Taking it Old School: A Screen Time Interruption

For at least a half dozen years I have proudly proclaimed on my website and in webinars that I have a 99% paperless classroom, so you might be surprised to learn that I spent my lunchtime on Friday photocopying packets. My students are fatigued by the thing that used to make my classroom “cool” and different: technology. I’m not going to knock technology because I’m thankful that it has served me and my students well, and I’m sure it will continue to be a part of my teaching. However, for the short term, at least while I’m pandemic teaching, I’m moving away from computer-based activities. Here are three things I’m planning to do tech-free: 


Close Reading


The packet I just made includes a copy of Amanda Gorman’s inauguration day poem, “The Hill We Climb.” I adore this poem, and I can’t wait to show the video to my students. But I also feel compelled to give them the physical copy. I want them to mark it up with different colored pens and highlighters, to doodle in the margins. I want an experience that does not involve scrolling. We will still be six feet apart, and masked, but it is somehow different than each of us staring at our own screen. There are amazing digital activities for this poem, but I’m excited to close read it together – on paper. 




I’m going to begin journaling with my students this quarter. We are going to decorate composition books and write in them to start class. I’ll encourage them to “graffiti” it with quotes, art, song lyrics, and the like. I’m not going to have any requirements for it except that they write during our required time while I play low-fi music. I’ll post a quote, a question, or an image as an impetus to their writing, but I’m not assessing it. I’m hoping to give them some space that is truly theirs to express the emotions that we are all dealing with right now. 


How-to Writing 


In the spring, we do our “Passion Projects,” and one of the ways I introduce it is to ask them in what areas they consider themselves experts. Can they make the perfect PBJ? Can they solve a Rubic’s Cube? Can they juggle? Are they a good listener? Can they play the harmonica? We are going to do a low-tech, write the steps on a poster, presentation of something we are good at. For example, I’m going to show them how to make an origami crane which I then plan to use for an excellent bulletin board. How-to writing is difficult because as the expert you must break your writing into manageable pieces. The hands-on activity will be engaging and technology free. 


These activities are not revolutionary, and I’ve done all of them at different times throughout my career. However, I think a well-timed lesson can have a huge impact, and frankly, this seems to be the right moment to step away from the computer, recognize our talents, and express who we are. As I said, I’m not giving up on technology. But I am going to fight for some moments that feel a bit more like school. 


  1. I think it’s important to implement “Technology breaks” throughout the school day. Starring at a screen all day can be tiring, even as an adult I struggle with working on the computer for 3 or 4 hours consistently. I think it’s important to have kids use hard copies of text books/novels, actually writing notes down and not typing them and creating reflections and ideas on a piece of paper.. This kind of live interaction with material helps students retain knowledge and practice the physical requirements for learning.

  2. I think that while technology can be very cool and provide students and teachers with resources they may have never known about, there comes a point in time where paper and pencil should be still be used too. The three ideas you mentioned are great ideas to implement into a classroom where students are able to participate in class without looking at a computer screen. It is important to get them off of the computer sometimes while at school because students, especially at this age, also spend time on screens at home doing non-academic things. Being able to use both technologies when appropriate and tangible materials such as worksheets and journals will affect the students in a positive way in the long run.

  3. I agree that technology is a great tool and it really served us well over the past few years. However, you are right, it is time to get back to education as it was meant to be: an authentic and kinesthetic experience. I am writing this response months after the initial article was posted and I can say that, unfortunately, most of the schools that I have encountered are still all too reliant on the all-mighty Chromebook. Your ideas of journaling with the graffiti and close reading with the funky highlighters really triggered some nostalgia in me and I am feeling inspired to take that into the school system.

  4. I completely agree with this article. While technology allows the classroom to become interactive and engaging in a new way it can be difficult to implement all the time. I think that technology is overused within the classroom and allowing for technology breaks would benefit students. Having a strong balance between paper assignments and electronic assignments is something I want to be aware of when creating assignments.

  5. Such an interesting approach! I have yet to see a nearly-paperless classroom, but it’s so important that you’ve recognized the screen fatigue in your students. I think your students will appreciate the variety you’ve presented for them as well.

  6. I like the idea of offering students breaks in the use of their technology use. While we are moving towards more technology use in the classroom, I believe that it is important for students to have the opportunity to learn in the classic style with the use of paper and pencil. This offers them a break from looking at a screen and gives them a personal connection to what they are learning through their writing.