The Insanity of Allowing Phones in Class

June 11, 2012


I was chatting to a scout leader a few days ago. He told me of the measures they had to take on camping trips or at troop meetings to deal with mobile phones. They collected them in and held onto them until it was time for the scouts to go home. Without this precaution, scouts could not be counted on to do anything, even sleep, due to the ongoing temptation of being able to text their mates or surf the net. A Girls’ Brigade officer I know told me something similar. Phones had to be prohibited if you wanted children to do anything. Even in a situation where both children and adults are volunteers, and the activities were usually intended to be fun, they were just too much of a distraction. According to one news report, there may even be problems with children preferring texting to sleeping.

Now none of this should be at all surprising. A lot of adults (myself included) are addicted to using their mobile phones. If I sometimes lack the self-control to put my phone away when there are more important things to do, how much worse must it be for children whose ability to pay attention often seem limited at the best of times? Combined with the risks of inappropriate use and the risk of losing their phones, it would clearly be best if phones weren’t allowed in schools and it should be an absolute priority to make sure students do not have access to their phones in lessons. What is surprising, therefore, is that there are people, including a small minority of teachers, who think children should have access to mobile phones in lessons. Why would anyone want to increase the distractions in class? To endorse such a bizarre position you would expect a killer argument; some really good reason why an extra distraction wasn’t actually bad thing. So when, at the weekend, I stumbled into some supporters of phones in class on Twitter, I was curious as to what justification they could give. What kind of logic could make someone want kids to pay less attention to learning? What could the argument be?

It was this:

Yes, this was the brilliant insight. If you are willing to ban one thing for being a distraction then you are obliged to ban anything that can, in some way, be a distraction. Apparently, the only possibilities are to ban everything or ban nothing. There can be no possibility of seeking to reduce the distractions as far as is practical. There can be no distinction between necessary and unnecessary distractions. There can be no middle ground between prohibition and licence. By the same argument one assumes that if we ban shouting, we must ban whispering. If we ban eating in lessons, we must ban breathing. If we ban guns, we must ban rulers.

Now from the point of view of somebody who wants children to learn, and is aware that they learn more if they pay attention to their teacher and their work, this is such a weak argument as to amaze. To see it used once would make you wonder about the common sense of the person using it. To see it used repeatedly makes you wonder what is going.

And that’s what you have to understand. The lunacy of the position is only apparent if you have accepted the following:

  • Kids are in school to learn rather than be entertained.
  • Learning involves the intentional acquisition of knowledge and is not simply a by-product of purposeless activity or play.
  • Teachers are experts who can pass on knowledge to their students more effectively than if they are left to find it for themselves.
  • Teachers have a right to use authority over children in order to ensure they learn.

If, alternatively, you despise adult authority then banning phones is a violation of human rights. If you think learning results, not from the direct communication of knowledge and activities focused on using particular knowledge, but instead from becoming well-practised at play and chat (often referred to as the acquisition of “skills”) then distractions are positively to be welcomed. If teachers know little or nothing then being able to surf the net, or communicate with one’s peers, will increase learning. If there is something undesirable about being taught then creating an environment where teaching is prevented is actually a good thing (often this is called “independent learning”). If you care more about children having fun, (often referred to as being “engaged”) rather than being educated then you are unlikely to have a problem with phones.

Once you have accepted some or all of these progressive dogmas, you may be able to list the things that can be done with phones (surfing the net, sending messages, taking photos) as if they were educational rather than a distraction from education. You might be able to demonise anyone who wants kids to learn. You may even be able to attribute to them all sorts of strange motives (perhaps a hatred of technology, or a political ideology). But, the trouble with these sorts of beliefs is that they provide more in the away of emotional satisfaction than they do coherent arguments. In fact, sharing them honestly (i.e. without all the euphemisms and dodgy definitions) will just make a lot of ordinary people disagree with you. So for that reason. supporters of progressive education often retreat into their own little worlds where they talk largely to each other and appeal to each other’s authority. That is why they will put forward the same bad argument en masse even where they are completely unconvincing.

If you have the time I would encourage you to go back through the Tweets from the weekend (look at either my timeline or Toby Young’s), not because of any great arguments, but to experience the mentality of the supporters of progressive education. If you really want a laugh you can even compare the discussion on Twitter with the parallel universe version of it presented on this blog here.



  1. I would have to disagree with you. I am no tech expert, however I do allow my pupils to use phones in class. Here are a few instances of this:
    1/ They can take photos of text book pages and pictures so they can read/look at them at home.
    2/ when we are in an ict room there are never enough pc’s for each pupil so sometimes some pupils research using their phone.
    3/ they are often more comfortable using the camera/video on their phone than a school flip camera and so choose to use it by preference. This also means smaller groups in class when they are making videos
    4/ there are Websites like polleverywhere that I use. This allows the pupils to text in answers and opinions anonymously so I can get some excellent AfL
    5/ in class pupils are starting to ask if they can access my blog to get information to inform their work (this has been particularly noticeable during revision lessons)

    There are other instances too, like checking the spelling of a word using a dictionary on their phone that happen quite regularly in lessons.
    Mobile phones are improving the learning going on in my classroom. Why would I want them banned?

    Also known as @dukkhaboy

    • Sounds like you work in a lovely, lovely school. Any jobs going there? ;)

    • I don’t think anyone is arguing that mobile phones have no useful applications. My pupils might, for example, use the calculator if they have left theirs at home. They might photograph the revision notes on the board or record my delivery of the lesson so it can be played back at a later time. They might look up a question they are stuck on before asking me, keep a learning journal or a million and one other things.

      If I had highly motivated, well behaved pupils I might even be tempted to try some of these things. (I probably wouldn’t though) I don’t so I don’t.
      If my pupils were allowed to use mobile phones it would be even more difficult to prevent them being used inappropriately.
      Perhaps if you had confiscated a phone from a group of boys watching a video on it and giggling only to discover that said video is a porn film starring students you would somewhat less keen to allow them…
      Maybe we have taught in very different schools

      • I do teach in a secondary modern girls’ school where the pupils on the whole want to learn and for that I am grateful. My point was it is not ‘insane to allow mobile phones in the classroom’ as the title suggests. I think this article makes good points about the reason pupils are in school and the skill of the teacher.
        However I believe that can enhance learning and so should be used where appropriate – a ‘middle way’ as another commentator below has suggested. My school bans phones in lessons unless the teacher expressly allows them to be used. that I think is a good policy.

        • I think it’s an utterly dozy policy that would only work in a nice school. In most schools divide and rule and whines about Mrs Smith lets us use our phones would be the order of the day.

          Most of these people screeching luddites do not function in the world many others do. IME virtually all these initiatives are rolled out in schools where the problems that they bring are non existent because the pupils cooperate at a very basic level.

          IME most of the pro phone arguments verge on the desperate. How often do you need to make a video for example ?

          It is idiotic to make policy based on nice ideas, theories, principles, best case scenarios or anything else. You make policy based on what IS. What IS in many classrooms is that access to mobiles is porn, facebook, twitter, bullying and so on.

          • How often do you need to make a video?!!!!!! It’s only the best possible way to engage, enthuse and motivate students, creates a great way of developing speaking and listening, peer and self assessment, developing skills across the curriculum, like communication and ICT and a huge evidence base for staff!
            Saddens me to think this isn’t obvious…

            • Saddens me to think you think this is education ; it’s playing.

            • Wow, really?! So children writing an e-safety poem, refining it, practisingsaying it to each other, giving suggestions on ways to improve, then using the video camera to record each other and then use video editing software to put it all together is not learning? Oh dear I best re-think what learning is if that’s not learning! Oh and by the way, do learning and playing not ever occur together?

            • Oh yes, it’s learning. About 10% of it is learning. The other 90% is playing.

              Learning has, or should have, some concept of efficiency. The 90/10 play to learning ratio described here explains a great deal.

              Rather than simply learning (say) the French verb “etre” we write a play about it, blog about it, do a video where we pretend to be different parts of the verb, tweet about it, conduct questionnaires where we ask randomly chosen children about how they feel about the verb, and conduct a diversity survey to check that the number of vowels in the word form balance nicely. All the time using ecologically friendly pencils hand produced by native transexuals from some remote island in the Pacific.

              And after 11 years of such “education” our children can’t do any more than “je voudrais un coke”.

