracted?

For the students getting their work done, we should not worry about how they spend their time. For the students who cannot or will not manage their time effectively, however, we may need to rethink how we address their behavior.

Take the chronic YouTube watcher, for example. He insists he only watched a video “for a minute or two,” but that minute rapidly expanded into the whole hour. These are the students who get lost in digital time and honestly do not realize how much time has passed. Closing their tabs can be effective in the short term, but doing so over and over only makes them agitated and does little to solve the problem in the long term.

These are the students who need to be taught how to manage their time. Track and show them the time spent on task versus off. Show them how long videos negatively affect their productivity. Teach them the use of time-management tools like Moosti. Work with them on recognizing procrastination. In extreme cases, have the student research study time management techniques and see what they feel will work for them.

This is one example, and experienced teachers or school psychologists will have many more. However, my point remains that a teacher must use these digital classroom management tools responsibly. If teachers uses a digital classroom management package like a weapon, their students are going to respond in kind.

Managing Tech Is Not as New as You Think

Categories: The Classroom
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Published on: September 16, 2013

Whether a school is running a BYOD program or a massive 1:1 initiative, many teachers look at these devices as new challenges—or even problems—in their classrooms.

I disagree.

Tablets, laptops and smartphones should be thought of as just another classroom tool, and they should be managed the same as books, pencils, paper, and every other item on the classroom supply list.

Let’s address the most common complaints.


By far the most common. “The students will be Facebooking while I’m trying to lecture!”

Distraction is not a new problem. Students can be unfocused in any number of ways, from reading something from another class to doodling to just staring out the window. If students are texting or emailing one another, it’s no different from passing hand-written notes in class.

I will grant that the pull of technology may seem stronger for today’s students, but distraction is distraction. If students are taking notes on devices, circulate through the class more. Look over their shoulders. If that’s not feasible, ask to see students’ notes from lectures, whether it’s by sharing them with you electronically or by handing over their device.

Forgotten/Drained Devices

“What if a student leaves a device in his locker? What if she forgot to charge it?”

There is an easy counter here: “What if a student doesn’t bring his textbook to class?” Unprepared is unprepared. Just as a student should have the responsibility to bring his pencils and notebooks to class, she should have the responsibility to ensure her device is charged at least nightly if there’s no access to power at school or in class.

In a school where devices are used all day in every class, there should be some plan by the school to get power to students in at least some classrooms or during free periods. However, as a general rule, the students should ensure their devices are ready and available when they’re needed in class.

Troubleshooting Problems

This one’s not so common in a 1:1 because teachers know what the students have and the teachers should have been trained in standard usage. In a BYOD program, the concern is students will have devices the teacher does not know how to use.

My response again is it’s the student’s problem. If a student needs to connect to the wireless network, the teacher’s responsibility ends at providing the wireless password. If the student can’t figure out the device’s email app, it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to teach them. This falls under the same general category of being unprepared for class.

That said, teachers should be aware there is a variety of devices out there. It would be okay to encourage students to use Evernote to take notes, for example. Evernote is available on all platforms. In a Google Apps school, any student who can’t figure out how to access his data on his device should be hitting Google for how-tos. However, it would be unfair to demand students use an iOS-specific app in a BYOD school because there’s a good chance many students will be using Android devices.

In the end, this isn’t so much an education and training problem, or even a professional development issue. It’s simply an issue of mindset. Technology seems like a new challenge because it’s different from many other classroom tools, but in reality, it’s the same challenges in a new form.

Every teacher has a set of classroom rules and expectations of participation. Even if a school has not fully endorsed BYOT or gone 1:1, teachers should be looking at their rules and how they apply to technology.

On Student Enagement

Categories: Philosophy
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Published on: November 29, 2012

There is no clearer indication of a lack of student engagement than vandalism.

Student graffiti.
One of six instances of graffiti on this keyboard alone.

Vandalism is a crime of opportunity. When students are given nothing to do, they will find ways to entertain themselves, and sometimes their solutions will be counter-productive or harmful.

In labs, the general trend is for teachers to allow a student on a computer only if they’re working. I’ve seen students have to sit and read quietly, where this computer is just inches away. What messages does that send to the student?

How about, “Yes, the Internet is a portal to a wide array of information, but you’re not allowed to use it.”

Or, “We don’t trust you to make a smart decision about the use of your free time.”

Or even, “I hate and fear this Internet thing, and you don’t belong on it.”

We can’t tell our communities how important technology is and why we need bigger budgets for better equipment, only to turn around and tell the students it’s not for them.

Students need downtime. Heck, we all need a break from time to time. Teachers see no problem with taking a few minutes of class time to check personal email or read a news site, so why should we expect any different from our students? Hammering at them to go go go for four periods in a stretch can be overwhelming for some students.

On a broader scope, companies like Google—and now Apple—are allowing their staff to use work time to work on personal projects. Why shouldn’t our students have the same opportunity?

Yes, some students will always make questionable decisions. But some will use it to work on other class work. Some will use it to learn something new. Some will use it to communicate with friends in another town, or even on the other side of the planet. Some will use it to pursue creative interests like art or photography.

We should let them! Even better, we should encourage them to do so.

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