Posted by: Tricia Buck | March 8, 2009

Paperless Tiger

At the start of the second semester this year, I declared my classes free of paper.  I vowed to stop the paper onslaught that has long cast a shadow over my otherwise sunny career as Mrs. Tricia Buck, English Teacher Extraordinaire.  I had thought often about going the paperless route, I was just waiting for the right time to make it happen.  As the second semester approached, bringing with it an entirely new set of classes, students and opportunities, I finally decided the time was as right as it was ever going to be and all I had to do was say the word. When the kids came to class on the first day they were greeted with one of the only sheets of paper they would get all semester–my trademark invitation to class–and I said the word:  “paperless!”

 

When I share the fact of my newly declared paperlessness with other teachers, they usually ask how I am facilitating the exchange of handouts and how I am grading student work.  Teachers in my twitter network want to know if I am using Google docs for the paper shuffle.  While these paper management questions are logical, legitimate questions to ask, I will suggest that as teachers we should be asking instead, must we continue to think of our role as paper creators, paper controllers, paper graders?  I say without a doubt, no!  If, however, paper is removed from the list of roles just stated, the teacher remains as creator, controller, and grader; in order for true innovation to occur these long-standing teacher titles must, like the paper piles, be banished from the classroom.

 

Does this jettisoning of time-honored titles mean that the paperless classroom is also lacking a creator, controller and grader?  Is the paperless classroom also a teacherless paradigm?  The answer is in some regards, yes.  I have removed myself from center stage.  I have relinquished the need to control every class.  I have stopped seeing work as stagnant…completed and submitted by students and then graded by me.  I have let go of my need to pre-plan months at a time, in favor of following the path that unfolds as we learn together.  My classes are not, however, teacherless, just less about the teaching and more about the learning.  The students know that I am ready and willing to be student to their insights, that they can teach, create, control and even evaluate their own learning.  This shift has inspired a true spirit of collaboration, critical thinking, and communication in B304–it has been an amazing semester and has changed the course of my career for good!   

 

So how does an English teacher, of all people, go paperless?  How can other teachers do it?  It is simple.  Just change everything you know and believe about how class is run and then the paper doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  My class has two significant virtual extensions, buckenglish wiki (public) and buckenglish ning (private).  We are able to be in a classroom without walls through these awesome Web 2.0 tools and class is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!  On the wiki, my students and I build visual classes and lectures, link to external educational sites, partake in book clubs, share author information, and hold lively discussions about everything from culpability in Frankenstein to song lyrics as poetry.  On the ning–an edusocial network in the spirit of facebook—we communicate the daily class news and assignments, watch relevant videos, have focused discussions on class topics, students post blogs and comment on the blogs of their peers, and they read my blog as well through rss feed.  Students can easily message me through the wiki and the ning and they know I will promptly respond.  My heart still skips a beat when I see students engaging in insightful virtual discussion about a novel at 10 p.m. on Saturday, or in the case of my Honors British Literature juniors, chatting about John Gardner’s spectacular Grendel in August before they ever set foot in my “real” classroom!  Awesome!

 

The wiki and ning absolutely facilitate the move away from paper dependence.  Much of the old, write your predictions, thoughts, reflections paper-eating business is easily shared in these forums.  The essay piece is a bit more complicated, and in my rethinking of all aspects of class I have experimented a great deal with essay submission.  For well over a year I have been requiring students to email their completed essays to me, which I would then grade with my tablet pc, make pen marks, print to a pdf maker and send back to students.  This semester the kids are submitting their essays to a network folder on the “z drive” at school.  The folder is read only, so once submitted the kids cannot alter their work though I can easily provide editing and feedback with my tablet pen.  Marked essays are placed in a view folder for students to review, refine and resubmit as finished products.  Though I encourage students to look at other students’ marked work, letter grades are only revealed on Progress Book where privacy is maintained. 

 

Cutting the paper has not cut the emphasis on paper writing.  Essay writing skill is one of the greatest gifts I can help my students to achieve.  I am not willing to change that belief but I have become quite willing to embrace changes in the way the process looks.  Writing workshops in my class are frequent, with kids typing away on laptops furnished by one of our school COWs (Computers on Wheels carts).  I want the kids to love composing and writing–the look, the feel of it–as I do.  Therefore, I encourage them to listen to their IPods (I listen to my James Taylor, Joshua Radin, Norah Jones while I write….), to take bathroom and drink breaks as needed (I mean, really…).  While admittedly no-tech, comfort in class is another change that my giving up of control has enabled.  Because the kids are comfortable with their tech gadgets and willing to use them for learning, I have checked essay drafts on IPods and cell phones a number of times lately, and how cool is that? 