              (And the children don’t know where the Pacific Ocean is either)

              Don’t you ever wonder why after 25 years of such visionary education our children are so pitifully badly educated ?

            • He he he now you’re just making me laugh! I’m not even going to frame a long response to that one!
              Our children are poorly educated because of teaching that just says learn this, learn this, learn this… Oh and then forget it by next week because the teacher just said learn this! Rather than the teacher saying ‘let’s find a unique, memorable way to remember something that covers a mixture of skills and knowledge’

    • “They can take photos of text book pages and pictures so they can read/look at them at home.”
      Most Phones are neither stable enough nor detailed enough to do this well.
      “When we are in an ict room there are never enough pc’s for each pupil so sometimes some pupils research using their phone.”
      Using phones to access the internet is at best difficult. Even without the attendant wi-fi/security issues
      “they are often more comfortable using the camera/video on their phone than a school flip camera and so choose to use it by preference. This also means smaller groups in class when they are making videos”
      You still have to get the video into a useable format. Also, phones do not have much storage space. Videos aren’t produced that often anyway (see comments about Education as Play by Old Andrew)
      “there are Websites like polleverywhere that I use. This allows the pupils to text in answers and opinions anonymously so I can get some excellent AfL”
      This is a tiny minority use, and also pointless.
      “in class pupils are starting to ask if they can access my blog to get information to inform their work (this has been particularly noticeable during revision lessons)”
      Seriously ? You put revision notes on a blog ? Have you tried to read anything of any detail on a phone ?

  2. If a teacher is sufficiently interesting, their students will prefer to concentrate on what s/he is saying. If the teacher is a bore, students will amuse themselves somehow. In my young day, I either passed notes, drew on my textbook, or read my own book under the desk Now I might tweet about how bored I was.

    • This is simply not the case. Some pupils have no interest in learning. Some pupils only go to school because they have to. Some do not see the value in learning or passing exams. Some are drug dealers and some for a variety of reasons simply do not know how to behave. For these pupils nothing will be sufficiently interesting much of the time.

      I have worked with all of the above and the reason they behave is not because my lesson is interesting. It probably isn’t, It’s because annoying me isn’t worth the hassle. I have worked very hard to achieve this happy state of affairs.

    • Complete nonsense and insulting to many very good teachers.

      • Note: this is a response to chris *not* bigkid !

  3. I think that is only part of the point. I believe the desire to allow mobile phones in lessons is inextricably linked to either a desire to appease children or an unwillingness to challenge them with respect to their behaviour.
    In my experience those that argue loudest for allowing mobile phones often ignore the existing school rules banning them on spurious grounds like “They concentrate better if they listen to music” or they basically don’t want to address the phones issue because it will result in a confrontation they will lose. This in turns leads to a dilemma. Do you accept losing the confrontation or take the problem to a potentially unsupportive manager who may question your competence, your behaviour management or just get annoyed with you for lumbering them with having to deal with an extra muppet.
    I personally don’t care whether pupils concentrate better when they listen to music or not. If a pupil said they concentated better when they were punching someone in the face we wouldn’t said go ahead then, punch away so why accept that clearly nonsensical and factually inaccurate argument? What bothers me is when kids say “Teacher X lets me listen to music” when I know that this is true (it often isn’t but sometimes it is)

  4. Oh, well done!!

    I’m an IT teacher and one would think that mobile phones would be favoured by me? No. They are a distraction. As is Youtube on the PC.

    Now, I suppose the lunatics running the asylum would say “Ban the PC then” as I don’t like Youtube and would love to ban phones.
    Nope – just use a proper classroom management system that has the teacher controlling exactly WHEN students can use their PC, when they can access the internet (and what sites) and also allow, you the teacher, to see exactly what each student is doing from ones own desk.

    Phones should be handed into a teacher at the beginning of the lesson or even not permitted on site. The excuse of being vital to contact parents or vice versa is a non-argument. I didn’t have a phone when I was in school (and it wasn’t that long ago). If my parents needed to contact me, they phoned the school. If I needed to contact them, I could use a payphone or wait till I got home.

    Progressive and child/student centred education has ruined state education in this country. Look at the furore at the idea of children learning tables by rote. Shock, Horror, children won’t be having fun!

    Education isn’t “fun” – its hard work. And the sooner students/pupils learn that and discover learning for its own sake, the better. Because life and work isn’t fun most of the time. Its hard work, its boring, its tedious, but it still needs to be done.

    • I’m an IT teacher too and I agree with every word.

  5. There is a middle way… Ban phones in lessons where they are not going to be of any use. I agree with an early comment that there are situations (with older students) where smartphones (I believe they are called – I still just use one that makes calls…) might be useful – photographing something, accessing a blog or suggested website, looking something up, etc. Unlikely to be useful in Maths, but might be in Citizenship. Of course, if the institution provides netbooks or ipads or something (which some do these days) then there aren’t any legitimate uses for the phone.

    Not sure it’s black and white.

  6. Very hard to know how such a ban could be enforced (good idea or no). Parents might back it in principle but they’ll want an exception made for their wee Jeannie…

  7. There are some pretty major assumptions and flaws in your argument.

    First you say,
    “Kids are in school to learn rather than be entertained.”

    I would agree that most of our youths use of it is for that purpose, what a great opportunity to show them another use….learning.

    “Learning involves the intentional acquisition of knowledge and is not simply a by-product of purposeless activity or play.”

    Let me quote John Seeley Brown who says in his book “A New Culture of Learning”..

    “In a world of near-constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change, rather than a way for growing out of it.” This is not to ignore a need for knowledge but to recognize that simply, knowing a bunch of stuff is no longer suffice. What play does is suggest to the learner that there are multiple ways to find answers and discover ways to solve problems.

    You also say,
    “Teachers are experts who can pass on knowledge to their students more effectively than if they are left to find it for themselves.”

    This assumes the primary purpose of schools is to pass along knowledge. Kids don’t need teachers to give them knowledge, they need teachers to help them learn and learn beyond schools. That includes helping them connect to others. This is the fundamental shift I’d suggest is most difficult for our schools.

    Your last assumption is one I do agree with more than the others. We do have authority and so yes, we make decisions about what’s best for our students. Sometimes that should have them turn off their devices. Sometimes they should turn them on. But all times it should be about helping them become learners and live in a world that indeed does have ubiquitous access and that in itself should have us questioning our methods. If it doesn’t, if we say, “I don’t care about them having access to the world’s knowledge in their hands, I’m teaching how I’ve always taught”, I’d say that’s problematic.

    As one high school student stated, “The day I needed to memorize the capital of Florida ended the day my phone knew the answer”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggested technology holds all our answers. We need caring, thoughtful and wise teachers to guide our students to be thoughtful, caring and wise adults. But to completely dismiss mobile technologies as having no place in a classroom is bordering on educational malpractice.

    • Mobile phones CAN be used for learning. To suggest that if they were allowed they WOULD be might be true in some schools but it is not the case in many.

      While play might suggest to a learner that there are multiple ways to find and discover answers it is not the only thing that does that. I would also question the value of pupils playing with their phones in my maths lesson even if it does lead them to that epiphany for the simple reason that their mobile phone might lead them to answers but given the way that they typically use their phones and the difficulty in monitoring usage I dread to think what questions they might find the answers to (see above post)

      The purpose of schools IS to pass along knowledge. The best of the sum total of human endeavour should be passed on the next generation (or as much of it as is possible/practical). Ideally pupils should also learn how to apply that knowledge and those skills in a range of contexts but this is only really achievable if the pupils actually know something.

      Are you really suggesting that it is not possible to pass on knowledge and teach pupils how to learn simultaneously? I cannot see how students can usefully connect to people in my lesson using a phone that cannot be achieved without the phone.

      It’s not about teaching how i have always taught. It’s about removing an unnecessary distraction from my classroom and in so doing improving the learning. When I can monitor what pupils are doing with their phones and/or restrict what pupils do with them when they are in my classroom then my view might change. until then mobile phones will remain an irritant, a distraction and a barrier to learning in my book.

      • The fact that you refer to phones only as distractions tells me you’ve not fully explore their potential. Sure if you’re standing at the front and want kids to pay attention to you, a phone is a distraction and has no place in a school. But what if we taught differently? Should we teach differently? I’m not expecting we understand specifically what that might look like but you’re painting me a picture of the same classroom I was in 30 years ago.

