Out of sight, out of mind: Teachers take action on phones
Before students take their seats in Natalie Shevlin's class, they place their phones in a caddy hanging by the door. Each student is assigned a numbered pocket that their phone remains in until the end of class.
"It's probably one of the best decisions I ever made as a teacher," Shevlin said.
Shevlin teaches history and Advanced Placement psychology at Lakeridge High School and she's used this system for four years.
Numerous studies have been done to find out how the little computer in our pockets affects everything from our attention span to our mental health. Many social media platforms have been found to have addiction woven into their design, and a 2017 study from the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that just the presence of one's phone reduces available cognitive capacity, even if the phone is off.
School districts, teachers and professors all over the country are trying various methods to keep students off their phones in class.
Some schools have invested in locked pouches that can only be unlocked with a special magnet at the end of the school day. Other institutions have lockers built specifically for phones.
Teachers have worn "phoney" packs, or had students download an app that tracks how often they touch their phone during class.
Be it a pouch, caddy, locker or app, teachers everywhere know they have to do something to keep phones from interrupting class time.
Lakeridge High School opted for the phone caddies.
The blue hanging caddy has numbered pockets, and is available for optional use in every class. Some teachers, like Shevlin, attach index cards with students' names to each pocket.
Some teachers don't use them at all, but for the ones who do, they said it's a game changer.
"I mean, one of the advantages of teaching at Lakeridge High School is you're not dealing with behavior issues all the time," said Janell Cinquini, who teaches constitiutional law at the high school. "Most of the time, our students know what's expected of them, and they do it and the phone has always been the exception to that."
Both Shevlin and Cinquini got their idea from fellow teacher Rachel Griffin, who was one of the first to use the caddy system.
This school year is the first time that Cinquini has used the caddy. She was against it at first because she wanted to prepare them for life after high school.
"Your boss isn't going to have a phone caddy," Cinquini said. "Their professors are not going to have phone caddies."
But there came a point where she felt too much of her time was going toward keeping students off their phones and she knew she needed a system.
She said she hopes that with the caddy her students can see how much more effective they are when their phone is out of sight.
Cinquini still has to remind students, even with the caddy system in place, but it's not a constant battle. She said it's easier with upperclassmen.
"The bell rings and they put it away," Cinquini said .
"It's more proactive." She said with the holders, you're not waiting until there's a problem with phones to do something about the phones," said Cinquini.
Shevlin was similarly resistant before she started using a caddy four years ago.
Before using the phone caddy, she said she was more passive aggressive about phones in class. "I didn't really have a policy so I didn't feel like it was right of me to get angry," Shevlin said.
"I was just like, 'Get rid of the power struggle. I'm just going to require it.' And honestly, I get very little pushback on it.
For the first couple years Shevlin used the caddy, she had her students fill out a survey about it at the end of the year, asking them if they thought it was a good idea and if she should continue the policy. The overwhelming response was that she should continue it.
Parents also think it's a good idea.
"At back to school night, when you say to use the phone holder, you get so much positive feedback from parents," Shevlin said.
Cinquini said phones tempt everyone. She's getting into the habit of putting her own phone in the caddy during class.
"I have a stack of papers to grade and I've been checking Instagram … It's not just a kid thing," Cinquini said.
"When I put it up there," she added, pointing to the phone caddy on the wall, "I'm a much better teacher."
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