This post first appeared on Edudemic.
When adopting technology in the classroom, one of the key concerns for teachers and administrators is classroom management. I am often asked if there is a way to “lock down an iPad screen” or “ensure that students cannot go to inappropriate websites” (e.g. Social Media). In other words, how do we keep students on task and ensure that they are not distracted by the novelty of gadgets or communicating with friends via texting or social media? Often, teachers will take up devices (such as mobile phones) to avoid the issue of students texting or checking Facebook on their phones (eliminating access to a powerful, pocket computer in the process).
Classroom management is a challenging skill which I consistently strive to improve on a regular basis. Often, people believe that managing a classroom that has employed technology requires a whole new approach and skill set. However, I have found that many traditional methods of classroom management readily translate to the technological rich schoolroom – with some slight modification.
1. Establish Clear Expectations
Just as I start out the school year with “Class Rules” that we make and agree to as a group, we also establish expectations for when we use technology. The general topics are: civility, staying on task, and adhering to the honor code. In reality, this is no different than I would expect in a non-technology classroom. The one additional rule that I add, as it pertains to smart phones, is that when not in use they are to sit, face-down on the desk in front of them. I have found that having students “put them away” can create temptation and they are more likely to “sneak a peek” at them from a pocket or a sleeve. However, if the phone is always face-down on the desk in front of them, they are less prone to “sneak a peek” at a text from a friend or check their Facebook status and are more likely to stay on task when employing it during my lessons.
In addition to establishing expectations, you may also want to ensure that you lay out consequences for violating your established policies – this can be loss of technology privilege, a note home, confiscation of the device, meeting with the Dean, or whatever else you decide is necessary in order to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them and the natural consequences of violating them.
2. Let them “Get the Giggles Out”
If I’m introducing a new tool, app, piece of software, or device, I often give students some time to “get the giggles out.” For example, if we are using Today’s Meet to do a Backchannel, they have 2 minutes to say hello to all of their friends. If we are using iMovie on iPad, I will encourage them to make one silly video before they delve into the assignment. Some of the problems of using new technology arise from the novelty of the device. Let students get passed the initial excitement so that they can be more focused when they delve into their work.
3. Engagement is Key
I will be the first to argue that as educators we are not entertainers. Lessons should be engaging and require students to stay on task at a solid pace in order to complete them. Ensure that the assignment requires students to stay engaged; this can include playing to their passions, setting firm due dates for assessment, and scaling the assignment for students who finish faster. Students become bored when they are not challenged or find their assignments meaningful and engaging.
One of my favorite uses of cell phones during the class, for example, is to engage in bell-ringer exercises (activities students must complete at the start of class) or exit-tickets (something they must complete before leaving). Using an app like Socrative, students can use their mobile phone to complete a brief activity that is then assessed. Not only does it keep them focused on a task, but it provides meaningful assessment for the teachers to gauge student progress.
4. Get the two Eyes, two Feet App
Carl Hooker, an educational technology innovator on the cutting edge, coined the phrase “the two eyes, two feet app” in response to faculty and administration concerned about inappropriate use on cell phones, tablets, and/or laptops. The biggest shift for educators when technology enters the classroom is that you cannot be static or stable. The best way to ensure that students stay on task is to walk around the room, look at the work they are doing, discuss and engage with them about their progress. The more active and mobile you are in the classroom, the easier it is to ensure that your students are on working on what they should be. If you notice that children are quickly closing browsers windows when you come near or “double tapping” the home button on their iPad (a sign that they’re switching apps) then take the time to investigate what the student is doing and have a discussion with them if necessary.
5. Know When to put the Technology Away
Even though I am the Director of Educational Technology, my classes are never “all tech all the time.” Sometimes, it is not appropriate to use technology for an assignment or activity in class. In those cases, the technology goes away – in fact, I’ve been known to collect cell phones during certain activities (like mid-term exams or quizzes). Use the appropriate tool for the appropriate context – and sometimes that is a pencil and paper. Beth Holland and Shawn McCusker wrote a great article on this topic entitled “When to Put the Tech Away in a 1:1 Classroom.” As Shawn argues, when technologies interfere with class culture, it’s time to put the tech away!
Overall, classroom management is an organic and individual process. You must find what works for you and with what students. I will admit that I have classes that are easier to keep on task than others, students that are more readily distracted than their peers, and activities that just do not succeed as I hoped. At the end of your activity, pause, assess, and adjust as needed!