        If we haven’t realized by now that the world has epistemically changed and changed precisely in the area of learning, there’s something wrong. If I’m a high school student I could very easily take the same courses taught at most high schools and learn the same things better and faster. If all we’re offering kids is the credentialing, we’re doomed to be replaced. This is a bigger question in many respects than cellphones or no cellphones. Remember I don’t believe cellphones are the answer but when we only see them as distractions to real learning, we’ve got a problem.

        I’d suggest you take a look at the work of Liz Kolb

        • Not so. I was quite clear that I could see that phones could be used for learning. An earlier comment outlined several ways in which I COULD use phones in my lesson. I was also clear about the conditions necessary for me to feel comfortable with mobile phones being allowed.

          When pupils are using phones in lessons how do you know they are not engaged in cyber-bullying, watching porn, or some other inappropriate activity?

          As things stand I have no way of monitoring this and I am unwilling to assume that if they have done some work they have not done anything inappropriate with their phone because my experience suggests otherwise.

          The myriad ways in which phones have been misused in schools in which I have worked (some of which have been deeply unpleasant and disturbing) mean that without a lot of work being put in first and ways of monitoring how they are being used by pupils in place or their use restricted in some ways I would be deeply uncomfortable with phones being allowed.

          If that makes me a luddite then so be it.

          • It doesn’t make you a luddite but what if we took the time to teach them how to take advantage of the powerful tool/computer they have in their hands? My fear is that we fail to see the power and only focus on the problems. I agree they will do stupid things and will continue to do more, the more we fail to see they’re power when they are finding more interesting things on their phones that they are with their classes. That’s a problem easily addressed by banning them but ignores the deeper issue.

            If education remains in its current mode of teacher at front, students in rows listening, then I agree that cellphones are a distraction that aren’t helpful in learning. I guess I’m arguing for something different. I guess that’s where we differ most.

    • I always enjoy reading your thoughts Dean! I particularly enjoy your last line, “…to completely dismiss mobile technologies as having no place in a classroom is bordering on educational malpractice.” As usual with any educational tool or pedagogical thinking, it seems that it is the absolutes that hinder progress and effectiveness. There are times for this and times for that and complete isolation has seemed to be good only for conflict!

  8. When I chipped in my tuppence to the debate on Twitter at the weekend, I stated that “Phones are ok in a middle class utopian classroom – but out here in the real world, they cause trouble.”

    To elaborate, in challenging urban schools I have witnessed first-hand students using mobile technology to abuse, bully and undermine staff and fellow students. Examples include “slagging off” teachers on Twitter during lessons, taking ‘upskirt’ photographs of female members of staff and posting them on the internet for all to see, and students using facebook to arrange a mutiny during which 150+ students walked out in the middle of their lessons to sit on the school driveway for no other reason than to cause disruption.

    There’s more than just classroom management issues here. It’s hard for teachers to deal with misuse of mobile technology when that technology is being used to access external social media over which the school has no control. Not to mention the obvious child protection issues that are raised – I’ve witnessed students being bullied via text, or accessing inappopriate content, on numerous occasions.

    In addition, there are also issues regarding equal access for students in deprived circumstances. To expect students in schools in deprived social areas to use mobile phones would be completely unfair to the 5-6 students in each class do not own one – it’s devisive and unfairly excludes poorer students from the learning acitvity.

    In my current school mobile phones are banned, and while it is sad that we cannot currently find a way to safely embrace and utilise the technology, it has created a calmer, more focused learning environment. And that doesn’t mean we don’t use technology – video cameras, PCs, laptops, microphones, virtual learning environments, iPads and iPods are all used in a successful, controlled way.

    • I disagree. The problems also exist in the lovely middle class school. It’s just the parents tell you that their little darling couldn’t possibly do that, even when confronted with the evidence, and threaten formal complaints if you don’t drop the consequence!


  9. I feel like I’m being sucked in to a ridiculous debate, but can’t help myself. I found my ‘rough book’ from when I was 15-16 the other day. I was so bored in my GCSE Maths lessons that my friend and I spent the time devising a fantasy life for the teacher. We used a pen and paper to tell the story and blatantly passed the story back and forth during the lesson. We were never challenged. The teacher had no idea what was going on in her classroom.

    I would have had a problem had someone banned my pen.

    As a teacher I rarely use phones in lessons, and students are fully aware that they don’t use their phones without permission.

    However, the other day, my A level group took photos of their group revision, and they asked first. My Year 10 group wanted to research aspects of ‘Mr Pip’ , and they asked first. Year 11 researched their own language use in text messages, and they asked first. Teach them how to use their phones effectively and responsibly. Don’t just ignore their existence!

    And I do occasionally have to confiscate a phone used without permission. Golly, sometimes kids break rules. But I always get my own phone out and show them that I am not a hypocrite. I make sure it is always turned off in school. I explain that their learning comes first, and I want them to show the same respect in school that I do. Rarely do I have to remove the same phone twice.

    If you are crystal clear about when and how phones are to be used, then there isn’t a problem.

    • That’s fine in your school. Come in work in some of the schools I have and see if you hold the same view.

      This year I have confiscated over 100 phones. Mostly from the same 10-15 pupils. I have confiscated 3 phones from one pupil in the same double lesson.

      I have had pupils that get bought a new smart phone that evening if their phone is confiscated. I have met parents that march up to the school to confront staff if their childs phone is confiscated. I have met parents who have actually accused me of trying to get their daughters raped because I confiscated their phones.

      Half the time actually getting the phone off the pupil involves either senior management involvement or a prolongued and deeply tedious battle wasting a significant chunk of lesson time.

      I am glad that you are clearly not faced with these sorts of problems but don’t assume that nobody is.

      If you are crystal clear about when and how phones are to be used then there can still be significant problems in many schools and pretending otherwise will not make those problems disappear

      • Interesting assumptions you make from my post. I work in a statistically average comprehensive school, but I’m also an AST, so have experience in lots of different schools, many of them in difficult circumstances.

        If it is only 10-15 pupils you have an issue with, maybe that is a clear indication you are winning the battle. How many does that mean are using their phones without issue?

  10. […] classroom as a result of a post on the ‘Scenes from The Battleground’ Education blog entitled ‘The Insanity of Allowing Phones in Class’.  The word ‘battleground’ seems oddly appropriate for this debate. One side tuts and shakes […]

  11. Once again Andrew your argument here is flawed. It is interesting that you seem to have a habit of taking a quote and misrepresenting it as in this earlier post re: Francis Gilbert


    I take the quote not to mean that more learning is bad, clearly this is lunacy, but the obvious meaning is that the learning seems joyless, which is bad in my book. On engagement, your weasel word stance is also flawed. Willingham does not discount the importance of motivation, in fact he makes pains to state that without it, learning is inhibited. There is evidence (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/pdf/The%20Risks%20of%20Rewards.pdf)
    to suggest that external motivators instigated by the teacher can work short term, but longer term this damages students’ willingness to learn. I recognise the strengths in this argument, and in the report I cite, the “kefir” experiment seems to be used by proxy for learning. This an area of personal interest to me at the moment as I have perceived a change in the motivation of my students since the adoption of Project Based Learning as one of my teaching methods. My reading around the subject has only just started and my mind is far from made up, though my gut instinct is to support the article.

    If we take engagement to mean simply entertainment then yes, this is not desirable. I prefer to take engagement to mean students developing an intrinsic motivation to work and do well as a result of a well designed and well executed curriculum that presents content in a meaningful and purposeful way. My preferred method is project based learning which may or may not include direct instruction as appropriate, though again I know you are not a proponent of project based learning and have Hattie’s effect sizes to post in return here.

    My interest in project based learning stems from firstly, my subject (music) which lends itself to working towards a product, where knowledge is acquired through purposeful play on the journey towards this product. Secondly, I was lucky enough to visit High Tech High in San Diego last year and as a school that delivers entirely through PBL in all subjects but Maths, I was awestruck by the quality of students’ work, knowledge and the engagement (see my earlier diefinition) of students with the curriculum content. I really think if you had the chance to see this place you would love it Andrew. You might not come away banging the PBL drum, but the structures in place for staff and students were unlike anything I have ever come across in my admittedly short career. Staff and students expect each other to be exceptional and have protocols for making sure that happens.

