Q: I read an article you were cited in about college students texting during class and the negative impact it can have on their learning and overall academic performance. I am a high school teacher, and texting during class is one of the biggest challenges that I am facing. Unfortunately, I feel that I have very little support from my school’s administration and parents with tackling this issue. I would like your advice on how to best address this as well as research that I can use to support an argument against texting in class. Thank you for any help/support you can give me.
-Sick of students texting, USA
A: This may be today’s version of an age-old problem for teachers—namely, students splitting their attention between the class lecture and socializing with each other. Texting is essentially the old tradition of passing notes in class transposed to the new environment of constant wireless connectedness.
Since you are dealing with high school students who are increasingly making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their actions, one way to address this issue—at least in your own classroom—is to engage in a direct, open, and honest dialogue about this with your students.
Talk with students about the problem you see - and ask them for solutions. Let them know that you are committed to teaching them, that you prepare your lessons every day for their benefit, and that the information and skills you are teaching will help them succeed in college and beyond. Share with them, in a way that respects both their intelligence and autonomy, that despite their feeling that they can multitask and perform both tasks equally well, current research on the human brain shows that even the best and brightest students are incapable of thinking about two things at once. Although MIT students who participated in multitasking experiments subjectively felt that they were doing everything well, their performance was slower, with more mistakes, and they did not retain the information as well as when they focused on a single task. You can illustrate this for them with a game that your students can play themselves.
Once you’ve collectively come up with a plan that suits you as the teacher and the majority of your students, enact it as a ‘classroom policy’. Smartphones and texting are not inherently detrimental to learning, it is how they are used and what they are used for that determines their educational value. Some teachers integrate cell phones—and, yes, even texting—into their classrooms, taking advantage of the remarkable capability to communicate directly with people at almost any distance instantaneously. Having specific times when phone use is permitted and even encouraged may remove the attraction to texting as a “forbidden fruit” and help the students start using their mobile devices as the powerful tools they are, rather than just entertainment.
Finally, let them know that regardless of whether they choose to follow the agreed-upon solution or to text in competition with your lesson, they will be held responsible for the information covered in class, and that they, and only they, will be accountable for their academic success based on the choices they make.
It is possible that your classroom strategy may not sit well with your administration, however, this may provide you with the opportunity to discuss the issue with your professional peers and exchange stories and potential solutions. At the very least, you will make your point to the administration that student texting is an issue that needs to be addressed for all classrooms and, who knows, you may learn a strategy that will work in your classroom from a colleague.
Instead of trying to force your students to change, work with them to come up with a solution that is respectful to you, the class, and the material they need to learn. Remember that the goal for you as a teacher is not to shame your students about their texting, but to make them aware of how valuable their attention is and how they are using it.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,