Pulling a cellphone out during class used to mean likely confiscation and perhaps detention for students bold enough to try.

Now, a growing number of schools are turning to the smartphones students bring with them to school as an instructional device that can augment classroom learning.

Teachers ask students to use their smartphones to look up a vocabulary word, take a photo of an assignment written on the board or text themselves a homework reminder. Teachers use countless apps, many of them free, to better connect students with coursework on a smartphone they’re familiar with.

Eston Melton, an assistant principal at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va., says students can better internalize their lessons when they’re doing them on their own personal smartphones or tablets.

“My education becomes something I walk around with in my pocket,” he says.

Outside Washington, West Potomac draws from rich and poor neighborhoods. Melton says not every student has an iPad or iPhone, so teachers have to be mindful not to alienate students who don’t have one.

One way is to put students into small groups, in which only one is using the phone while others are tasked with different responsibilities.

West Potomac lets students check out laptops from the library. Melton says, “Kids are incredibly responsible with it.

“Some people are going to have a visceral response of, ‘Oh my God, you let a poor kid check out a smartphone? You’re never going to see it again!’ But we’ve never had that problem,” he says.

Other schools are moving to incorporate private smartphones and tablets in the classroom.

Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, Md., is one. Administrators say they first have to figure out how to install a smartphone that will accommodate about 400 students at once. And, they say, they’ve got to make sure students will be responsible with the access.