    I am not best writer and can’t really express or impress the extent to which I found this place is a learning nirvana. For anyone or reading this or if you haven;t already done so, their delightfully clunky website is worth a visit and you can find some startling statistics about the impact of their curriculum design on
    their students.


    You write lucidly and argue well Andrew but there is a joylessness here that I sense is a result of you feeling at odds with what you would deem the prominent progressive educationalist view.

    Correct me if I am misrepresenting you, but I believe you have previously questioned my professionalism when you said of my use of SOLO:

    “If your classes benefit from being given bad ideas about how thinking works, it just makes me wonder what you were doing before.”

    We later had a lengthy discussion about the nature of SOLO, you seemed to agree with the statements that thinking is based on knowledge, that we understand new things in the context of things we already know, that we make predictions when encountering new knowledge again based on what we already know. This to me is the essence of how SOLO can be used to observe learning outcomes. I described SOLO of a map for knowledge, you actually corrected me and I thank you for the clarity it gave me in that SOLO can help develop a map of knowledge. At no point in the use of the taxonomy is content knowledge ever abstracted out. SOLO is not used to measure thinking, it is used to measure outcomes or in other words depth of content knowledge.

    Personally, I am a little disappointed that when a teacher says that they have tried something with success, that you use your own beliefs and stance to criticise this. I aim to do nothing in my class that serves anything other than the learning of my students. So long as you and your students are doing well, who am I to say that you are wrong? We hold very different beliefs about education I am sure, but I absolutely respect your resolution to educate your students in the way you deem best.

    If this is a misrepresentation of the tweet, then I humbly apologise. I have tried to present a clear representation of not just the tweet, but the conversation.

    In this post and in my case you mistakenly lambaste what was later qualified as an emotive statement. Of course we should not ban PCs, and of course we should manage their use so that technology is used to serve learning.

    As a music teacher I deal primarily in “skills”. In terms of an epistemology of music, this could be describes of knowledge how to. This is where I err from Willingham’s view that factual knowledge precedes skill.

    Students are perfectly capable of making music and internalising sounds before they are aware of or acquire the factual knowledge associated with those sounds. There may be some related and elementary factual knowledge such as “this is how to hold a guitar” but that is not directly related to the ability to imitate a phrase for example.

    There is an inherent and unhealthy need in western culture to make music into something tangible, which is a result of a traditional hierarchical model applied to music, where the composer sits atop a chain which runs through performer to consumer. The distinction between performer/composer/listener would not be understood in many cultures. There is some excellent research on this the musicologist Nicholas Cook.

    By the way I don’t think that project based learning’s requirement for a product is at odds with this observation, as the musical learning is a result of the product, but is not the product itself.

    Musical progression is a difficult thing to describe non-musically. Musical Futures has had a massive impact on music education and at its heart is the teaching of music musically. Students experience and internalise sounds first, then learn the factual knowledge associated with this.

    As a music teacher, and one who uses a Musical Futures approach, I support the exploration of the judicial use of mobile technology. The potential in the devices seems worth exploration, and the barriers presented are exactly that. They are bad things. They are bad things that we might overcome. The reasons why I think they could be useful are:

    Many of these views are supported in the surprisingly excellent Ofsted triennial report into music in schools: Wider still and wider

    0 To use as a recording device to demonstrate musical progression musically. Assessment that is musical can not be done on one piece of work but against a portfolio of evidence. This is not teaching for evidence by the way, I teach for learning.

    0 Accessing resources such as musical scores, or instructional videos for example. I can’t physically directly instruct 30 students on how to play drums, flute and guitar at the same time. I can if I’m on a video.

    0 Music technology is a career path for students, for example mobile devices can use garage band, which is an exceptional piece of software. I can’t afford macs.

    This last point is important. I could use other devices to do these things, but they cost money and most students have mobile devices which can already do these things, and by their nature they are mobile, I physically don’t have space to put any alternative technology in my practice rooms.

    Let’s not have a knee jerk reaction. Let’s look at something that has potential, but needs to be investigated. Let’s disagree with each other in a way that does not question our ability to do well for our students.

    • I am a music teacher too. The blog post Andrew Old has given is about distractions prohibiting learning, especially in the case of mobile phones. We need no new evidence to know this is true. For example, I know that I should be writing 180 reports this minute rather than write this post but I have been distracted to writing it rather than deal with the task I should be doing. In a time constrained lesson where there are 30 students working in a classroom, teachers need to eliminate as many distractions as possible as if the students miss the information being given they may not get a second chance to learn what they need to learn. This blog and the Twitter feed prove that Old Andrew is not against technology and its uses but it is about using technology in the right places at the right times and in appropriate ways. So, as I am hoping you are not under the naive impression that students will not use their phones for distraction purposes because they are so engaged with your teaching, I advise you to change your mind and keep those student phones away from your own and other people’s classrooms! Now back to those reports…

      • I take all of your points here, but I rarely have all 30 students working in the same class unless I am running a classroom workshop. Most of the time they are using various practice rooms, see my post here:


        I am very lucky to work in a school where I can trust 95% of the students. They are far from biddable, but they are respectful on the whole. Have you looked into Musical Futures pedagogy?


        It has transformed my department both in terms of attitude to music, uptake and results. I am not under any kind of naive impression that students might not use them as a distraction. Mobiles are actually banned in my school (under instruction from the governing body), but mobile technology is not. We have a scheme where students pay £3 per week and are given a galaxy tab. After three years the tablet is their’s to keep. Students can and do use them for gaming and browsing, at break. In lessons if students offend in their use, we can control the apps they are able to download and use. Again we are very lucky.

        That said, I still would agree %100 to trial mobile phone use in my current classroom. Perhaps in your context this might not be something that you wanted to try, but again I think that the presentation of obstacles to learning are no reason to have a knee jerk reaction and outright ban. Humankind has a glorious history of overcoming barriers. Why should a phone be any different to your properly described judicious use of a PC? A visitor wasp is about the most distracting thing I can think of for any class, but I still open my windows. Not a perfect analogy but I recognise the risks with mobiles and also see the potential, so am willing to give it a try and do some action research.

        By the way, ditto on reports!

        • Oh and FSM kids are provided with a device.

        • A good open discussion with lots of valid points.

          I like the way you’re not closed off and open to seek out the benefits…

    • I so agree, arguments are getting personal
      and attacking teachers! That saddens me also! We should all try mobile phones for a period of time with the right attitude towards it and them come back and discuss…
      I’m sure it will be a case of it working for some and not for others.
      One thing that does worry me is so many people saying its a classroom management issue… I agree that it is… But as the teacher we will find it a whole lot easier to manage children if we meet them half way where appropriate, and embrace the things they do obviously love!
      Nobody is saying use the mobile all day every day…

    • The stuff about mobile phones I hope to cover (either directly or indirectly in a future blogpost), however, I will try to deal with the other points.

      1) It is not “misrepresentation” to sum up what you think somebody’s opinion amounts to. I directly quoted Francis Gilbert’s words.

      2) “joyless” is not an “obvious meaning” in anyone’s book. In fact joy is quite a difficult concept. I tend to view it as the rewarding feeling arising from the exercise of virtues. Obviously it can also mean “happiness” or “pleasure”, but that would fit my interpretation of FG’s argument perfectly. If you have another definition, one that would actually help your point, go ahead and give it, but as things stand you actually seem to be strengthening the case for my interpretation.

      3) You don’t actually appear to have stated what the flaw is with my argument about engagement unless it is the straw man that I am against students being motivated. Obviously I want students to be motivated to learn, I just consider motivation to be a means not an end.

      4) Rewards and punishment are about desert, not about motivation. That’s what makes them distinct from bribes and threats. I would never seek to justify them simply as motivators, or indeed concern myself too much with manipulating others.

      5) I’m not aware of effect sizes for project-based learning, although I do have a few research articles on it waiting to be read. I’m generally against it on the grounds that it tends to involve groupwork and discovery learning, both of which there is good evidence against in most contexts.

      6) My objection to SOLO taxonomy is that, if we respect existing bodies of knowledge, we simply have no need for any new system of structures in which to arrange that knowledge. That’s what academic disciplines are, an arrangement of knowledge. SOLO appears to do the same job badly, providing no useful insight and no obvious benefit. The reason I don’t accept anecdotal evidence for it, is because I have heard the same evidence for so many other schemes that are completely contradictory and the only way to sort between them is with things like a coherent explanation and good empirical evidence.

