I realized something this week: I have a deep-seated, unhealthy HATRED for paper.
Forms from the office, handouts from professional development sessions, and materials that need to be sent home to families sit in silent stacks on my desk, my counters, my backpack and my floor.
And that doesn’t even include the piles and piles of handwritten assignments that my 130 students turn in each week to demonstrate mastery.
Sure I’ve got folders and binders and file cabinets all neatly labeled and at the ready, but those neatly labeled storage systems are only useful if they’re close by when papers are given to me.
And sure I’ve got a wiki where I’m warehousing digital copies of documents, but that’s only useful when someone actually GIVES me digital copies of documents – or when I can find the time to dig out my scanner to MAKE digital copies of other people’s documents.
Instead, papers are given to me by my peers in meetings. They’re dropped in my mailbox by secretaries. They’re handed in by students in the hallways between classes – and they almost never actually make it into any kind of file folder.
The whole system is so darn inefficient that it makes me want to scream. I find myself wasting the little bits of free planning time that I have wrestling with paper — and that leaves me more than a little hacked off.
But my REAL beef with paper runs much deeper. My real beef with paper is the negative impact that it has on the willingness of my students to revise their work.
Tom Whitby – college education professor and #edchat legend – says it like this:
"Word processing enables kids to write at a higher level, and they are more likely to make corrections and rewrites when using a word processor.
A word processor is not a typewriter. We write in a word-processing world and our students should learn in the same way."
He’s right, isn’t he? I mean, when was the last time that you wrote ANYTHING longer than a hall pass or a quick note to a loved one longhand on a piece of paper?
And what’s the likelihood that you’d spend any time revising work that you’d been forced to write out by hand?
Would you REALLY want to erase entire paragraphs to make small but important language changes? Would you REALLY want to rewrite an entire piece simply because one section needed revising? Would you REALLY want to find creative ways to insert forgotten content into a piece sitting on paper?
But that’s exactly what most of our students are forced to do simply because they don’t have regular access to digital tools for composing in our classrooms.
The illiterate of the 20th century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot write, erase, and rewrite. #pencilchat
— davidwees (@davidwees) December2, 2011
And that HAS to influence student choices when it comes to demonstrating mastery through a written product.
I’ve even told students NOT to make changes to work products that they wanted to improve simply because the time that it would take to rework a final piece wouldn’t result in enough extra value to be worth it.
I think what bothers me the most, though, is that struggling students – whose hard earned first drafts generally need a TON of work – are hurt more by our paper-chained world than their high achieving peers.
If it took you three hours to write three paragraphs, how would YOU react when the teacher asked you to add more detail before turning in a final copy?
For years, teachers have moaned and groaned about kids that were unwilling to put effort into revising their work.
We grumble on about the fact that elaboration and word choice and varied sentence structures are the key to being an influential writer. We plead with our students to give us just a little bit more and accuse them of being lazy misfits when they don't.
Maybe — just maybe — however, it’s time that we stop complaining about the kids and start complaining about the antiquated tools that we’re forcing them to use.
Author’s Note: I made 63 revisions to this piece in 22 minutes. Some were simple word changes. Others were more complex – moving sentences and paragraphs, adding line breaks to make this bit easier for readers to consume.
Think THAT would have happened if I crafted this sucker with a sharpened Ticonderoga and a few sheets of college-ruled?