I have always been a tree hugger, both literally and figuratively.
Three years ago when we began our iPad initiative my technology goal was to go paperless over a three year period. Predictably hippie of me, eh? I wanted to phase out paper completely by the end of THIS school year. I have been toddler-stepping toward that goal ever since.
I deliver almost all handouts and assignments digitally through email, this blog, Twitter, and now most prominently, Google Drive. Students complete and submit most of their assignments digitally. The first year the students did so hesitantly and with raucous complaint. The second year it was about half and half. Half of them preferred to submit things digitally and half of them preferred the old-fashioned way of doing things. This year students almost exclusively hand in their papers digitally, without much comment, though we do struggle with a standardized process. And there will always be Luddites, even young ones, who just want to etch their responses into a stone and call it good, (or at the very least use a pencil and paper).
All through this process I grappled with the best way to deliver feedback to students. I struggle with feedback as it is. I have still not mastered a balance between high quality AND timely feedback. The students get one or the other for me. The closest I can get to providing both is the oral feedback process I started experimenting with back in 2013, but that still isn’t ideal.
Before I use technology in the classroom, I ask myself these questions: 1. Will it help my students learn new information that will help them in this class (and life)? 2. Will it help my students learn or strengthen a skill that I want them to have? 3. Will it serve to build or strengthen my relationship with my students and/or their parents? If I can’t answer YES to at least one of those questions, then I most likely won’t be using it in the classroom during instructional time.
So, at the beginning of this school-year, as I reflected on years one and two of my three-year technology goal of going paperless, I asked myself, Why am I going paperless? Is it going to help my students to become better readers, writers, researchers, speakers, or thinkers?
Is it going to strengthen my relationship with my students and/or their parents?
So, why did I go with this goal in the first place?
Aside from the idea that going paperless seems like the environmentally responsible thing to do, I am big into the idea that if I ask my students to do something, I should be doing it too. I’m very much against the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, so I feel like I’m letting my students down when I insist that they submit their work digitally, but then I print off the assignment and return it with feedback written with a pen. I don’t why I feel like I’m letting them down and I have not once had a student say, “Gee Mrs. M. I was really hoping that this feedback would be written in digital ink,” so I guess I’m sort of making an assumption about what constitutes “letting my students down.”
I have taken numerous stabs at downloading every students’ writing assignment to Goodnotes and delivering painstaking feedback with my finger, a stylus, or a keyboard, and every single time I try it, I give up and print it out. Usually, by the time I break down and hit command+P, I am so flummoxed that I wait to give feedback until later when I’m in a better mood (and thereby deliver feedback much later than I intended) OR give rushed handwritten feedback that is simply not up to the standard to which I hold myself. I did successfully deliver quiz feedback via Goodnotes and Google Drive this quarter and that felt like a minor victory to me, but again, not one single student said, “Gee Mrs. M. I truly appreciated that you returned this quiz to me digitally and that you used your stylus to write your explanations for why this answer needs work or how wonderful my response was.” (Not that students are known for giving such feedback to teachers anyway. Ha!)
So, am I attempting this goal for environmental reasons? (Sort of. Okay: Yes.) And, am I failing the environment if I continue to print student work and write my feedback out long-hand in ink? (Probably not.) It depends on who you ask. I read an article that said that really it’s not the paper-making process that’s environmentally problematic; it’s the fact that we humans don’t recycle enough of it. Now that my school district is recycling again (YAYZ!) I feel a little better about this. It seems that I should spend less time feeling guilty about things and more time reflecting on why I do the things I do. After all, I’m into the third year of a three-year goal and this is just now occurring to me … ??? (Did I just admit that aloud? UGH. True confessions.)
One of the most important things we do at the classroom level is give students feedback, so if my goal to become a paperless teacher is impeding this important thing …
I have decided to rethink my goal.
My new and improved revised goal is to run a mostly paperless classroom in which the teacher delivers high quality feedback in the most timely manner possible, even if that means sometimes printing stuff off and writing the feedback with a pen. My goal will be to use paperless methods where it makes sense and works well for all parties involved and offer alternatives when it doesn’t work well for someone (be it student or teacher). I will use paperless methods when it makes sense to do so and not just for the sake of going paperless.
The other good thing about this revised goal is that I’ve already met it! (Pretty tricky. I know …) I feel that I’ve succeeded because most of my information level and activity level handouts are digitized and students are successfully navigating Google Drive, Goodnotes, Twitter, and their blogs to give and receive information. And, my lack of success in delivering digital feedback 100% of the time has given me another lesson in empathizing with the frustration students feel when they have to turn in work digitally and struggle with it. And I don’t think there’s such a thing as a teacher having too much empathy for her students.