Practically Paperless

The idea of going paperless, or even practically paperless, in the classroom makes a lot of teachers – and parents, too – nervous. In my own attempts to use less paper this year, I have discovered that the students do not seem bothered by it at all. In fact, they appreciate it, especially the more disorganized among them.

From a student perspective, there is always an extra-copy of hand-outs available, it is nearly impossible to lose things, and if you do misplace something, you have a handy search box to help you find it.

I find myself both wary and excited about the potential for a near-paperless classroom. My fears simply stem from a residual distrust of technology that I find gradually diminishing the more I work towards my goal. I love using technology, view myself as reasonably adept at it, and like to experiment with new uses in the classroom. However, a fear that my computer will spontaneously lose all of my hard work nags me from time to time.  However, be smart, back-up your work, teach your students to back up theirs, have a contingency plan, and those pesky fears should gradually be abated.

There are a number of reasons to pursue a practically paperless classroom.

1.  The benefits for helping students with their organization we have already discussed.

2.  Students are receiving training in communicating and managing resources in a technology-rich environment.  They will encounter similar environments in college and the workforce, except that they will most likely be expected to already have an understanding of how to be productive within them.

3.  As a teacher, you can take more of your resources and grading piles with you to more places.

4.  Students find technology rich lessons engaging.

5.  With such a wide variety of presentation and assessment options out there on the web, differentiating instruction becomes more manageable.

Now, I understand that different levels of “going paperless” are going to be reasonable for different school environments.  Schools that are limited in their access to technology will not be able to implement everything I have outline.  However, I’ve tried to come up with some modifications help such school better use the resources they do have.  If you have ideas for increasing technology use in a technology-limited environment, I am sure your comments would be greatly appreciated by both myself and other readers!

In the meantime, here are some ideas to try if you are setting your own “practically paperless” goal.

1.  The Flipped Classroom:  Especially for student bodies who may not have easy access to computers or the internet at home, try a modified version of classroom flipping so that non-technology based lessons might become more home-based to allow maximized computer time at school.

2.  Use web-based services to manage the “paper” load so that documents can be accessed both at school and at home.  I like using Drop Box for keeping track of student work.  I pair it with the DropItToMe service, and now I can access work that students have submitted from any computer.  By having my students save their submitted work based on a period-name-title (ex: 2_Smith_Mythology Essay) formula, submitted work is automatically organized for me, first by period and then by last name.  Easy access to my files and automatic organization leads me to prefer this method to email submission of work.

2.  I have my students organize their work using the Microsoft OneNote program (Software Website).  If you are unfamiliar with it, this program works just like a binder.  Each notebook can be customized with tabs and document-like tabs are stored within each tab.  I use share a notebook with students over our school server as a means of passing out handouts, sharing links, etc.  Students keep their own notebooks for my class to house their personal notes and work.

3.  Blogs!  Writer and Reader Journals have morphed into blogs in my classroom.  The theory and practice remains the same, except now they have an authentic audience of peers sharing with them and providing motivation.  Student blogs also provide a nice window into our classroom for the parents.  I plan on writing a post detailing my students’ use of blogs in the classroom next week.

Below I’ve linked to other websites an blog posts that can help you go paperless.

Scholastic Classroom Solutions: Going Paperless

The “Teach Paperless” Blog

The Free Technology for Teachers Blog

Thoughts on a paperless classroom (and OneNote) from the Cool Cat Teacher blog

Another Cool Cat Teacher blog post (She’s on a roll!)

From the education blog of my grad school Alma Mater – USC! “Visions of the Future Classroom”

If you have any questions, please let me know!  You can leave a comment or use the “Contact Me” page.

If you have any great paperless comments or ideas, please share!  Collaboration is wonderful.

Happy Teaching!

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