  12. How frustrating this debate has become. As an ex-teacher who used to keep a bucket of water at the front of the classroom which pupils knew was where mobile phones would be put if touched during class, I think I am the first to agree that as a personal device brought into the classroom, phones are prone to be a distraction.

    My point was that used as a tool for learning, there are real possibilities. I wouldn’t ban them
    outright but I would set clear boundaries regarding their use. My point was that calling for an absolute ban on the grounds that they are a distraction is misleading. Surely anything can be a distraction if pupils aren’t engaged. Engaging students doesn’t mean entertaining them or pandering to their whims just because we fear they will wander off. Neither does it mean intimidating them or being domineering.

    I taught for over ten years and was lucky enough to work with some extremely challenging and disaffected young people in an area plagued by political unrest, terrorist attacks and high youth drop out rates. Some of my classes were boring as hell but with the right boundaries and structure the kids understood that some aspects of learning are boring and yet necessary. Other times
    we could use games, debate, and even technology in a fun way to enhance learning.

    So in defence of the attack launched by Andrew, and to reiterate, I would actually agree that technology should always be used carefully and within clear boundaries. I don’t think that banning it completely is a good idea.

    I have learned the hard way that, for example, using Twitter to try to have a meaningful debate could be in this case, simply silly. How can people listen and respect each others’ views when everything needs to be boiled down to a catchy 140 characters?

    I think that over a cup of tea, face to face and away from our mobile devices, all the people with conflicting views in this debate might find they actually are in agreement with each other regarding some of the fundamental issues around learning.

    See you all at the Festival of Education or Seizing Success?


  13. This article actually saddens me a little for the following reasons:
    1. You say the primary purpose of teachers is to impart knowledge. The whole premise of the current curriculum is that teachers teach skills so that children can acquire their own knowledge. How many of us remember the teacher who told us about some random scientific fact? But does remember the teacher who taught us how to research or search the internet of ask appropriate questions!
    Additionally, shouldnt we prepare the children for life outside school and education? If we ban things the kids are only going to use more and more as they get older (which you said yourself) then surely we are hampering their education rather than enhancing it.
    2. If the mobile is being a distraction I have a simple solution: classroom management! Use the mobile phone that is distracting them to engage them in their learning! Calculations, blogging, voting, taking notes, taking pics, making videos… The list is endless and it’s a pretty engaging list of activities too!
    3. The attitude: it would sadden me if my child was in a class where the attitude you describe is apparent! I want my child to embrace new technology and be taught how to use it appropriately and safely to their benefit! If it’s just banned, what are they learning about using it for a purpose.
    4. Resources: what school has enough mobile devices for all their children? Not many! But actually there’s every kid sitting their with a mobile device, so make the most of it!

    I cant express how strongly I disagree with the attitude that if we find something kids like and enjoy; we ban it! That to me is the insane approach

    Mike Elliott

  14. Shocking… simply shocking how blind sighted so many people can be about how damaging mobile phones are to a child’s education.

    I really hope these comments have been either written by people who do not teach, or thrive on trolling.

    • Can you actually say why you feel this rather than just insulting those of us who work hard every day to educate the you of the future! This is my argument, teachers need to teach people how to discuss points rather than insulting people (a skill). Teaching knowledge is fine but you need skills to use that knowledge! One skill is arguing your point without having a go at people who work damn hard and maybe some of them with your children… Just food for thought

  15. Middle class ‘nice’ classrooms are places where mobiles are frequently a distraction too.
    There I was last year teaching my year 11. The mood was purposeful and Q and A going swimmingly. Hitler was making his efforts to establish a totalitarian state as happens annually in history classrooms across the land – when suddenly my best A star student leapt out of her seat and ran to the door. She sobbed that she had just found out a friend had died and ran out of the room. I sent another girl after her (not to confiscate her mobile – I’m not that heartless) and we all carried on as best we could.
    The thing is that it is utterly naive to presume you are controlling the use of mobiles in class. Kids can’t resist surreptitiously checking their texts even in classrooms where open use would lead to real penalties and maybe some teachers have extra sensory perception when it comes to sniffing out inappropriate use but most don’t. I can see that all sorts of activities could be devised that involve mobiles and in English or other subjects they could have uses – but is it worth it? Aren’t we actually helping children that are lost without their phone by making them leave them at home or similar?
    I remember on our French holiday campsite last summer watching the teens lined up against a wall each evening (the only place with reception) in their own isolated worlds. Oblivious to the other teenagers with them. Phones are addictive and I do wonder if it would be really good for kids to manage without them regularly.

  16. I am currently teaching in a far off land (far from the UK that is) where teaching and learning are the key issues in the classroom.

    I am personally astonished that this topic has had more comments in one day than most other topics here have received full stop. And the topic is mobile phones.

    I am also disheartened by the level of debate and discussion provided by professional educators. I have not always agreed with OA but I think his arguments are always well structured and almost always powerful. I cannot believe some of the daft and arguments for allowing free use of mobile phones in the classroom.

    Coming from the more outdated and tradtional school of education, I believe pupils are in school to learn. There are occasions when an exercise book, textbook, pen or pencil is distracting and I ask kids to put them away.

    These are a few of the comments that I have found most disappointing……

    “If a teacher is sufficiently interesting, their students will prefer to concentrate on what s/he is saying. If the teacher is a bore, students will amuse themselves somehow. ”

    “Very hard to know how such a ban could be enforced (good idea or no). ”

    “If we haven’t realized by now that the world has epistemically changed and changed precisely in the area of learning, there’s something wrong.” note: made me laugh out loud

    “The whole premise of the current curriculum is that teachers teach skills so that children can acquire their own knowledge.”

    “Personally, I am a little disappointed that when a teacher says that they have tried something with success, that you use your own beliefs and stance to criticise this.”

    My faith was restored however by this comment…

    “I really hope these comments have been either written by people who do not teach, or thrive on trolling.”

    I am sorry to disappoint those who think they are a part of a brave new world, but the evidence is that the human brain has not changed the way it stores information since the PC was invented in 1980. The way that the brain takes information from the environment and processes it has not changed since the invention of the mobile phone.

    In my school they are currently learning “The Giver” and I have had a quick read. When I compare The Giver to the role many people posting here see as the role of the teacher, they seem remarkably similar. I am not talking OA here, more the progressive types.

    • So you like the comment that insults people but you don’t like the comment that actually states what education is?
      Are u trying to say that education is all about knowledge? Because if that was the case then the person who can remember the most is therefore the best educated? Doesn’t seem fair to me…

      I think so may people are replying because they believe that strongly one way or the other. For me it’s very simple: if something is so widespread and often used by the children we teach, we are doing them an injustice by not educating them in how to use them properly, and by banning them are just taking the easy option for ourselves! ‘oh they’re a distraction! Let’s ban them!’ – rather than saying ‘they’re a distraction because kids like them, we’re in the business of finding out what kids like and using it for their benefit (appropriately), so let’s find a good solution so we’re not spending time confiscating them and telling them to put them away, and spend time using them for the child’s benefit!’
      Please address points like: children can use for video, note taking, web surfing, apps, email, blogging and argue against those, rather than insulting people and just giving general arguments.
      Take a mobile device such as a phone and detail the negatives it will bring to an education and look at whether as a teacher with good classroom management skills u can counter those negatives with your good magememt of YOUR kids!
      I can’t see why some teachers aren’t seeing that managing distractions in your class is your job, you don’t just ban distractions, you educate children on how to manage them!
      From a teacher by the way…

      • “Please address points like: children can use for”

        If pupils are making videos regularly then they are playing (unless it is photography or similar) not learning. However I do agree that video and photography are valid uses. Then of course there’s speed issues, storage issues, format issues, transfer issues, the fact that there are 3 or 4 completely different SmartPhones at least (iPhone, Android, Windows 7, Nokia) and not all kids phones have them anyway. Two of those phones (iPhone, Windows 7) at least require specialised software to simply get the video off the phone. Cameras, most have cameras, much easier.

