Posted by: Tricia Buck | February 4, 2009

Rock-Digital Submission-Scissors

Chances are good that you have at one time or another thrown your fists into the ring for a heated round of rock-paper-scissors.  In the legendary battle of fists, it is well-known that rock solidly crushes scissors and scissors sharply slice paper. Remarkable among the digital triumvirate is that paper, in spite of its trademark airiness, has the power to reduce rock to rubble simply by virtue of its ability to cover completely.  Oh, the power of paper!

 

Paper has long been a friend of mine.  I love the look and feel of it; the crisp sheen of a new sheet in my journal, the sublime jagged edges of the pages filling a rag cut novel.  I remember as a child inspecting the interesting little threads and specks embedded in my recycled construction paper, even once undertaking an exciting, albeit ill-fated home paper-making experiment.  I remember as an English major in college delighting in the near translucence of the pages in my many Norton anthologies, and spending countless hours scrutinizing the tiny black letters marching like ants across each of those pages in soldiered synchronicity.  Paper beckons to me, invites me to write my story or to read its.  Paper is comfortable, and in the case of the bright white, three hole-punched paper with the perfectly parallel azure paths–standard issue in my and most classrooms–paper is expected.  Paper is routine.

 

As all educators and thinking people know, English teachers are routinely buried in an onslaught of paper and routinely copying equally breathtaking amounts. Our incumbent inhalation of paper makes us public school enemy number one in terms of green; we are neither environmentally nor economically responsible by virtue of our job description: master of all things written.  While I had made some strides in recent years in mitigating the inevitable torrent inherent amongst my kind–most notably requiring email submission of essays and grading on my beloved tablet pc—little had truly changed in my professional relationship with paper other than the ability to temporarily deny the lurking pile thanks to its convenient concealment in my in box.  Ah, far better than the pesky encroachment of papers on my physical space! 

 

While concealment has its benefits, at the start of the second semester this year I committed to truly cutting the paper.  Yes, that means no packets, no handouts, no worksheets, no neatly stapled essays, no typical quizzes and tests.  Invigorated by my professional learning journey as of late (see previous posts) I felt the time was right to give the paperless classroom a try and to see what would happen if something so basic to my class format was gone.  What was and is happening is profound!  There is a new energy in my room; the students feel it as their smiles and wide eyes attest, and I feel it as the spring in my step affirms.  It is palpable…just not pulp-able (sorry, I could not resist….)

 

The funny thing is, I have learned already that the magic of going paperless is less about the paper and more about the paradigm shift that occurs in its absence.  It is, after all, in the absence of routine that innovation is born.  For years I have had an active wiki, but I am now seeing new ways to use this powerful Web 2.0 tool to facilitate the changes merited by my new class format.  Along with my students, I am enjoying lively discussions on our class ning and engaging in conversation and connection never fostered by the great white rectangle.  Of course I will teach and I will grade.  My students will read and they will write (a lot, believe me).  The critical difference is that I am not leading my students on a paper path to a pre-determined educational destination, rather I am walking, skipping, and running beside them down a paperless trail, our leaders are Life and Literature and our destination is Self. 

 

Am I dreaming?  Yes, I am.  I’ll sleep later. 

 

The paper is gone, but that is fine.  Along the way I have figured out that the power is not in the paper, it is in the people and it reveals itself in the form of words, thoughts, ideas.  The power is still there in a digital essay submission, in a blog post, wiki addition, ning thread, and even in a tweet.  I am proud to say that in B304 the paper is gone and the game-is-on. The battle is not one of fists, but wits, and there are reams of reasons why I am thrilled to play!

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Responses

  1. Well, you’ve done it again…reminded me of why I do what I do. Beautiful, Tricia. Will post more reflections of this post later.

  2. I love the titles to your posts. They just beg to be read. You said “It is, after all, in the absence of routine that innovation is born.” That is so true, and so scary! Toddlers and adults alike want the familiar, want the routine. We know what to expect, how to react and what are roles are. Innovation is very exciting, but it can be daunting as well. Please don’t misread my comment. I too am energized by this paradigm shift, but I also recognize that sometimes fear of the unknown lurks about…

  3. Way to go Tricia! Another post so elegantly written, and to the heart of what “the shift” is all about.

    “It is, after all, in the absence of routine that innovation is born.”
    I agree with your comment here and am finding the same result as I use less paper in my classroom. I will not go totally paperless, but when I refuse to copy packets in lieu of discussion, audio or video projects, online projects, posts to the wiki, etc., my students are so engaged and excited, and their learning is deeper and more broad. Seeing that is the best part of teaching. Thanks for continuing to be an inspiration!

  4. I, too, have not gone totally paperless, but have found great success in blogs, discussion boards, emailed assignments, class web pages for handouts, Google docs, etc. over the past few years.

    The main roadbump I’ve had in going paperless is that a handful of students each year don’t have computer access at home.

    How have you handled computer access in going paperless?

    • Thanks for reading! The vast majority of students in my district have computer access at home. I am able to sign kids into computer labs, media center, and can reserve computers on wheels (30 laptops) for my room. I am piloting 6 mini HPs now in my room for group use. Also, our school media center is open before and after school and public library nearby has easy access. I am seeing that my fear of kids not having access was overblown. Those who may not have home access do have access in a number of other ways, and the sooner they learn how to work the system (or make the system work for them) the better. I now see I waited even longer than I needed to take this plunge, make this shift. Best wishes to you and your endeavors.

  5. Thanks…it sounds like we’re in the same type of situation. Really, I’ve only had a couple kids each year who’ve struggled to get access…or to get motivated to make time to access computers outside of class time. I may have to take the full plunge next year, too. I look forward to hearing more about your paperless adventures!

  6. Hi, thank you for sharing your thoughts about going paperless. It’s not an idea that ever really caught on in corporate America the way we thought it would a couple decades ago, and I’d be really surprised if it happened in education, which might be King Paper’s last bastion.

    Last year, I moved into a district with 1-to-1 laptops in the middle school, and I slowly learned how to replace more and more photocopies with more and more electronic communication between me and my 8th grade students. I started this year with the determination to go “all the way”–at least as far as possible. I now place all my handouts into my Public Folder for the kids to grab and use. They submit their writing to me via my private Drop Box. Life would seem to be good. But I have run into two problems–one practical and the other philosophical.

    The practical problem is my inability to find an efficient and effective method of correcting my students’ electronic writing. It can be done, of course, but I find it cumbersome. Got any suggestions? A corollary problem is that I feel compelled to return each student’s paper into his or her private Drop Box rather than move all the papers en masse into a public folder for all to see. This is a very tedious electronic version of the “paper shuffle.” It would be much more efficient (for me) to hand papers back in class.

    (A quick side note: Earlier this year, I even tried to go paperless with a test, but I found that some answers written by my first period students “somehow” showed up on some of my fifth period students’ tests. Hmm…Another problem.)

    The philosophical question has to do with whether students actually learn as well using all electronic documents in place of paper. I believe there is a value in students receiving corrections and critical feedback on papers that they hold in their hands. Even if I figured out an efficient method of correcting and commenting on electronic tests, papers and projects, my gut feeling is that there are some students who never bother to retrieve my feedback when I put their critiqued work into their Drop Boxes. Also, what about all the maps and artwork that students used to create? So much electronic communication is simply text–will the right brain eventually atrophy?

    Sorry to take up so much of your blog. I’d be interested to read any response you or your other readers might care to write. Thanks–and keep writing!

  7. Tricia …. You have amazed me since I met you. I find delight in your paperless words. Thank you.


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