Saturday, January 19, 2013

I'd like to push this photocopier right out the window

In this second post of a series on how we can re-claim time in our lives as classroom teachers, comes one of my least favorite waste of times: photocopying.  There is no bigger waste of time than waiting for copies to run (whether your own or a colleague's), or getting part way through a job only for it to break.  Thirty minutes later, you and the copier look like the guy above.  In moments like this, I want to re-enact the fax machine scene in "Office Space".  So how can we remove these daily or weekly exercises in time wasting and printer jam wrestling?

Here in QCSD we already have a multitude of ways  that traditional documents can be downloaded using Blackboard or Schoolwires. Blackboard also allows for students to submit their work (typed or other digital tools) through the grade center which organizes students submissions and allows for teachers to provide feedback to students relatively quickly and in a timely manner. We also have a suite of tools at our fingertips called Google Apps for Education in which all students grades 6-12 have access to email (they can only email teachers, not peer to peer) and the ability to create and share documents, presentations, and spreadsheets for real time collaboration.

Think of it this way. If I photocopy a graphic organizer for my students, even if I conference with students, move group to group asking questions and providing feedback, someone STILL loses access to the learning going on at the end of the time period we spend together in school.  If as a teacher I collect it to provide further feedback, the pressure is on me to return it quickly and the student might stop moving forward with their learning.  If as a teacher, the student keeps the graphic organizer, I might not have the solid evidence needed to continue to provide feedback.  Traditionally, evidence portfolio's exist in student notebooks or in a classroom spot guaranteeing someone always loses access to that evidence. Using google apps helps to make sure that the learning continues and it means that teacher and student always have access, allowing the feedback loop to continue.

  • Create a rubric that is shared by a student, a teacher, and at least one other peer for evaluation and reflection BEFORE a piece of evidence is submitted for final grading.
  • Create rough drafts that are shared by a student, a teacher, and at least one other peer for consistent feedback through each stage of the writing process.
  • Create student reflection and tracking sheets that are shared by a student and a teacher to continually monitor progress towards learning targets and promote continual reflection.
  • Create class (crowd-sourced) notes that allow for many ideas, contexts, and data points. 

And while there are certainly occasional exceptions to why we can't go 100% paperless yet, we are getting closer and closer to this being a reality.  By next year, QCHS will be 1:1 with the quality of the laptops rolling out at the Freshman Center only improving with each year.  At Milford and Strayer, we currently have a 2 student to 1 device ratio. And consider that we are a BYOD (Bring your own device) district.  If you look at the cost of a TI-83 calculator ($99) we often suggest middle school kids  purchase along with all of the other physical notebooks each year, does a parent purchasing a quality  $249 laptop  for use over several years look that expensive?  Would you rather a calculator and half written in notebooks or a laptop?

In what other ways can we avoid the dreaded photocopier? Students can take assessments via the tools inside Blackboard, SMART response or mimio vote clickers, google forms, and a plethora of web based formative assessment tools.  All of this data can be used to guide instruction and most times also allows for integration into excel or google spreadsheets (for those of you who LOVE to collect and look at numbers).  It should also save YOU time.

Many textbooks and/or curriculums are going digital these days too, meaning that we have to shift our thinking on reading. Not only by giving up physical hand held texts at times, but also at how students read on a screen vs traditional textbooks/ paperback literature.  There are advantages and disadvantages of this approach as well. Online texts tend to be dynamic, link filled, and full of images and video that can excite (and distract) at times.  I'm not advocating that we eliminate ALL traditional paperback books, only that we consider moving forward that there are additional literacies that must be considered and taught with the further integration of web-based texts.

Finally, there are other reasons why we should avoid the copy machine.  Less paper is more cost-effective, and better for the environment.  Going paperless should also drive opportunities for students and teachers to create digital portfolio's of their work and growth (ie. learning).  Already, several teachers in QCSD are exploring digital portfolio's with their students to provide students opportunities to meaningfully reflect, showcase their best work, and to show growth over time.

Of course, if we can avoid the photocopier, it also might deny us an integral part of the teaching profession: the water-cooler talk while waiting around at the copier.  For more on how to save time communicating with others, check out my next blog post coming soon.


  1. Found an app that lets you annotate right on a website knowing that I don't have an argument do I for wanting to mark the text. Ereaders will let you do the same.

  2. I'd love to see one of the digital portfolios! Looking forward to your next post.