        “note taking”
        On a phone, have you actually tried doing this ? Typing things into a phone ? Recording and transcribing ? Those squitty little on screen keyboards – it’s not that easy on an iPad ! What about those phones that don’t have keyboards or touch screens – do you take notes in txtspk ?

        I would guesstimate that people can write by hand about 3 or 4 times faster than they can type on an iPad, and for a little phone touch screen or those tiny blackberry keyboards it’s probably more like 8 or 9 times unless you have fingers like a stick insect.

        I oddly learnt programming on a TI57 (a programmable calculator) on which I could touch type at about 3 keys a second which is insanely fast, but on an iPhone/Android etc., probably 1 per second at most allowing for errors.

        “web surfing”
        On the squitty little screen ? It’s limited on an iPad ; phones are what a tenth of the size ? Actually try looking something up on say Wikipedia – it can be done but it’s really fiddly. I tried the original cricinfo site to get the cricket scores on mine the other day (as opposed to the mobile-specific one), not easy. Will not become useful until LCD screens can be folded clamshell style so you can get an iPad size screen in an iPhone size area and that will be a few years yet.

        Which ones ? Specifically !

        Why do this ? (and all the other problems regarding screen size and typing), tell me do you know anyone who really writes a blog using a phone ? Yes, blogging is creative writing, but so is writing in pen and sticking it on the wall, and once the initial enthusiasm about “using the computer” wears off it’s the same problems, except there is usually a lot more freedom of layout and pictures on paper than there is on a blog.

        • I take your points here but it seems you don’t know the generation who are using mobile phones! Have you actually ever seen a child or teenager type on a mobile phone? They are unbelievably quick! The whole benefit of having notes on your phone Is that children and teenagers have the funds with them wherever they go, so therefore their notes are with them wherever they go. They probably don’t carry their paper notes with them and pens and pencils wherever they go.
          Again you say that they have more freedom with paper and pens?! The amount of freedom you get on computers with the software and iPhones etc is is incredible. Apps like explain everything or notability allow you to take notes record audio and have this ready to share to dropbox which is very very easy
          And it’s not always about getting work off mobile devices it’s the fact that children can actually go through the process and have those notes available to them to use when they are writing or creating something in a book
          In regards to blogging, please don’t get me started! Blogging has been the best tool that I have ever used with my learners to get them engaged in writing. The difference between writing something and putting on a wall is that not many people will see the writing that on that wall whereas a blog can be seen by people all the way around the world. This hits the part of the curriculum that asks you to write for an audience and purpose.
          Finally I have dictated this whole piece on my iPhone which has taken me about two minutes, it gives me suggestions for grammar for spelling and punctuation. Yes it’s not perfect but it’s a lot quicker than it would be if I actually was typing on the computer nevermind on the phone.
          I don’t think anyone is saying use mobile phones all the time, for everything! However I think we are missing a trick if we’re not allowing people to access things that they already have like cameras and video and specific apps for education which I have used many times and are fantastic in the classroom.
          Photography and video editing yes are great subjects but also teach children IT skills to support them in the other subjects. What better way to evidence a piece of drama in English by videoing it and watching it back and looking for improvements?!

          • Either you don’t teach kids from a variety of backgrounds, ages and abilities, or you’ve been had and they’re playing angry birds.

            • Ha ha I guess you’re just saying this for a reaction? I also laugh at the suggestions I don’t teach a variety of backgrounds… You would love to know the different backgrounds I teach! That’s a funny comment from you :)

            • Option 2 it is then.

          • Nonsense. Some are fairly quick at best, still slower than writing. And you are confusing texting with on screen keyboards which is normally what smartphones use. This requires moving a finger or stylus around the keypad which limits it to 2 characters a second tops and that’s being generous.

            Of course they have more freedom with paper and pencil. Apart from the ease of writing compared to texting/phone keyboards. They can draw diagrams, do colour and you can see it all without zooming round this tiny little screen the size of a large matchbox. Have you ever actually tried to read anything on an iPhone ?

            The fact that they like playing with phones is irrelevant. Kids like playing. I’d rather have played than worked at school but fortunately my teachers thought it more important that I learn stuff.

            Blogging is the same as any other writing form. And unless you are lying to the kids whilst the work can be seen around the world it is actually likely to be read by more people if it is on the wall. It is like all these other things ; once the initial excitement wears off you are back to square one viz. you have to produce competent written content. I’m sure they’d love it if Kenneth Branagh read it out on the Radio too but it doesn’t affect the bulk production at all. It is, as OA says so often, education as play not work. The blogging, video etc. is used to provide entertainment and the learning is minimal.

            Most phones don’t do dictation and generally it works badly. Especially if 30 kids are trying to do it simultaneously. On this page your post is 31 lines which means you are talking into it 2 x 60 / 31 seconds per line – e.g. about 4 seconds per line or about 2-3 words a second not allowing any time for punctuation, corrections etc.

            I leave others to comment on the plausibility of this claim.

            • These comments are starting I make me laugh our loud!

              We’re now beating the seconds it takes to type on keyboards and mobile devices! Im
              Not even going to bother arguing what’s astray because it will vary enormously between each person! I would love to race you one time though and see if I can discover and read something in my iPhone quicker than you can get in your car and find the book in the library :) he he
              I’ve actually done all my commenting on this blog from my tiny/awful screen that you mention and it’s been pretty darn quick! Sorry that I haven’t timed it though and given you the exact speed of my fingers!! :)
              The point your missing is that mobile devices support learning.. Regardless of the size of the screen and the different keyboard!

            • Which kinda ignores the point that you obviously weren’t telling the truth about your dictation speed., however ‘exact’ it is or isn’t.

          • L8R there are 412 words in your post , in 120 seconds that is 3.43 words a second which is gabbling.

  17. Having left a (very good) comprehensive secondary school as a student two years ago, I can honestly say that I am glad for the policy which was implemented. Phones were never allowed, there were enough classroom issues to work on without the potential nightmare which would be caused by students texting, surfing the web etc. during lessons. Many of the teachers here have clearly never experienced a truly difficult classroom, as OA describes in several other posts, which, despite my going to a good school, were rare, but not inexistent.

    It is completely naive for teachers to think that it is possible to monitor students’ use of phones (in a tough school), and entirely ridiculous to suggest that they would benefit learning more than be a distraction. Perhaps when all other classroom issues have been sorted out this can be considered. I can be fairly certain though that this will never happen.

    • I think if a teacher just stands at the front the whole time or in their chair like my secondary teachers did then you’re right it would be hard to manage.
      However if the teacher sets group work and interacts frequently with the children then it will be so much easier to manage that child in the corner a teacher can’t see to well from the front…
      I also wonder if part of ( I say part) of the problem with challenging classes which by the way I have lots of: ADHD, abused children, autistic children, and very low ability in one class for 2 years, is that we constantly say ‘you can’t rather than ‘you can’. Challenging children need extra stimulus not just the teacher…

      • This is turning into what is probably the most popular topic of all time and I guess this gives an indication of it’s importance to teachers in general.

        In reply to Mike I feel the need to say….

        What on earth makes you suggest that if a teacher has a problem with a kid using a phone then they would be standing at the front and therefore have a problem managing the class. However, if the teachers set group work (for this read modern and professional approach) then somehow this issue will be more easily managed. Sounds like a scenario from “Getting the Buggers to Behave”, complete giggerish.

        The other issue is that I am all for expressing boundaries using the positive limits, but sometimes they just can’t. This is a fact of life, sometimes they just can’t. It makes no difference whetehr they are low ability, Autistic or previously abused, sometimes they just can’t. I appreciate that sometimes the learning environment needs to be different for some kids, but especially with kids who behave inappropriately you do sometimes have to explain to them that they can’t.

        I would agree that the types of students you describe need more careful management than your average inner city kid in some ways but we all need to be told “you can’t” sometimes, even you and me.

        If they “can’t” use mobile phones in class then they can’t and you have to explain to them that they can’t. This won’t stop you from telling them “you can” at other times such as when they want to sharpen all the pencils or when they want to help each other along to the cafeteria, but you can’t start saying “you can” to questions that you really ought to say “you can’t” just because you feel you want to redress the “you can’t” vs “you can” balance. That would be the road to anarchy.

        Having said that, if you allow your pupils to use their phones in class based upon a “you can” strategy already, with the student population you have you may well already have anarchy and therefore may not notice the difference.

