How to Organize Teacher Paperwork In the Classroom: A Guide to Online Workflow Tools

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The average teacher works  53 hours a week, at great cost to her health and happiness. Given those conditions, who hasn’t dreamed of waving a Harry Potter wand to make classroom paperwork organized and frictionless? Insta-organization, alas, is never the province of mortal teachers, but making satisfying progress towards learning how to organize teacher paperwork is possible, and, frankly, it’s not an option in this new digital age.

While dozens of productivity books focus on accelerating email and grading, there is less emphasis on how to applying efficiencies to collecting, organizing, planning, and distributing common learning materials: handouts, flashcards, forms, worksheets, advance organizers, short readings, mind maps, graphic organizers, tests, rubrics, and newsletters. In addition to suggesting ways to optimize that workflow, this post answers the following questions:

  1. Do e-texts improve comprehension and learning compared to printed texts?
  2. How can digital versions of common classroom materials improve upon print versions
  3. What are the 2 best tools for collecting, organizing, and sharing curriculum?
  4. How can you speed up your e-paper workflow?

 

DO E-TEXTS IMPROVE COMPREHENSION AND LEARNING COMPARED TO PRINTED TEXTS?

David Allen, the grandfather of productivity and author of Getting Things Done, asserts that choosing between digital materials and paper can be decided by asking one question: “What is your purpose?”

For teachers, only one purpose should drive their choices: advancing student learning.

Digitized texts don’t always serve that mission. Notably, comprehension degrades when teens read texts from screens. Researcher Anne Mangen, who has studied this phenomenon, offers an explanation: “Turning pages is tactile and provides a kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading” and aiding internalization of content.

These limitations are not severe enough to warrant the banishment of classroom e-texts.  Despite the comprehension advantages of print, students should be encouraged to interact with digital texts for these important reasons:

  1. Digital texts are the future. Interacting successfully with digital texts will remain an expectation of most jobs.
  2. Digital texts make differentiation easy. The reading difficulty of free e-texts published by the Smithsonian Tween Tribune and Front Row can be adjusted when teachers click on high, middle, and low Lexile levels that accompany each article. Other online readings can be simplified by pasting the text into Text Compactor, or by suggesting that struggling students identify the most important points in an article by pasting it into Open Text Summarizer.
  3. Many digital texts are free. Paper and book bindings are expensive and fall apart with use. Meanwhile, digital texts last for eternity and can be accessed from free online libraries—a boon to kids living in poverty.

Finally, learners must negotiate multiple literacies. That can only occur when teachers introduce students to a variety of digital and print genres in order to prepare kids to thrive in the 21st century.

HOW CAN DIGITAL VERSIONS OF COMMON CLASSROOM MATERIALS IMPROVE UPON PRINTED VERSIONS?

There will always be some advantages to teaching with paper materials. Papers and pencils never have to boot up, after all. But judging by the well designed apps listed in the chart (Figure 1), digital versions of common curriculum materials are increasingly interactive, engaging, collaborative, and valuable.

Tool CategoryToolsBenefits
WORKSHEET CreationGoogle Docs, Google Templates & Cognito Forms Customizable, includes spelling and grammar check, can link to media.
FLASHCARD CreationQuizletIncorporates visuals and allows teachers to configure online flashcards into a games.
CHECKLIST CreationTickTick & Remember the Milk Available on all devices and can link to supporting materials
DIAGRAM AND MIND MAP CreationBubbl.us, Gliffy Diagram & Google Drawings Offer real time collaboration from a distance. Lets users insert photos and links.
POSTER & GRAPHIC ORGANIZER Creation AutoDraw, Canva & SumoPaint
Offer pro level design templates, tools, and functions that are not easily duplicated with physical tools.
NOTECARD CreationPadlet & Lino
Upload multiple file types, embed web content, offer collaboration in real time, and shareable.
TIMELINE GeneratorsTimeToast & Capzles
Fast, easy to edit, collaborative, and includes visuals.
QUIZ Makers Go Formative, Socrative, & Google Forms
Can grade automatically.
RUBRIC Creation Rubistar, General Rubric Generator, Rubric Maker, Alice Keeler's Google Sheets TemplateCan create rubrics quickly and are easily editable for re-use.
NEWSLETTER TemplatesMailchimp, Canva Newsletter Template, 99 Designs, MS Word, PowerPoint & Email on Acid
Offer impressive design templates and easy distribution to parents.
PARENT COMMUNICATIONClassDojo, Remind, & KinvolvedMore effective digital communication, so you don't have to send so much paperwork home with your students.
Figure 1 Common classroom documents can be digitized and enhanced via user-friendly apps.

 

E-texts provide features that are too expensive or impossible to duplicate in the physical world. But given the convenience of paper, it is likely to remain a staple schools for some time to come. Ultimately, teachers can, and regularly do, employ both digital and printed curriculum materials for teaching and planning.

TWO AWESOME TOOLS FOR COLLECTING, ORGANIZING, AND SHARING CURRICULUM

For half-a decade, I have used two robust tools to instantly capture digital and paper instructional resources. Both tools allow me to access curriculum materials from any space with wifi. They both also all me to print or post materials for any device a student might use.

These tools, Evernote and Google Drive (with Google Docs), offer unparalleled storage, retrieval speed, and many additional functions. For in depth feature overviews of these tools, watch the Evernote Beginner Tutorial and the Google Drive Tutorial.

