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.

  7. I also like the “old school” of using paper. I assigned a reading one day on the computer. Even with the new tech way of digitally highlighting was available, I could see students struggle. So the next day I printed off the copy. When I took a survey, students agreed they prefer the paper. The other reason I like paper is so many of our students still don’t have internet access at home. They can’t get the work done if it’s on the computer. Since going paper, I can tell that much more students are actually participating in discussion. When the computer comes out, they can’t help but start checking their emails, listen to music, or play games. It’s a huge distraction.

  8. Technology breaks are important for everyone not just students. It has been hard with the rise of technology in schools and in online learning to get these breaks but I like the way you are doing it. I also feel like pen (or pencil) and paper is a way for students to connect to their writing and projects more than online!

  9. It is a surprising truth that, although most students view technology as one of the most engaging learning resources, many require “breaks” from it throughout instruction, especially now post-lockdown. I agree that incorporating paper activities is an excellent way to respond to this preferential shift and “break up” the routine. Moreover, I believe the idea of “close reading” as described in the article is an effective way to get students actively interacting with text and reading it with a specific goal in mind. Finally, the daily journaling plan is a great method to enhance students’ general opportunities to write in the classroom, providing them with a “low-stakes” medium to express their thoughts without the added pressure of strict assessment.

  10. I love the idea of technology breaks. I actually prefer to do activities on paper than do impromptu discussion boards online. I love the idea of journaling. I think that especially for me as an upcoming Secondary Social Studies educator, if I give them a question relating to the unit we are on and provide them a few minutes to jot down their thoughts and feelings on it, I believe it will give them the time to truly express themselves.

  11. Tech-free activities are so important for students especially when they spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer. Technology breaks in the classroom can give students a moment to re-center their focus instead of having to stroll, type, and click all throughout their class period. I also loved the idea of decorating notebooks in class and letting students choose how they want to decorate them.

  12. I’m glad someone else out there is doing technology free activities. While it is a great resource, an overreliance on the technology along with the lack of moderation has made it difficult to truly assess student knowledge since they can just look up all the answers. Also, this may be anecdotal, but by the end of the day I see more students with headaches, and I think it may be because they use the computer too much.

  13. I think technology free activities are actually very beneficial for the student. I see students all the time who hate doing work online at this point because that’s all they really get to do. I think technology free instruction could be very engaging for students who are looking for something new.

  14. While technology is a super valuable tool for our students to use to aid them in their educational career, it is easy for it to get overwhelming. As a college student, I am constantly on my laptop in order to get my assignments done. While this use to be the more “fun” homework, I now look forward to reading a physical book instead of a digital one. This is how our students feel as well. It is so important to utilize technology as a resource but not overuse it.

  15. Coming from someone who was a junior and senior during the midst of a pandemic, I can say that as a student, screen time was something that was out of anyone’s control. Now that we are starting to return back to normal, being able to limit screen time is an important thing that teachers need to keep in mind when giving their students assignments. Technology has been a great tool, but sometimes having students take a break from technology based learning and repaing the rewards of technology free learning can be a great thing for both students and teachers alike.

  16. I think that technology is something that is useful and can help in many ways with teaching, especially in today’s world. However, I do agree that it is important to get students away from technology at times to have a break and to get into a creative space. From my experience of technology use in school, technology use can be draining and make it feel like what you are doing is pointless or tiring.

  17. Coming from experience, allowing students to do all of their work from a device doesn’t work. They need a break in screen time.

  18. It’s obvious that our students are in a tech world, and as teachers, we need to balance screen time with other activities. This post really puts words to the need for a serious discussion about kids and screens. Generation Alpha is pretty inundated with tech and it would probably help to focus on equaling things out. The pandemic definitely exacerbated the problem (with no fault to anyone) but we now need to correct the course. Whether it’s high school or elementary school, the constant distractions are damaging education. Teachers should be using tech as a tool, not competing with it.

  19. I really connect to the need for limiting screen time. It was really hard to avoid extensive screen time during the pandemic but now that school is back in-person, we need to go back to balancing out technology and other activities. Teachers at every grade level are competing with tech for kids’ attention and it’s a battle that teachers will lose without more support. Tech should be a tool not an opponent in the classroom.