        • Sorry I don’t really understand much of your reply.. I didn’t suggest that you say ‘you can’ to everything.

          Also not sure you actually said what you think is wrong with mobile phones, so that you have to say ‘no’ to?

          It’s obvious also that if you stand or sit at the front for long periods that children are not as active and therefore could start to get distracted, as opposed to getting them to discuss or colloborate in groups and therefore distraction is less. I personally thought that was obvious so in response to your comment about it being ‘giggerish’, it seems more like good classroom management to me.

          With ‘the can’ attitude i was merely suggesting that ‘you can’t’ doesn’t work particularly well with children and they respond better to positive behaviour management processes, not that I was suddenly going to let children do whatever they wanted…

          • And my final comment is because I am
            VERY frustrated at the nature of the comments being left on here! Comments like ‘what on earth are you thinking’ and ‘insanity’ and ‘giggerish’ and ‘hope these people are not actually teachers’ are far too personal about people who have never met each other. I hope kids don’t read this blog on their MOBILES when they are learning in a MODERN WAY, because I’d be dissapointed that they would be reading teachers and adults discussing things in a increasingly personal and rude way! #signedoff

  18. Sad to say that not once has anyone considered the possibility that there may be a child in a secondary who does not both own, and bring to school, a mobile phone. What of them? Are they to be ostracised from learning experiences?

    To me the issue is simple. If a school feels like mobile phones, with their multiplicity of uses, are an educationally valuable asset, and that they are of sufficient importance to warrant financing, they can provide ones, which allows them total control of their usage and makes it clear to the students exactly what they are there to achieve; they are an educational resource.

    The fact that no school has chosen to tells me either
    a) those waxing lyrical about the possibilities of mobile phones as learning tools need to be addressing the SLT who have power over budgetary allocations rather than those who want a consistent management policy that aids and unifies all classroom teachers
    b) they’re not actually educationally useful compared to their monetary cost

    To rely on the knowledge and assumption that every child owns a mobile phone,and create policy allowing students to use personal possessions which have significant non-educational uses on the back of it is:
    a) unfair and surely contravenes equal opportunities policy
    b) naive in the extreme in virtually any school in challenging circumstances, as I hardly need to add to the experiences of others documented in previous comments
    c) further cementing the unfortunate hypermaterialist culture of young people, specifically with regards to the status of their tech equipment

    • We have a scheme with the e-learning foundation. Thought about mentioning it in my earlier reply but felt it was getting lengthy.

      Each student pays £3 per week (including insurance) and receives a wireless only (no 3G) 7″ galaxy tablet. Those few who use them inappropriately have them confiscated and we then control the apps they can download and access.

      FSM kids are provided with a device by the school.

      97% of parents have opted into the scheme. The biggest issue is students remembering to bring them charged, discipline issues have been rare.

      • Really like your schools scheme and the galaxy tablet. Do you have any more details?

      • Well, a few tiny problems with that scheme. In many schools
        1) Parents don’t have £3 a week
        2) If they did, they wouldn’t spend it on schooling.
        3) The Galaxy might be “stolen” by the pupil/other family members for drugs money “insurance will pay”
        4) No sane person would insure many schools at £3 a week, let alone a proportion of that.
        5) They will get round ‘controls’
        6) They would get broken on a regular basis.
        7) Android batteries don’t tend to last very long, especially using Wifi.

        • I think 1)is an exaggeration once you’ve covered FSM. 2)and 3) are harmful and stereotypical assumption. 4)is just a start-up problem. 6)is solved by insurance. 5) and 7) are simply issues you need to be aware of and always vigilant about. Why let that ruin what sounds like a good scheme?!

          And also, what better way than this well-thought-out way of doing things to expose the shoddy “hey my students get a learning kick when I let them take out their mobiles” for the unhelpful sham that it is.

          I do however have a question about, well, potential usury. If a child is at the school for 5 years (years 7-11), please tell me they are given the tablet to keep at the end? They’ll have paid £450 out to the school for it!

          • Hi Simon, yes I can confirm that the tablet is the student’s to keep at the end of the scheme. We applied through the elearning foundation http://www.e-learningfoundation.com/ to trial the scheme. I am not sure what the terms were but the offer was but might be worth getting in touch. The offer was also available to teachers.

            • Sorry the payment is only for 2 years not for the length of their study at the school.

          • 1) What happens if large numbers are on FSM.
            2) and 3) might be ‘harmful and stereotypical’ but calling it that don’t solve the problem
            4) isn’t just a “start up problem”. For the same reason it’s insanely expensive to insure a car if you are 17 or live somewhere rough, companies won’t insure some schools.
            6) is not ‘solved by insurance’. Insurers exists to make a profit.
            5) (especially) and 7) is more than ‘just an issue’

            “And also, what better way than this well-thought-out way of doing things to expose the shoddy “hey my students get a learning kick when I let them take out their mobiles” for the unhelpful sham that it is.”

            …. it’s the same problem.

            “I do however have a question about, well, potential usury. If a child is at the school for 5 years (years 7-11), please tell me they are given the tablet to keep at the end? They’ll have paid £450 out to the school for it!”

            It will be worth a quarter of that.

        • Hi Paul, I am merely posting in reply to Simon about how we approached this in our school and what I have stated works in our context.

          In reply to you, I think Simon has covered it but just to reiterate that in our school which is entirely comprehensive, and in a Northumberland town which is other than ethnicity a rough rule of thumb microcosm of society:

          1) 97% of our parents opted in and we provided FSM kids with a device. Many teachers also have devices. Planning for students who do not have the tabs is paramount when thinking about viable uses of the devices in lessons.
          2) 97% did.
          3) Thankfully this has not happened.
          4) It is done through a charitable trust http://www.e-learningfoundation.com/ , I think it is entirely sane to insure students at £3 per week, in fact it is remarkable and admirable.
          5) They haven’t.
          6) Lost; yes (then found), broken; not many instances.
          7) They are not switched on all of the time. Sometimes they are not appropriate for the learning in the lessons. The battery power is actually not the main issue, the biggest problem is students remembering to charge them. They were meant to be provided USB chargers from the outset but these arrived later. This problem has been much better since their arrival.

          • Northumberland isn’t exactly MossSide, is it ?

            • As you have identified yourself it is possible to see how typical your school actually is.

              GCSE 5 A-Cs:


              Not exactly a “microcosm of society” is it ? Not even for rural Northumberland with all those difficult Tyneside/Wearside schools removed ?

            • Paul,

              It is not possible to judge the socio economic make up of a school from their results. Yes nationally, there is correlation, but on an individual basis some schools in very challenging areas do very well for their students and likewise some school in affluent areas are letting their students down.

              We do have students who enter at KS3 with average results and leave with well above average, that is true, but that is not a result of the social make-up of the school. It is a result of the teaching and learning of the school. This in turn is the result of almost two decades work of a visionary head who is sadly no longer with us and the continued dedication of staff at my school. I am very very lucky and completely respect that the scheme might not work in other contexts due to distractions in the class or theft etc.

              Your continued criticism of the mechanics of the scheme does seem strange though. The scheme does exist, and we do have insurance cover for £3 per week. Yes it would be difficult to achieve such a scheme privately, but for anyone interested who thinks it might work in their context, contact the elearning trust.

              Once again I stress that the scheme works in my context, but we are an average intake school that adds significant value by the time students leave us.

              Returning to the thrust of the point. I am not blind to the problems that may exist in other schools with mobile phones. To those who say it would not work in their schools, fair enough. I just think that it is not correct to call for a blanket ban across the country.

              I just think it is short sighted to think that mobile phones could or should not be used in any school, similarly it is equally wrong to suggest they would be able to be used in every school.

            • Actually, you pretty much can. Yep, a good HT and teachers can make a difference, but my experience suggests that teachers in such schools tend to preen about how great they and their school are unjustifiably.

            • I am sorry but this is just wrong.

              Am I to take it that you think schools across the country are completely homogenous and a cohort’s results are determined only by their social status? Of course not. Perhaps I should have said it is not possible to determine the results of a school from the socio economic make up of their intake, but same difference really.

              By the law of averages, “pretty much” might cut it in many cases, but I am not trying to paint any roses red here. We have an average intake and get good results, these are facts. I love my school, it is by no means perfect but I am grateful for my colleagues from whom I have learned so much.