In the next sections, I’ll focus on my favorite features of these tools, specifically those that support my planning and teaching workflow.

How to Organize Teacher Paperwork In the Classroom

Every Saturday, I spend a few hours scouring databases and websites for powerful teaching and learning resources. When I find a useful PowerPoint on linguistics, a powerful scene from “A Doll House” on YouTube, a copy of Updike’s “A&P,” or a handwritten model essay, I use one of five methods to store each resource in Evernote. I can…

  1. Forward an email and its attachments to Evernote using my unique Evernote mailing address.
  2. Highlight an entire online reading or just one section before clicking on my Evernote browser add-on: Web Clipper.
  3. Drag a file from my computer desktop to my Evernote app icon.
  4. Use a scanner with an automatic document feeder to digitize handwritten or printed texts and then drag an entire folder of texts to the Evernote app on my computer.
  5. Or I can take a photo of anything with the Evernote app on my smartphone.
Evernote class notes paper upload
Figure 2 An Evernote screenshot. The cloud-based note was uploaded to the cloud when I photographed my paper notebook via the Evernote app on my smartphone.

During my conference with a student this morning, I used my smartphone’s Evernote app to blast a photo (Figure 2) of a page from my bound journal to Evernote’s cloud-based storage. If I need to access the note later this semester, it is searchable by “Travis” or today’s date. Evernote also backs up my Rocketbook Wave Smart Notebook–made of reusable synthetic paper that erases handwriting when inserted into a microwave oven. After deleting notes from the Rocketbook, a digital, searchable, record of each note lives in the cloud forever.

Evernote excels at retrieving stored files. That’s because I tag each note with two or three keywords (Figure 3).

Evernote keyword tags
Figure 3 I input keyword tags so that I can find the resource by category if I forget how I’ve titled the document.

Here’s where the Evernote-assisted researching and planning workflow magic begins. If I find a useful resource for next year’s writing course, I tag it with the future course’s name and date. Months later, when I start updating the course in earnest, I will search Evernote for “Composition Fall 2019” and instantly retrieve all the archived resources tagged with that description.

Let’s say that I begin to design a week-long grammar module for the course and want to access all the grammar resources I’ve ever saved to Evernote. I type “grammar” into the tool’s search field and all 420 of my saved grammar lessons and resources appear in chronological order (Figure 4). Even if the article has disappeared from its original website, I still have a copy saved forever.

Evernote keyword search
Figure 4 A keyword search locates all my “grammar” resources saved in Evernote.

Since every saved resource (called “notes”) has a unique URL, I can email a student writer who struggles with comma splices a link to my saved PowerPoint presentation on comma rules, or give her access to multiple files by bundling them automagically with Evernote’s table of contents feature (Figure 5). Students can view these resources in the cloud or download the files to any device.

Evernote table conents organizer
Figure 5 Evernote’s table of contents quickly organizes links to multiple notes. Invite students to access all the files organized in the TOC by clicking “share.”

My favorite way to organize materials for student consumption, however, is via Google Docs organized in Google Drive; these tools offer better and faster control of design elements than Evernote, Wikis, or web creation apps.

On the first day of class, I show students that they can access every document related to the course through a single link that takes them to a Google Doc called Monolink. In fact, every class document I’ve created going back for six years is accessible through that one link (Figure 6). Course materials include syllabi, class agendas (Figure 7), assignment descriptions and rubrics (all created with Google Docs), and links to readings and videos stored in Evernote or located online.

Monolink course organizer
Figure 6 My “Monolink” is a single Google Doc that organizes every course-related handout and resource I’ve created since 2012.

This flexible organization pays off every day. When I notice an error in my online agenda during class, I make a quick edit in real time. If a student asks me what he missed while sick with chicken pox for two weeks, I tell him to find everything he needs on the Monolink. When my disk drive pancaked twice in one semester, I simply borrowed a laptop from the media center and accessed all my materials online without a hiccup.

When planning next year’s courses, I can just update the dates on the syllabi with all the links from the Monolink, to the embedded syllabi, to the agendas, to the assignments, to the readings, and to all the other materials remaining intact. Day-by-day, my entire digitized curriculum infrastructure fulfills its purpose: advancing student learning a bit more. I can’t wait to see what it all looks like—and feels like—for learners in a few years.

Online student organizer
Figure 7 Each class seen is accompanied by an online agenda created in Google Docs that I project onto the whiteboard. This agenda serves as an advance organizer for students and provides links to content-related materials

In Conclusion

Given the relentless expansion of planning and paperwork responsibilities, teachers can benefit from experimenting with apps that are more impactful to students and are easy to integrate into a personal-professional workflow system. Even though e-texts degrade comprehension when compared to print, students need to experience interpreting and working with digital texts–as well as shifting in and out of digital spaces. That literacy is unequivocally critical to success in the 21st century. While many tools can help teachers plan, teach, and manage paper and e-paper, I can strongly recommend both Evernote and Google Drive/Docs for optimizing your classroom-material workflow. They will not disappoint.


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Todd Blake Finley, PhD, is an associate professor of English Education at East Carolina University and an assistant editor/blogger for Edutopia: George Lucas Education Foundation. He has taught elementary and 7-12th grade English and co-developed the Tar River Writing Project. In 2014, he was selected as one of the Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers and again in 2016 by Cathy Rubin for the Huffington Post. His free education newsletter comes out every Monday. He can be reached on Twitter at @finleyt

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