Paperless No More: 3 Reasons I’m Using Paper in My Classroom This Year

Wednesday, March 8, 20175:38 PM

Over the past few months, my paper-limited classroom has been changing. For a while, I resisted the copy machine and only used paper when it was more effective than technology. And that definitely happened sometimes.

I’m lucky to work with a close friend in my English 9 classes, and in our collaboration my vision for technology’s use is sometimes challenged--as it should be. I have to justify my instructional choices more often, and really think about how any why we’re using technology, paper, or any other resource. That colleague (Hi, Katie!) pointed out that in our collaboration, I’ve been using a lot more paper and copies in my classroom; we’ve probably made more copies this month than I have in the past year.

And that’s okay. Paper on it’s own isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s just a tool to communicate and demonstrate learning. Paper’s easy, quick, and plentiful, but it’s also an old medium that can’t always solve new problems in the way that technology might be able to.

In the past, and in other classes, all of our class resources are online, some are printed, and students often have the option of taking notes by hand or online. All assignments are submitted electronically on Google Classroom. This year, we are still using the technology all the time, submitting work, collaborating, and creating, but a lot of the more traditional instruction is moving away from the screen and towards paper.

Reflecting on these choices has led me to wonder why paper has been more effective that technology with my freshmen this year, and to reexamine Paper in the Digital Age: Considering the Pros, Problems, and Power of Paper to explore new reasons when and why the pen and paper make all the difference.

As this commercial demonstrates, technology can’t solve all of our problems.

3 Reasons I’m Using Paper in My Classroom This Year

1. Technology Distracts My Freshmen!

I like to describe my freshmen as adorable puppies--they are fun, sweet, and loyal. But they also have awful attention spans. They’re distracted by the drop of a pin or a sneeze, let alone a bright screen and the power of the internet. This year, my freshmen are more and more distracted by the power of technology that it often takes away from the learning experience.

2. Technology Takes Too Much Time

We’re a 1:1 Chromebook classroom but not a 1:1 school; this means that our Chromebooks live in a cart and need to be taken in and out each day. With a well organized class, this just takes a few minutes. Every minute away from instruction matters, but the Chromebook movement can be quick. This year, it’s just not. We’re slow. Again, we’re distracted. And time packing up and plugging in Chromebooks is time away from instruction and learning.

3. Paper Demonstrates More Learning

In English 9, the students are learning the foundations of literary analysis and writing. This involves a lot of scaffolding and outlining as we build to more formal and summative writing. My students are fine writers when it comes time to putting their words together, but the brainstorming, outlining, and drafting process is more productive for most of my students on paper. Maybe it’s indicative of the distraction and time, or maybe it’s an actual processing difference with technology; maybe it’s something else entirely. The bottom line is that the process work is better on paper.

Paperless Power

I’ll never stop a student from taking notes or working on process work by hand. But digital tools help us do more than paper ever could. They provide a permanence to our work and lets learning exist everywhere at once through sharing and collaboration. But it’s important to teach students how to demonstrate their learning in new ways and to manage these tools.

Most of my challenges here aren’t really technology issues, they’re management issues. How can I improve classroom management with these students to improve their efficiency and accountability when working online? How can I make more effective use of the powerful tools in my classroom? It’s not about paper or about the technology alone--and never really should be--it’s about the learning and the students.

How do you make the choice between paper and digital in your classroom? When is paper most appropriate? Share your ideas in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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