Technology has changed the way we do everything: how we think, communicate, and how we relate to the world. So it's no surprise that it's changing the teaching profession as well. Although many teachers have stuck to paper and pen when lesson planning, more and more teachers are using online programs.
After 15 years of teaching, I switched to planning online, and next year I'm going to use an online program to record grades. Here are my thoughts and experiences with both.
The Multiple Uses of Paper and Pencil
For years, I used pre-formatted notebooks for my lesson planning, filling them with tips about behavior and classroom management. They were easy to use and organized in a way that took very little customizing to get moving at the beginning of the school year. I could erase and change lessons simply, and the format was spread out so that I could look at a week in its entirety with ease—love it.
I also liked that I could staple a class roster (complete with contact information) to the inside of my lesson plan book. If I needed to remember any memos or other important deadlines, I could attach those as well. It wasn't just my lesson plan book—it was a notebook and a scrapbook where I could keep ideas and reflect.
Making the Switch
Eventually, I found the pull of collaborating with an online lesson plan book too tempting to ignore. If I wanted to share a week's plan with a student teacher, colleague, or an administrator, it only took a few clicks. If I wanted to check my plan before I got to work, I only needed to log in. Making changes and aligning lessons with Common Core and other required programs got easier as well.
While I miss the scrapbooking feel of keeping a physical lesson plan—and I don't reflect upon last year's plan as much as I used to—when it comes to collaborating, online programs, such as Canva, can't be beat. Plus, I can always create online documents to host my ideas and memories.
Keeper of the Grades
When it comes to grading, I've used both handwritten grade books and created my own online grade books with Excel. Not only are grade books the keeper of your students' performance (and possibly their fates), they're easy to use—just copy in your roster and away you go. When you have all the grades in one place, it's easy to check what assignments are missing, which students are consistently doing exemplary work, and who needs help. It can also be powerful to walk around class with a grade book in hand, checking work and talking to students about their grades.
So why am I switching to digital grade-keeping? Because it's easier to maintain these records online. Plus, many programs are incredibly flexible, so you can import the grading your school uses, weight different assignments depending upon their importance, and print out student records to share with parents. (While it's possible to do all of that with paper and pen, it certainly takes more work!)
I still go old-school when I create a classroom roster, check work, and share grades, but I transfer that information online to save time down the road.
One caution: if you do use an online grade book, don't use students' full names. Many districts prohibit student information from being recorded online.
Is One Really Better than the Other?
Neither of these options is intrinsically right or wrong. What works for you at this time in your career is what's right. My first year of teaching, I had to turn in my lesson plan book for the following week every Thursday by 4:30 p.m. to my principal. She'd return it by 3 p.m. on Friday, covered in sticky notes with recommended changes and praise. That process taught me how to plan. I still have that lesson plan book, and I look at it sometimes to remember my first year teaching and everything I learned. So even though I'm making the move to tech-based lesson planning and grading, I'm grateful to my background in good, old-fashioned paper and pencil record-keeping.
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If you're interested in a tech solution but aren't sure where you start, see what your colleagues are using. When it comes to choosing a platform or program, it depends on what interface works for you, what type of system you use, and what tools you want. Try a bunch and see what functions best in your school setting and for your particular needs. And if paper and pen hold your heart, then don't fix what isn't broken! It's your classroom, after all.