Certainly every school district by now has a policy prohibiting the use of cell phones during class, so of course that'll show up on your syllabus along with the penalty for violating the policy.
You'll probably see their eyes glaze over when you bring it up in class. They already know what's allowed and what isn't, and the ones who are going to do it anyway are more concerned about how to get away with it than what the punishment will be should they get caught.
So my plan is to focus more on justifying the policy than threatening them with the consequences. Maybe teenagers in the 21st century aren't sure why it's such a big deal. I mean, come on. They text like other generations breathe.
The following is my effort to explain texting's lethal effect on a learning environment. My students will get a copy of this and I'm putting it on Blackboard for back-up. If you like it, feel free to use some or all of it. Or you could send me yours. Either way, feel free to post comments.
The Texting Problem:
You Must Be Present to Win
For centuries now, classrooms have had four walls, not just out of an architectural necessity, but to provide a separate space for the world of the mind. Those walls remind us that we are taking a brief sabbatical from that world racing away outside the classroom window while we, in our little refuge, ponder the meaning of things, try to make sense of the world and perhaps figure out our place in it.
Texting, on the other hand, breaks down those walls, and the world and its worries come tumbling into our once sacred space.
The best classes are those in which you are so engaged in the material that you lose all sense of time and are startled to notice that class is over.
This feeling – often called the flow state -- is only possible through focus, concentration and participation, none of which is possible while texting.
While the classroom walls are intact, students often find themselves engaged in intellectual, stimulating, thought-provoking and sometimes unsettling conversations that are extremely rare in the outside world. As a teacher, these highly charged conversations, in which I become little more than a bystander or moderator, are my favorite classes. In these, we share our ideas, watch them change and grow, and listen to other sides of issues, to different interpretations and different ways of looking at things. We watch a first-draft whim evolve, through conversation, into a full-fledged idea.
Because texting takes us rudely out of this conversation and into another, it can thoroughly disrupt this powerful way of learning.
My best classes develop a strong sense of community. While we may not all love each other, we adapt; we learn tolerance and respect; we accept that while we might not all like the same books or music, we all have legitimate contributions to make to this team or family or community that has gradually developed in Building 8, Room 226.
But if you’re texting, you are emotionally and intellectually absent from this community and you’re treating it (i.e., the rest of us) as mere afterthoughts and annoyances. That behavior is rude, disruptive, disrespectful – in a word, unacceptable.
A class, at its best, could be considered a gift or a communal meal. Everyone is given the opportunity to think, listen, share, learn, give and receive; everyone is invited to leave the room a slightly different human than the one who entered it less than an hour ago.
But this simply cannot happen if you’re texting. You should not try to be in two places at once. You have to stay here. You must be present to win.