 

In the absence of my control, the students have many choices to make.  Rather than mandating the use of Google docs, I offered it as a choice after extolling its benefits.  About half of my kids are choosing to use Google docs and the numbers are growing as the users sing its praises.  In Expository Writing the other day two sets of kids were raving about being able to instantly share their essays with each other via Google doc share, and one absent student edited a present student’s essay in real time through the same forum.  It is music and magic to the ears to hear students saying, “That is so cool!” in regards to their class work!  I believe that having some choice in the matter adds to the magic.

 

My students have had other choices to make this semester in the new and improved Buck English classes.  They could choose novel or graphic novel in a recent World Literature look at tolerance; they could choose which day and which discussions to engage in on ning as we explored Athol Fugard’s compelling play “Master Harold”…and the boys.  They can choose to attend class via Skype if absent.  Twice now I have had a student take me up on this offer, once watching a lecture on my Essay Boot Camp while looking at my notes through document transfer, and once literally sitting on the floor in a book club discussion circle (we turned the webcam left and right so he could see his neighbors).  It sends a powerful message when an absent student chooses to come to class anyway, and word of the virtual attendance sent little ripples of excitement through the gossip lines of Turpin High School!  Tongues wagging about attending class?  I’ll take it!

      

With or without paper much of the educational tried and true may have become tired and false over time.  Teachers often say that modern students are lazy.  I have long felt that as the shifting winds of technology began to gain force, we teachers were the ones who were unwilling to do the work of rethinking our roles and meeting the students where they were learning already.  Rethinking paper as the primary tool of class is a step in the right direction because it forces a rethinking of the how and why of teaching and learning.  If we want our classes to be great, our lessons to truly transform, we must be willing to constantly question our effectiveness.  At this pivotal moment in education–the onset of the 21st century–the time has come for us to choose collaboration or isolation, innovation or routine.  We must choose carefully, because we may be choosing our own destiny, our own relevance or irrelevance. 

 

I think you know my choice.  I choose collaboration, innovation and relevance and I don’t have the papers to prove it.  I choose to say goodbye to the tried so that I can see if it is true, so that I may have room in B304 to welcome the new.  I choose to rethink the how and why of what I do so that I do not unwittingly play into a system that will become a paper tiger sooner rather than later without serious reflection by its members.  And so that is it, I am officially paperless!  It may be more interesting to be a paperless tiger after all…    

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. You inspire me each and every day, Tricia; even when our paths don’t cross because I carry all that you say, all that you do with me wherever I go. I will once again share this post widely.

    Signed,

    Your greatest fan

  2. Hi Tricia–
    I just caught your tweet and scrambled over here to learn more. I plan to share this post widely. I work with a slew of English teachers who dream of doing what you are, and I love the fact that you’ve detailed your process for them. I work with others who probably think that this can’t be done, and here you are living proof. Thanks for blogging this and for tweeting it. Now…tell me how I can get my daughters into your class!

    • Thanks so much for your read Angela! Your positive attitude is much apprecaited! Thanks for sharing my post as well, I am so energized by the interest and feedback from other educators and thinkers. I love my life, love my work, and would love to have your girls in class, send them on over to Turpin High School, room B304 and I will be waiting!

  3. Tricia,

    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time. Talking to my Eng dept. about writing and collaboration. Many are very techno-shy. I am trying to show them by using our Blog, wiki, and discussion Board tools, they too can go paperless.

    But what I really like about your post, and what I profess, sure, you are “greener” but more importantly, kids are more autonomous and they are LEARNING MORE!

    Does anything else matter?

    Nice work

    See you on Twitter

    jorech

  4. I’m trying to make the transition, too. It’s sort of necessary now, our department has no more paper and won’t be buying anymore for the rest of the year. Therefore… online tests, blogs, etc. It’s taking a little longer for my students to get up to speed, though …

  5. Got here through a Tweet by Angela. I’m a science teacher/instructional coach who absolutely loved your post. I use a private Ning for many of the same reasons you mentioned above. However, there are times I want to share what we are doing to the rest of the world. I like the idea of also using a wiki.

    What you have described is where I’d like to be in my own class by next year. Good for you! I plan to retweet this message to my PLN.

    Thanks!

    • Hey Terri, thanks for the read. I hear you on sharing the ning! I would love to but also like having a private and public face at the moment. I may go public next year and skip some of the self-intro discussions housed on ning. Stay in touch!

