The Switch was worth it

Assignments are arranged in class folders using Classroom.Google

Assignments are arranged in class folders using Classroom.Google.

by Steve Lyle, language arts teacher, West High School, Davenport, Iowa

I haven’t flipped my classroom yet, but I did make The Switch.

You haven’t heard of The Switch? Of course you haven’t — I just coined it, simply to make what I did this year sound catchy and cool.

My major accomplishment was switching to paperless assignments, or ePaper, this school year. Instead of turning in printed pages of their essays, students turn in the electronic document. It still has to be typed, double-spaced, and include their name, rank and serial number at the top. I like the change, and so do my students. I’m not the first teacher to do this, but if you are just starting a digital classroom, these tips may help.

It was easy to switch thanks to my new cart of 30 Chromebooks that I got last September. However, I now had to figure out how to manage the workflow of digital documents in cyberspace. Enter I started using it during Term 2. I love how easily I can post assignments and handouts online. Students can submit the finished assignment to the proper folder and “Done” pops by their name. I can post their grades beside the list of names. (The downside is that my roster is in alphabetical order by first name while my gradebook is arranged by last name.)

The biggest advantage to ePapers is being able to assist students more easily during the entire writing process. If students create a class folder and share it with me with editing privileges, I can look at their progress and comment at any time. Peer editing is easy, too; they share the file with their partner.


Highlighting and clicking “Comments” takes some effort, but the ability to write legible, detailed responses is worth it.

I find that I write more detailed comments on first drafts because I have more than a one-inch margin to write. My comments are more legible, too, and I can’t spill my chamomile tea on any papers, or misplace them in the clothes basket. However, I do miss my green pen at times because it could swiftly underline a powerful passage or put a dot under a misspelled word. Now I have to highlight the text, make two clicks to get to the comments box, and one more click to post it. That’s a lot of clicking if you make ten comments on a paper.

I could mention other advantages to ePapers, such as accessibility to files from home, improving turn-around time in responding to papers and saving the life of that beautiful tree in Whispering Pines Preserve. Let me tell you about the lesser known problems of working with ePaper assignments, discovered through firsthand experience.

Don’t overextend yourself.  Trying to respond in writing to every draft will drive you crazy. After a spot check of a students’ work, oral feedback can handle the matter. Also, students can evaluate each others’ work if you give them guidelines, such as “What is clear and engaging?” and “What questions do you have?”  Students are surprisingly compassionate and supportive in their comments.

What about the district rubrics? I can’t staple the paper rubric to the students’ papers and write on it, so I had to create an online version with space for comments beside each target. I copy and paste the rubric at the end of the students’ paper and type in comments; I use Suggestion Mode to type because it is in green, like my green pen of old.

Underline mistakes. In the old days, for misspelled words and other usage errors, I would place a dot underneath the error and have students correct them when I handed the papers out. I can’t do that easily on an ePaper. Now I have to highlight the error and underline it while in suggestion mode so that it stands out in green. It takes 6 seconds of trackpad fingerwork digital compared to .06 seconds of penmanship, so that’s a pain.This is the real reason why we call it the digital age.

Keep the workflow simple. Insist that all finished work be submitted to your Classroom assignment folder. Don’t allow students to share their work with you. That clutters your mailbox and you can lose track of the assignment; Classroom won’t know that it was turned in to you.


Ok, I do use paper in my digital classroom.


Always have a Plan B. The Internet may go down when students need it most, or it slows to a creeping crawl. This has occurred about 10 percent of the time due to traffic congestion on the Autoban-width. When this happens, I pull out my Beethoven CD to soothe the savage beasts while they plead for an extension of the deadline.

Help! Occasionally you’ll be stumped, and your go-to guru may be on maternity leave, so “google it” if you have questions.  The user forums are quite helpful. When I failed three times at trying to give every student a copy of an attached file, I found the answer online: Classroom won’t give you that option once the assignment has been posted.  (I’m currently trying to figure out why that file no longer appears on some students’ computers–could it be because I altered the original file?)

Finally, using ePapers keeps my house clean. My desk is neater without the never-ending stacks of essays to grade, and my carpet does not have those tiny paper fragments that shed from papers ripped from spiral notebooks. I still have to dust and vacuum on Saturdays, though.

Classroom.Google makes keeping track of assignments easy allows students to get their assignments and return them to you as ePaper. allows students to get their assignments and return them to you as ePaper.



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