When we teach without paper in a 1:1 classroom we are implicitly teaching students values about conservation, resourcefulness, problem solving, creative work flow strategies, collaboration, and digital citizenship.
Paperless is not the goal. Quality education is the goal, innovative education goes along with that. If reducing paper in your classroom moves your instruction toward a more digitally rich, collaborative and engaged space, then go for it. If eliminating paper means you show movies everyday instead of reading and writing, well, that may be paperless, but it isn't education.
- Obviously, we save a lot of paper, but we also save everything else associated with paper: printer ink, staples, paperclips, file folders, spiral notebooks, binders, and even markers. I still love office supply stores, but there is less there that I need now.
- Because my students do their work online in Google Docs I can see it anytime I need to. With a traditional spiral notebook for class notes and writing assignments I have to either look at student work while the kids are in class or collect their notebooks to review on my own. With a shared doc in Google Docs I can check on student work daily if needed. Also, I don't have to take the work away from the students to be able to see how they are doing on something.
- Another advantage of digital student work is being able to share that work with other teachers and case managers easily. Giving a writing sample to a special ed teacher for an IEP meeting used to mean finding a student's paper in my files, making a copy of it and then leaving it in the case manager's box for him or her to pick up later. Now it's a simple copy and paste from the student's doc into an email and it's done.
- My paperless classroom saves me time in lots of other ways too. I used to spend a lot of time in the copy room, as many teachers do. Now I'm not there very often and when I do go it's probably to make copies for a department meeting rather than my classroom.
- Students can't loose their work. It's always in their Google Docs and they don't have to worry about bringing anything to class that they might forget in their locker, or their car, or their friends car, or their aunt's house or any other number of places they tend to leave things.
- My classroom is also cleaner. No paper means less bits of notebook paper and other trash on the floor. The custodians love me.
- Not all students have internet access at home. This number gets smaller every year and we have great access after school in our library, but it can be an issue I have to work out with a few students every year.
- Its easier to procrastinate about grading essays when I don't have a stack taking up space on my desk. Sometimes the lack of that physical reminder that students need a response from me makes me take longer to grade work. (I vastly prefer formative assessment to summative assessment anyway.)
- Students can forget their password. This can cause a temporary slow down. Usually they can recover their password. In rare cases I've had a student create a new account and I share their work back to them at their new account.
What you need
- A 1:1 classroom is nearly essential. If you find a way to go paperless without that let me know. I'm curious. It doesn't matter if its a laptop or tablet. It could be school provided or a bring your own device (BYOD) model. However you get them get something in each student's hands.
- A robust learning management system that you can use easily on a daily basis is also crucial. I use a blog to communicate with my students, but there are probably better options for you if you are just getting started, Edmodo, Schoology, Canvas, My Big Campus etc. Hopefully your school is encouraging (and training) you to use something like that.
- A work flow that allows you to easily disseminate materials to students, collect student work and return an assessment is important to figure out. Your work flow is also something that may change. This is the place we spend the most logistical time. Its a point of friction. Everyyear I find something, either a new tool or a new process, that simplifies my work flow. Be on the lookout for things that make it easier to move information and student work between you, your students and a larger audience.
My paperless toolbox
- Google Drive/Docs: A really flexible tool for almost everything I need. I can create and publish assignments and link them on my blog, use forms for data collection and assessments, students share their work with me, groups collaborate, even my PLC has begun to use it for grade level collaboration.
- Dropbox and DROPitTOme: Together these tools make it possible to collect a file from students if for any reason I can't use Google Drive. It also makes collaboration with colleagues easier as I transition them to Google Drive.
- Goodreads: A social network for readers, my students join and keep me up to date on their reading preferences, to be read lists and book reviews.
- Socrative: Great for asking students questions quickly.
- Remind101: Lets me send my students mass text messages that they can get by text or email.
- Blogger: As our daily starting point the blog is crucial. I love the easy user interface and the duality of the static sidebar and scrolling (archived) daily posts.