  6. Definitely inspiring!
    I think you nailed it on the head, we have to think about the world for which we are teaching our students. If we are not willing to embrace the technology that is all around them, we are doing them (and ourselves) a great disservice!

  7. Tricia,
    You continue to be an inspirational teacher for me. I am so amazed at all you are doing. I know the students are LOVING your class. How cool that you reach them in their worlds, using what is important to their lives, to teach content that can be difficult to convey. Love it!

    Hannah

  8. As usual, your energy and insight are amazing. I think there are a lot of teachers out there that could really learn a lot from reading your blog. Keep it up.

  9. The ideas of choice, of freedom, of comfort (if a person is uncomfortable, half their cognitive load is devoted to being uncomfortable), would seem so basic, yet so hard to get to in so many schools.

    Anyway, this is wonderful, and inspiring, and…

    When I think of paperless today I think back to William Alcott in 1842 trying to explain to teachers that using individual slates for each student (as opposed to ink and paper) encouraged effort and creativity by literally lowering the costs of failure. It has been a long, long fight. Keep it up.

  10. Thanks for that reference to Alcott. I have been thinking a lot lately about the shifts in tools and relevance over time. As teachers we demand our students change for us yet we are not always willing to change for the good of the students’ learning. I really appreciate your read!

  11. Thanks for the heads up on your post. Enjoyed reading it and applaud you for having the guts to go for it. I remember you and Marshall being the first to collaborate many years ago, so this is no surprise.

    “If you do what you have always done then you’ll get what you have always gotten.”–not sure who said that!

    The world is changing and so are the kids who come through our door. Keep up the good work.

  12. Tricia, as has been said, this is inspiring. Change needs to occur and we have to jump in and you really did. I will be sharing this on our faculty ning.

    Congrats!

    • Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to read my little blog. I continue to be inspired by the passionate, intelligent people in my learning network. Thanks for being one of them!

  13. Thanks, now I have another blog to read!

    Your ideas could have come out of my head. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about paperless in the past month.

    The problems that I have are that Ning is blocked in my district (like so many other things) and I’m in middle school. I’d love to use Google but many of my students are under 13. I just need to do more research on programs to use.

    Thanks for you posts and this blog!

    • Wow, that is challenging. I would be happy to think along with you of how to make it work. What a shame that ning is blocked, I see no reason for that at all. Thanks for taking the time to read my post…let me know if you want to connect in the future. I am triciabuck on twitter (not sure if we are followers already…) always glad to co-think, co-learn!

      • Our district uses nings and wikis, but it also uses moodle. A lot of districts have moodle accounts. Maybe she could see if her district has it.

  14. It is truly inspiring to know that this can be accomplished. It seems like it is a challenge to get to the point where you are currently, but from what you are saying defintely worth it. Congrats

  15. Wow Tricia,
    I just followed your link from the blog roll on English Companion and all I can say is that I aspire to be you.

    How incredibly exciting and dynamic your classroom must be, what a brilliant experience you are creating for your students.

    Applause, I will share this on.
    Karenne

    • Thanks for your kind words Karenne. I really appreciate your read. I am so inspired by the community of educators in my PLN, glad to have you in that group!

  16. Interesting. I’m in the middle of a paperless, learning-centered, technologically supported professional development activity. It DOES work.

  17. [...] debate in Japan « Swishing Kimonos English Courses Available Spring Quarter! « ArtsLink Paperless Tiger « buckenglish Alumnus Offers “Color” Commentary on Writing for Kids | ShelfLi.. McLeod, Susan. [...]

  18. Wow Tricia !!!
    Great idea…far from Argentinian schools, I guess.
    I live in a very small village in Argentina , an ONG provides Internet to our school, so we’re going web !!!
    Blogs and wikis and Yahoo groups are appearing.

    I found out about your blog from Karenne Sylvester, she’s one of my contacts in Facebook.

    Congratulations and thanks for sharing

  19. Tricia,
    No time to read this post, still grading papers, preparing printed copies of the conferences for parents, printing the grade report, printing more and more worksheets because 3rd grade is all about practice, practice practice and piles of PAPER! I’m up to my eyeballs in paper and don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I plan to PRINT your post and read later. It will rest on a worthy stack of similar papers. HELP! I dream in paperlessness!

