Thursday, May 7, 2015

Back to Basics: Intentional Classroom Management to Reduce Digital Distraction

Technology can break down walls.  Technology can add efficiency.  Technology can remove restrictions and limitations. Technology can change the way we teach and the way students learn.

At the same time, for all the benefit that technology can provide, it can also introduce new challenges, dilemmas, and downfalls.

Like anything, as professionals we have to accept the good with the bad, take advantage of the best it can offer, and learn to manage the challenges.
Courtesy of NEA Today

One of the most common concerns teachers raise related to Waukesha One and the introduction of personalized learning tools is digital distraction.  That categorization fits many different symptoms.

  • Students unfocused due to messaging on the iPad/phone.
  • Students unfocused due to gaming on the iPad.
  • Students watching videos/movies on the iPad.
  • Students hiding what they are doing on their iPad/closing apps when teacher walks by.
  • Students unable to stay on task when given work time -- doing something "unproductive" on the iPad.
There are many other symptoms that fit this category.

While there is no silver bullet solution to end digital distraction, one of the most proactive ways for teachers to diminish digital distraction is through intentional and consistent classroom management.

Following are some suggestions to consider putting in place in your classroom.


Develop Relationships with Students

While it has nothing to do with technology, it is the bedrock foundation to everything that happens in a teacher/learner relationship.  Do you know your students?  Do you care about them as people and as learners?  Do they know about you and feel committed to you?  It might sound trite or cliche, but it is fundamental to all human interaction.  Once people feel connected, communication will happen and trust can begin to develop.  Get to know your students; each student is an amazing, unique individual with hopes, challenges, strengths, and goals.

Clearly and Consistently Communicate Expectations

Again, this is not earth shattering, but clear, consistent communication is essential to classroom management (and generally craved by most people).  Consider your classroom processes and procedures. Do you follow consistent patterns in your classroom, or do procedures tend to change with your mood and energy level for the day?  Consistent patterns and procedures initially have to be taught to students (watch an elementary classroom to see this in action...teaching five and six-year-old students the procedures of a classroom is an art form to itself).  However, once established, these procedures become the standard operating procedure that is generally understood and agreed upon in the classroom.

As it relates to technology, some key procedures to consider addressing are:

  • System for communicating when technology is allowed/appropriate and when it is not 
    • I personally like the red/green traffic light on the door/board to indicate use of iPads
  • Storage of devices when not in use
    • Apples up, screens down 
    • Out of hand, out of sight 
    • Placed in storage bins at door (something like a mail box sorter such as this)
  • Bell Ringer and Exit Ticket expectations
    • Are kids supposed to log in to Bb9 for the bell ringer daily? 
    • Are the links to the Exit Ticket form available in Bb9 consistently?
  • All work is submitted in consistent locations
  • Identify appropriate times for responding to personal email, messages, and texts
    • Allotted time for personal tasks gives permission for a short period and then eliminates permission to engage in personal tasks at all other times
  • Ear buds, position of the iPad, and brightness
    • Determine your comfort with students listening to music or sitting with ear buds in
    • Identify if students should work with the iPad flat on the desk to avoid hiding apps
    • Brighter screens are easier to see across the room; encourage bright screens (even if it hurts their battery life)

Identify and Communicate Consequences for Abuse of the iPad

Some students will misuse the technology.  Students will be distracted or will choose to not use the technology appropriately at times.  When it happens an action plan needs to be in place.  Consider the consequences you already use in your classroom.  Will they apply in this circumstance as well?  Then, determine a few levels of consequences and articulate them clearly to students. Here is a potential list of consequences you could use. 

(I'm certain many of you have much more creative and effective consequences -- this is just to provide an example.  Please share your ideas in the comments.)
  • Level 1
    • Move off-task students closer to the teacher or front of the room
  • Level 2
  • Level 3
    • Short-term "penalty box" collection of the iPad (students lose the iPad for 10 minutes)
  • Level 4
    • Long-term "penalty box" collection of the iPad (student loses the iPad for a class period)
      • Yes, this does create a disruption in instruction, but we taught previously without technology.  Don't let this disruption limit your ability to maintain order and focus.
  • Level 5
    • Have the student phone home in your presence to indicate to parents/guardians what they are doing with the iPad, to indicate that this has become habitual, and to indicate that the parents will need to call the teacher to discuss this issue (possibly even before the iPad is returned to the student)
*REMEMBER:  The School District of Waukesha owns these devices and can search, collect, and recall them at any point.


Use Your Apple TV/Computer to Monitor Behavior

Wondering what a student at the back of the room is up to on their iPad?  Have a student that has lost your trust to work independently on the iPad?  Request that the particular student AirPlays their and
AirServer allows you to view an iPad right from
your Mac home screen.
screen to your Apple TV (or to your MacBook directly if you have access to AirServer) keep an eye on what they are up to during work time.

If you are interested in a copy of AirServer for this purpose (allows students to mirror their iPad to your Mac) and you are an SDW staff member, please email one of the SDW Tech Coordinators to receive a copy.




Use Proximity to Monitor/Re-Direct Off-Task Behavior

The most effective method for deterring off-task or inappropriate behavior is not a technology solution at all.  You, the adult in the room, are the most effective deterrent.  The teaching tools provided to staff (MacBooks and iPads) are intended to give staff the mobility they need in the classroom.  Take full advantage of it.  

Use your body positioning to challenge off-task behavior.  Teach from the back of the classroom today, or off to the side.  Mill through the area where students are seated during work time.

Address What You See

If a student is off-task, start with a gentle verbal reminder or tap on the shoulder.  If the off-task behavior continues, know your action plan/consequences and start putting them into play.  This is about consistency.  Every day we have to be willing to work the plan in our classroom.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  Over time consistency will pay off!

Change Your Room Layout to Match the Task/Circumstances

We know that old adage that form should always match function.  Your classroom should be the living, breathing incarnation of this.  If you find that the students in a certain part of the room are not on task, change the design of the room, the location of the desks, or the teacher's primary seat/station to address the issue.

Maybe you do not have new furniture to work with in your classroom.

 Maybe you still have 30 desks to deal with daily.

That's okay.  Re-configurations with desks are just as effective for changing the form (and potentially the function) of your classroom.


Here are some general tips:
  • If collaboration and/or communication in your classroom matters, find ways to have students facing each other (even if they are not facing the front of the room).
  • Leave clear walkways throughout the classroom and encourage students to remove clutter from those walkways.  This will allow adults in the room to walk through and look over student shoulders.
  • Eliminate a "back of the room" using a curve or u-shaped configuration, moving student desks off the back wall.
If you are looking for some new ideas with desks, this site may be helpful: Cornerstone: Classroom Desk Arrangement