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!