  20. Hi Triica ,
    I came across your Blog by accident , but there is no accident in finding it one of the best dishes of inspiration I ever had .Thanks for sharing your so innovative ideas and thanks for not being selfish to publsih what could be private since it’s a key to success and comfort ; not many people would do that .I’m an English teacher , working in High and gunior high school , and i wonder when this refreshing wave would arrive at our doors .I ‘m woking in a very remote area where a laptop is still a luxurious tool ; only very lucky people can have it.However, these ideas of yours are going to be the starting point for my new world .Next year i will be working in a better place and i will have to be a better teacher.Thanks once more for opening this wide horizon of hope and being-better-possibility .
    A novice teacher from Morocco .

  21. I’m WAAAAY behind the point you’ve reached, and my temperament is such that my view of the way ahead is blocked by obstacles.

    However I’m making tentative steps inspired by my fledgeling PLN. As one of my students commented on the edmodo site I set up two days ago:

    “heyy,just logged on. this is proper ace. better then doing all the work on paper:)”

    Indeed, Emily, indeed!

    Take care.

    Ant (England)

  22. love this. will share.

  23. Tricia,
    One of the things I’m playing around with on our class ning is the idea that the student can choose his (I’m at a boys’ school) audience. Though it’s early days and we haven’t explored this properly yet, I think it’s possible for a student to alter the settings of a ning so that he/she shares all blog posts either with everyone or just with his/her ‘friends’, which would presumably include the teacher. Maybe this is a kind of half-way house between going totally public and keeping it entirely within your classroom walls?

    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for reading and for commenting. You are right, you can share the blogs on ning with a select group and that is great for choosing audience. I have the opposite issue. My kids’ blog posts are amazing and I’d like to share with the world. Their more private info is in responses to discussion questions and in their profiles, so I have not felt comfortable with making our ning public. I have never questioned the progressive steps I have taken with the kids, privacy is just that one gray area. Do we need it for safety? Do we owe it to the kids? Or, is there greater power in sharing everything? Still thinking…

  24. [...] found the blog by Tricia Buck, high school English teacher near Cincinnati. She’s gone to a completely paperless classroom, [...]

  25. [...] when I’ve had a little more time to use the features Edmodo has to offer, and to reflect on this thought-provoking blog [...]

    • Hey there. I love the pic on your blog and I love your student’s “proper ace” comment! Thanks so much for the read, the kind words, and the pingback. If you are interested in connecting classes ever let me know. I have seniors in World Literature right now!

  26. Wow! You rock. What an awesome, innovative educator you are. I wish my child could be one of your students. I am an assistant principal in an elementary school in Alabama. Keep up the great work.

    • Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read! I’d love to have your child, just send him/her to Turpin High room B304! Wink wink! I really do appreciate the encouragment!

  27. Wow! Your blog details exactly the type of thing I’ve been pondering. Thanks for the inspiration! What’s the rationale for having a Ning and wiki? Do you feel they serve two separate purposes?

    • Hi and thanks for the read! I have had the wiki for years and just added ning this semester. I see the wiki like my old file cabinets, always building and keeping valuable resources though interactive too. Ning is in constant motion, never stagnant and allows me to place kids easily into groups. I like the interplay of both, but if you want to pick one or the other, wiki definitely!

  28. [...] Paperless Tiger « buckenglish [...]

  29. And I thought this only existed in my dreams! Thanks for sharing your great ideas with us. I will definitely be sharing this with teachers and administrators, although we too have our nings blocked in our district. Maybe sharing this blog will get them to reconsider…meanwhile, I’ll keep dreaming and reading your inspiring words!

  30. [...] Paperless Tiger « buckenglish – Annotated [...]

  31. As a former English teacher turned administrator- I applaud your efforts and am wondering if there has been much negativity by others that you teach with?

    • Thanks for reading and for linking on your blog. I have not had negativity nor have I had a whole lot of interest either. I think each teacher is on his or her own journey and they connect with others when the time is right. At the moment, my twitter network fuels my classroom creative endeavors and offers inspiration, support, enthusiasm and that is more than enough to keep me going!

  32. Thanks for your transparency, Tricia. Caught your link from another blog, tagmirror.blogspot.com, and was instantly intrigued. Reminds me of a few educators in San Diego who integrated Google Docs, Blogs, Moodle and Wikis. The overlapping possibilities of so many technology tools that exist today seems like the “next step” for so many of us, myself included. You’ve helped encourage me, that’s for sure!

    Be sure to check out their video over at http://sites.google.com/site/goomoodleikiog/Home for more information about “Goomoodleikiog.”

  33. [...] Paperless Tiger « buckenglish – Annotated [...]

  34. “Cutting the paper has not cut the emphasis on paper writing. Essay writing skill is one of the greatest gifts I can help my students to achieve.”

