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Classroom Management in the Connected Classroom

Jordan Catapano

The traditional classroom – the one without technology in students’ hands – offers its fair share of challenges for classroom management. No matter how engaging a teacher, a method, or a topic is, some students will consistently find themselves easily distracted. Or even worse, they’ll become a distraction to others. Teachers have learned that without effective classroom management strategies, they may be putting the quality of student learning and success at risk.

Now, however, many districts have initiated one-to-one programs that have put a piece of mobile technology into each student’s hands. While these initiatives offer a wealth of learning opportunities and change the landscape of education, they also come with more opportunity for distraction. These devices come with a multitude of education-related tools ready to boost student learning, but also open doors to flashy websites, constant social media, and trendy apps that can pull students from more substantial tasks. This offers new challenges for teachers as they seek to train their students to use these devices as tools for good rather than as weapons of mass distraction.

So what can a teacher do to help guide their students toward more positive and productive behaviors with these devices in hand? Consider some of the following techniques.

Proximity. Just being close to students helps to reinforce the explicit and implicit classroom standards. A teacher’s physical presence passively reminds students of their expected behavior. So when students have devices in their hands that could easily divert their attention, teachers can help redirect students just by standing nearby, positioning themselves behind students, or even just walking past them.

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“Flat on Desks” rule. Even though tablets can easily be propped up, some teachers prefer to maintain a “Flat on the desk” rule, which means that tablets must be positioned flatly. This allows the screen to face directly upwards and is more easily visible to multiple people, including the teacher. Since others can see the screen, this might help the students feel more accountable for the way they use the device.

Holding firm expectations. Any good classroom has firm expectations for student engagement and behavior, and this is just as true in the connected classroom. No matter the tool – whether a pencils, play dough, or electronics – teachers need to establish clear expectations for how students will conduct themselves. These can be explicitly stated, posted on the walls, reinforced at teachable moments, or brought up one-on-one with students who need it. Make sure that you tell students what is acceptable in addition to what isn’t: For example, if it’s OK if students look up the answer to a question they have during class, let them know you encourage this kind of behavior.

Know the district’s rules and limits. If the technology your class utilizes is district-issued, then there likely are avenues you can access to further support your connected classroom. For example, you may be able to restrict app downloads to education-only apps. You also may be able to push-out a necessary link or app to all students in your class. Even if students bring their own devices, be cognizant of existing policy that governs tech usage during school, so that you can help students leverage the best academic uses while avoiding the most distracting habits.

Get parents involved. Parents doubtlessly have a stake in the types of tools your classroom utilizes. Inform parents throughout the year what tools, apps, and tech methods your class will focus on. Also inform parents about the tech use expectations you have, so that if consequences or redirection are necessary, they’re already up-to-date on protocols and ready to serve as partners in the process.

Give generous positive reinforcement. Students don’t just respond to positive reinforcement directed at them; they respond to any positive reinforcement. When you see any student doing a positive behavior with their connectedness tool, mention it in front of the class: “Justin, I like the way you have your iPad flat!” Then much of the rest of the class will emulate this behavior to earn that positive reinforcement, too. This could work the other way – with students avoiding behaviors that led to consequences for others – but focusing on the positive works better for the long term.

Digital citizenship and interaction. The “classroom” may now exist online as much as it does in the physical classroom, and expectations for conduct should extend into this arena, too. As students use blogs, social media, LMSs, and other Web 2.0 mediums, make sure that you model and reinforce to students that how they conduct themselves online is just as important as how they conduct themselves in person.

Keep students engaged and accountable. Here’s a good strategy: If you want students to use technology appropriately, then do tasks that allow them to take advantage of the best features of their technology. Students gravitate toward stimulating activity; sometimes this leads them to be distracted, but other times this can lead them to use their technology for impressive learning. Let them use the tech, let them collaborate with one another, and see how they stay engaged.

Put the thing away. It’s OK to not use technology all the time. Technology is a tool – just like any other classroom tool – and sometimes you just need a different tool for the job. When managing a connected classroom, allow students to use their devices for the appropriate tasks. If you do this, then you can also manage when they should just put the thing away, too.

Managing the connected classroom involves trial and error, refinement of your approach, and a transition towards new methods and mentalities. Bringing devices and connectedness into the classroom is not an easy transition, but can be managed more successfully when you keep the above strategies in mind.

Don’t forget that in addition to teaching students the skills and content of your classroom, you’re also responsible for instructing them how to best leverage their tools to be successful for the long term. This involves more than simply assuming students know how to be good students; instead, it requires that teachers are overtly cognizant of how they train their students to use technology. As you progress through your year in your connected classroom, make sure that your students have the best shot at long term success as you model for them the best behaviors and habits, simultaneously engaging them and holding them accountable.

What else do you think helps students most effectively learn while in the connected classroom? Include your thoughts in the comments below and share your perspective with us all!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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