            • No, I think some people attribute success that is more down to their intake to themselves and their colleagues. Your CVA is good but not stunning, so if you have very high 5A-C levels this suggests you do not have an average intake.

  19. I read the Teachers’ Oath. I do not believe students gain any educational benefit from using their mobile phones in class. “Multi-tasking” is a lie. If they are using their phone they are not thinking about their school work. It may be unpopular, it may be tedious, it may be difficult but this is a battle that teachers must win.

  20. “We dismissed someone a few weeks ago. They were already on a final warning for other disciplinary issues, were caught twice in one week by one team leader, twice in one day by another, then were caugt accessing Face Book by a third team leader. 3 days later we caught another guy texting, 15 minutes after his lunch break! Obviously the team briefs, notices, and disciplinary action taken does not seem to bother some people, if using a mobile is more important than keeping their job.” – From Workplace law

    When the kids make the transition from education to work they are very likely to find their employers not as sympathetic as their old teachers.

    • So… Teach them to use them appropriately… So it’s not so exciting and thrilling to break the rules… Meet the kids in the middle and you will find they follow rules better. But a strict ban on kids and of course they’ll want to break the rules…

      • So when you teach them, and they don’t do what you’ve taught, what next? As you saw, this individual was fired from his job. Do you think that this person was more or less likely than your average student to comply with requests/rules?

        The idea that is we simply take away the “excitement” factor of anything that people enjoy doing will mean they do it less seems rather unlikely. Having clear guidelines that are regularly enforced makes more sense, and fits in with a ban that many educators/parents/students would prefer. I find other students in my graduate courses on their phones to be distracting, I find people out in restaurants/movies/clubs who are on their phones distracting. You don’t think they have ideas of what is and isn’t appropriate? They often simply don’t care, or feel their enjoyment is more important than the effect on those around them.

  21. What a shame that you are taking such a black and white stand. Obviously you were not prepared to use that particular tech in your classroom and you found it a distraction. However, there are thousands of teachers who have found just the opposite. But it’s exactly this kind of post – the wolf in sheep’s clothing – that is latched onto by the luddites who want to proclaim that technology is bad and use the fallacy in reasoning, “We’ve never done that before, so let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done!” (Even though what we’ve always done doesn’t work…) I’m really disappointed that you are being given this platform and this voice when you simply got in over your head.

    Example 1: A teacher in Melbourne, AU shared with me that he tweeted about a problem regarding water filtration for a unit on the same. Within 30 minutes, his tweet got 3 responses from legit engineers around the globe asking how they could help and how they could consult. The project took on a whole new light for a group of inner-city kids who could have cared less until that moment.
    Example 2: A teacher in Minneapolis shared polleverywhere with me – a way to use phones instead of clickers. Does she use them every moment of every day? No – to do that would be as foolish as lecturing every minute of every day. But she strategically uses mobile devices throughout her teaching, just as she uses YouTube, various RLO’s, etc.
    Example 3: An inner city LA, 7th grade teacher shared with me her use of SCVNGR to illustrate history, sociology, and anthropology in a single lesson. Her class, after being broken into teams, used mobile devices to accomplish the tasks and learn the information. She said they learned the concepts better than any previous class had because they were interested and engaged for the first time.

    Please stop spouting off about your own deficiencies as a teacher. It’s not relevant that you found mobile phones to be a distraction. You are a survey of 1, but you are influencing others to avoid technology through fear and ungrounded accusations. Please just stop. If you have nothing impactful to say, just say nothing…

    • This is one of the worst things I have ever read. “Please stop spouting off about your own deficiencies as a teacher”.

      The only sort of people that write garbage like this – which shows you have the empathy of half a brick – are advisors, OFSTED inspectors and (a few) teachers in schools that have a very good intake (like, say 95%+ 5A-C passes) who haven’t bothered to educate themselves about the reality of many schools and prefer to sit there and pontificate about how bad other people are and/or are looking for a scapegoat.

      This particular “luddite” has within three feet of his desk – apart from this PC – an iPad, 2 Android Tablets, 3 smartphones, a Kobo, 4 FPGA cards, (about) a dozen Microcontroller trainers of various types, countless other electronic components and boards, and a collection of antique video games systems. I must be a very wierd luddite. I’ve got more electronic gadgetry than anyone I know.

      What I am is a realist, not someone who hands down tablets of stone about how other people should behave.

  22. Reblogged this on Things I grab, motley collection .

  23. In case anyone missed it, I have discussed the issues here further in this blogpost:


  24. He he he now you’re just making me laugh! I’m not even going to frame a long response to that one!

    If you want to prove your point, why not write a long response but do it on your phone?

    • Well he could use his phone to make an audio or video recording a long response. Who says it has to be written?

  25. Our children are poorly educated because of teaching that just says learn this, learn this, learn this… Oh and then forget it by next week because the teacher just said learn this! Rather than the teacher saying ‘let’s find a unique, memorable way to remember something that covers a mixture of skills and knowledge’

    And it works so well, doesn’t it ? Maybe the old style way would be a disaster. I don’t think so, it still works well in many schools. Teacher in charge, teacher directs, here to learn, not to have fun. Fun is determined by competent ways of teaching the topic rather than a desperation to please.

    What we do know is the current method is a disaster.

  26. […] comments, such as the ones published here and here, are unacceptable. If one is involved in education, one has social, ethical and […]

  27. Jesse, couldn’t your example be done by the teachers pc or her own mobile?

    why must the kids have the mobiles?

    and even if your class is trustworthy – do you see how the ‘allowed mobiles’ policy may be a burden for teachers of less well behaved classes?

  28. God’s teeth, the sheer number of responses gives me pause; but let me say that at the point I knew i was leaving my last school, with joy, I kept a stopwatch log of how many minutes I WASTED per lesson in the pursuit of stopping the use (already prohibited) of mobile phones in lessons, and presenting each parent on parents’ evening with a print-out of how many times their, or someone else’s, child prevented teachign and learning by the distraction. I kept a log of other distractions too, but phones were the thing that the parents most warmly defended their children in defying. SLT officially denied it was a problem. I was not in need of a reference, which of course made all the difference. Mind, as Ben Elton used to say, the reality gap.

  29. […] Old Andrew writes about smart phone addiction in The Insanity of Allowing Phones In Class. […]

  30. I agree with you. There is so much more to life than electronics! Kids NEED to have their electronics off-limits at certain times. Instead of playing a video game about skateboarding, go outside with a skateboard! Instead of texting your friends on a camping trip, try climbing a tree or hunting for bugs! And really, although technology can be an awesome part of education, having phones during lessons is kinda stretching it. Do the kids really need to text their answers to the teacher during class? Plus, if you require cell phones during a lesson, you have to be able to supply them to all of the students so that kids who can’t afford one or whose parents won’t allow them one would be able to be included.

  31. Well…. I don’t teach kids (exactly). If I taught high school, I’d be lobbying for a policy requiring students to check their arms…uhm, phones at the door.

    I’m stuck in a junior college adjunct job. Get real. How on earth are you going to persuade adults who show up in your classroom before offices open (7:30 a.m.) and after they close (6:30 p.m.) to divest themselves of their expensive portable tools? And who in their right mind would leave such an object in a car in a parking lot? Maybe we could distribute signs: BREAK INTO THIS CAR!


    Instead, I get them to use the phones as part of the class activities. Please, really, I have no clue to the answer: YOU tell me. ;-)

    They love the cry of PHONES OUT!!!!!!! Every soul with a smartphone is looking up the answer to questions whose answers they need to know.

    Then there’s the Phaque Quiz: a learning exercise in which they have to find the answers to things that they should have learned in the textbook (had they been able to afford the thing) but that are accessible on the Internet: PHONES OUT!!!!!

    When is the ________ due? Did the professor say anything important (heh!) while I was cutting class? TEXT-A-CLASSMATE!

    You can make these things work for you. I’m old and not so creative anymore; that suggests you mid-career and younger faculty can do a whole lot better than I can.

  32. Use of cellphones during class hours while inside the school premises is strictly prohibited in the Philippines, which is very much correct, considering the kind of students we have today, the wisdom behind (DepEd DO No. 83 s. 2003) is rather a great help to develop less criminally crafted learners, otherwise you will be breeding grossly dishonest learners, stop playing hypocrites.

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