    Hey Ms. Buck,
    So I took the SAT a few weeks ago (get back my scores soon) and I’m sure I nailed the essay portion thanks to all our in-class essays. We had 25 minutes to finish and I manage to finish in 20 then took some time to revise and change a few things. There is no way that I would have been able to do that before taking your class. In general my essays have become a lot easier to write. In fact thanks to procrastination I have another 3 paragraphs to write tonight for an essay draft due tomorrow :)

    Thanks for all the help in first semester. I’ll be sure to drop by before break!

  35. Brilliant and thought-provoking for my summer reflection and where to go next year in my middle school ELA classes. I have one practical idea on going paperless to share. I used the Microsoft Word “Replace” function to program in eighty or so canned responses with a quick teaching tool to place in bubble comments on students’ word processing docs. They really read these comments, as they have to respond/revise accordingly. Of course, I also add on personalized comments. But this is a time-saver and effective. See what you think! http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-save-time-grading-essays/

    Mark Pennington

  36. Going paperless is challenging, but has its own rewards. I began programming in Microsoft Word bubble comments in the “Replace” function. It sure saves time grading essays. Check out http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-save-time-grading-essays/

    • How does one do this auto commenting using Word 2007? I’m flustered with trying to figure it out. Thanks for any help.

      • Hi Ron, sorry for the delay. I do not actually use auto comments when grading. I have a tablet pc that allows me to make handwritten remarks that the students then see in a read file. I am sure if you ask for help via twitter you will find support.

      • Ron it is under the “review” tab. Just hold the pointer over each option and it will explain the choices. Once you decide how you want the choices to show up, click on “track changes”. We have folders on our server for students. I grade using the tracking option, save it in a file for each class (by student name), and then put back in their file. Students can open it and see my corrections and comments.

  37. [...] Paperless Tiger « buckenglish [...]

  38. Wow! that’s the only expression I have. I would so like to follow in your footsteps, particularly in the creation of the virtual classroom. The freedom of discussions/debates, assignments over the net seems particularly relevant in my classroom where I have a lot of teenage girls unwilling to open their mouth and voice their ideas fearing tripping over. Maybe, once they start virtually, they will get more and more confident. Hopefully,my Head of School will agree to some of your ideas and let me implement them. The skyp thing rocks, btw…..

    • I have indeed found the virtual class to foster those quiet students whoses voices are often not heard in class. Best wishes in your classroom and good luck with your innovations!

  39. Dear Tricia,

    I would love to talk to you about this more. My school in Cincinnati is going to a 1-1 tablet program next year and we are hoping to go as paperless as possible next year, but we are nervous about the changes and many don’t want to spend more time reading on their computers with vision problems already Please email me and maybe we could even get together as I live in Anderson and in fact, my son will very likely be attending Turpin next year.

    Thanks,

    Aideen

    • Hi Aideen, I would be happy to talk with you about tablet use. I love my tablet and have been grading papers today all day using tablet marks. Papers are written, submitted, graded, returned and edited all via computer and it is a wonderful thing! I’ll send an email after spring break. Take care and thanks for visiting buckenglish!

  40. I think it’s great that you are able to meet students where they are at and encourage them to use the resources that they enjoy. It has to be an asset that they can connect with their teacher at almost any time.

  41. [...] On the Buckenglish blog, the English teacher Tricia Buck asserts that making her classes paper-free has facilitated more independent learning among students. She admits that she gives up a degree of control by abandoning worksheets and handouts; however, she states that assigning her students blog entries and ning searches gives them more power to discover the types of literature they find fascinating. She gives more control to the students rather than letting all control evaporate into thin air. Buck feels that students no longer feel the pressure to leaf through books and fill out charts “with the right answers” in a classroom setting. They can browse the web for resources at their own pace and submit assignments from their homes and classrooms alike! Buck also assures technology skeptics that using web tools to digitally submit essays has not decreased the importance of writing papers in her class. Instead, digital essay submission saves paper while allowing teachers to make corrections and suggestions with quick-working tablets and emailing strategies. To read her thoughts on the subject of paperless classes, check this entry. [...]

  42. [...] more traditional methods of discussion, presentation, and writing, though not usually on paper.  Like Tricia Buck’s experiencemy class has become something less planned and more freeform.  I make certain we attend to all the [...]

  43. Reblogged this on Shellie Foltz and commented:
    Usually I try to keep my life as an educator and librarian separated from my personal and author blog; however, this is too good to let go un-reblogged.


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