Paper has been a hot topic in my school lately. There is much talk of rationing and finger pointing as to who is responsible for overuse and waste, but perhaps this is just the call to change we need?
I often tell my history students that America has a long track record of both innovation and laziness. We make awesome things that change the world but usually only after we have traveled down all paths of least resistance and blown through what we assumed to be inexhaustible natural resources along the way. Many educators are resistant to change and we hold on to the status quo until the bitter end because the tried and true will always be with us and who has time to learn new ways of doing things anyway? What does any of this have to do with paper? Maybe a short-term inconvenience can be just that push you need to evaluate your practices, take assignments online and stop running reams of paper through those oh so dependable copy machines.
Think about the last 500 copies you made. What were they for? What did that assignment accomplish? How many ended up on your floor or are still haunting the wire baskets underneath your desks? How many are you still hounding your kids to turn in? I have to admit, I fail this litmus test. I have a lot assignments on paper that don’t need to be. I still struggle against the worksheet demon on a regular basis. I tell myself that these are useful tools that will get the students to read and understand the content, that the important part is the process of completing the assignment not the finished document. Try though I might, all my kids care about is turning it in and will use all savage means at their disposal to get it done and off their radars. More often that not, both sides see these assignments as proof of work, not proof of learning. In the end, I end up speed grading a stack of kindling. Even if the kids are honestly working their way through the questions, are those questions you really wanted to ask or just the ones that were already available?
How can we change this? If your school is like mine they have invested heavily in a Learning Management System (LMS), or online learning environment, and are begging and pleading with you to use it. This does not have to be done overnight. I am in the process of dropping those tried and true worksheets and creating assignments in Canvas (my school’s LMS) for my students. One of my recent favorites is dropping various media into a quiz for my students. I can upload a video clip I would have otherwise shown on the big screen and have kids type in their responses to a writing prompt even give them a quick battery of multiple choice or matching questions. Now I am asking my questions and pushing their understanding while no longer carrying around three inches of notebook paper. All the quick formative assessments I didn’t give before because I didn’t want to waste an entire sheet of paper on or sort through are now easily accessible and I can type back a quick comment or response. I can set up assignments so that they are only accessible during class time or can be finished from home. Yes, there has been a learning curve and yes, it has taken a fair amount of time to set up my new assignments but once upon a time it took me a while to create all those paper assignments too.
I will never be able to break up with the copy machine altogether, but the more I work to reduce my paper consumption I also find myself rethinking and improving my lessons and assignments and am finally starting to meet my students in the digital world in which they live.
Today's thoughts are brought to us by Mr. Andy Lawrence. Andy is in his 4th year teaching US History and Sociology at Pike High School following a nine year stint in middle school. He also coaches baseball, has an encyclopedic knowledge of princess movies and Kidz Bop music thanks to his daughters, and believes that the completion of all household chores becomes bearable with the addition of an audiobook