Before my second year of teaching, my principal suggested that I pilot a class set of 35 Chromebooks in my ninth- and 11th-grade English classes. In exchange for exclusive use of this Chromebook cart, I agreed to provide professional development on the Google for Education platform to the rest of our small staff and to simply use the devices in my classroom every day.
I was ecstatic about the possibility of transforming my classroom into a nearly paperless learning environment. I knew the potential for creativity, differentiation, and student-directed learning that one-to-one Chromebooks would offer my teaching, and I was lucky to have an administration that supported experimentation and innovation.
However, with more than 80 percent of my students qualifying for free and reduced lunch and a majority lacking access to computers at home, I worried about the feasibility of training them to use technology effectively. I didn’t want the introduction of technology to derail the respect and order I had worked hard to establish in my diverse and sometimes difficult classroom.
With no other teachers on campus using either Chromebooks or the Google for Education platform, I found myself a paperless pioneer. Over the course of that first year of going paperless, I learned the following lessons about how to restructure my teaching to integrate technology and meet my students where they were.
1. Begin with low-stakes activities.
“Technology hates me and I hate it,” one 11th-grader, Nick, immediately blurted out when I introduced the Chromebooks to my class for the first time. “Why do you feel that way?” I asked him. “Because I can never figure it out and then it makes things harder for me and then I usually fail,” he explained. I knew I needed to combat this mindset of fear often associated with using technology for academic purposes. I decided to create a few low-stakes, content-light activities designed to get students used to the routines of the Google for Education platform.
I began with a paper-pencil scavenger hunt, which required students to navigate through my teacher website, the school website, and my Google Classroom, in order to find and record various information. Students gained experience with functions like posting comments, accessing online resources, and checking their grades without having to worry about digesting difficult content. Moreover, the fact that the actual assignment was still completed on paper and turned into the bin on my desk at the end of the period allowed reluctant students a smoother transition into the paperless world.
The end of the scavenger hunt brought my students to a Google form posted in my Classroom stream. This form asked students to rate their ability to use different technological applications and gave them a space to share their opinions about the prospect of a paperless classroom. Through this activity, Nick was able to voice his fears about technology in a Google form and yet complete the assignment using technology successfully.
2. Teach to no more than four students at a time.
When it came time for the first big project using technology — a group Google slideshow on an assigned literary movement — I wrestled with how to teach every student in my classes the skills needed to effectively create and collaborate in Google. I knew from experience that direct teaching even simple tech skill to the whole class could quickly become disorganized when students got behind or misunderstood directions. I decided that rather than teach to the whole class at once, I would teach the basic Google skills to small groups of three or four students over three separate class periods.
I set up all students with traditional paper-pencil textbook work on their assigned literary movement. I knew my students could all do this activity without my help and with few questions, and that it would also provide important content for their slideshows. Meanwhile, I led a few students at a time through the specific tech skills I needed them to know for their project on their Chromebooks. By teaching tech skills to no more than four students at a time, I was able to keep my class organized and occupied while giving explicit instruction and personalized attention to small groups of students.
3. Seek help from three resources before me.
Even once Nick became accustomed to using Chromebooks in my classroom, he still raised his hand every few minutes with a question for me about how to insert a video link or how to find a document that had gotten “lost” in his Google Drive. His constant questions made me realize the value of allowing students to work together when using technology. Using the “three before me” rule, which asked students to consult three other resources at their fingertips before turning to the teacher for help, I shifted my class culture to an environment focused away from me and toward each other, books, and the internet. Students were always allowed to collaborate with one another and were encouraged to search for their own answers using both online resources and their peers, rather than relying on my answers.