Cellphone-free classes working for Fort Sask school

February 13, 2018
Jen Janzen, ATA News Staff

For Rudolph Hennig Junior High School, a cellphone-free classroom is a happier classroom.

The Fort Saskatchewan school has had a cellphone-free classroom policy since September, and principal Sue Freiheit says students are noticeably more focused and productive.

“We appreciate the opportunities a cellphone can provide, but we are trying to teach our students appropriate use and balance,” Freiheit says.

This is the second year that Rudolph Hennig School has modified its technology policy. Last year, in an effort to mitigate the distraction that cellphones can present, students were asked not to use them in class. They could bring the phones into the classroom, but they needed to remain in a pocket or bag.

Now, any devices that students bring to school need to be stored in their lockers during class. It’s simpler and it’s more effective, Freiheit says.

It’s also not a one-size-fits-all policy. Exceptions can be made if, for example, a student has anxiety during a test and needs to listen to music. And all students can still access their phones at morning locker break and at lunch.

The presence of cellphones in classrooms has been a hot topic for years. The Alberta Teachers’ Association is currently involved in the Growing Up Digital project, which is contributing to a growing body of research into the effects of modern technology on youth.

In schools around the world, cellphone policies vary widely. Students in France can’t use their phones during class, but each school decides if students can access them at break times. France is also currently debating whether cellphones should be brought to the school at all.

Other countries have welcomed electronic devices in their schools, touting the benefits that a pocket computer can bring to learning. In Italy, a ban on cellphones in the classroom was recently overturned.

Half a year into cellphone-free classrooms, Freiheit doesn’t imagine the devices will make a comeback.

“Our students have learned that they can do quite well without checking social media for an hour or two. For many students, not having to respond to social media reduces stress and anxiety. And the parents love it.” ❚

Other experiences

On our Facebook page, we asked teachers to share their school’s policy on student cellphones and describe how the policy is working.

David John

Cellphones are supposed to only be used with teacher permission in class. It's a daily struggle.

Julie Stoehr Arsenault

This year at my school all teachers have "phone cubbies" that are really just hanging shoe holders. They’re numbered and each kid is assigned a number. As they walk into each classroom they’re to put their phones in their numbered slot. If they need their phone for something class related, then they can go get it. The slots are all clear too so kids can still see their phones — this seems to relieve a little anxiety for them. Now that we're a few months into the school year, there are many who don't put them in the cubbies, but they don't pull them out to text either. If I see the phone, I just give them a friendly reminder to put it in the cubby and I rarely get any arguments.

Jan Smith

What a frustrating situation ... it’s so wrong! Put the phones away!!

Julie Quennell

I think it comes down to another opportunity to teach social norms. For example, when is a cellphone a learning tool versus a distraction? This is a valuable lesson leading into employability expectations. They have to learn to filter when it’s acceptable and when it’s not. I think black-and-white generalizations don’t work. Some students can benefit from using the phones as a tool for learning and as a tool for overcoming challenges with executive functioning. I know I rely on my phone a lot, and I am a functioning adult with three degrees. Just a thought. We have to look beyond what is easier for us as educators and look to what is in the best interest of students.

Laurie Jean

Chaos, and it’s an issue.

Jaime Rochelle

Cellphones can be in classes, but students are encouraged to leave them in lockers. Students rarely leave them in lockers. All rooms have a grey bin where the cellphones should be placed at the beginning of class (only some students abide by this). Cellphone use is at the discretion of the individual teacher, and the policy must be posted in the room. With different policies, students play teacher against teacher at times.

Lori Villner Astle

Our junior high has a "no devices in class" policy and I LOVE it. I have not had to say, "Put that away" or "What are you looking at?" once in at least two years. It has removed a huge distraction that I have previously had to deal with. Love it!