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Make Time to Teach:
Ten Tools
For Reducing Paperwork

What happens when paperwork starts to crowd out time with students? Is there a way to streamline the forms that can take over a teacher's life? Educator Brenda Dyck has found online tools that help her reduce paperwork and give her more time to teach. Included: Practical Web sites designed to save teachers time.

They say a teacher will never forget his or her first class. That must be true, because 28 years later, I still can picture those students' faces. I can still recite many of their names and recall many moments of learning that we shared.

It is also amazing to me that, after all these years, the call in my heart to teach is as fresh as it was when I met that first class in 1974. I am as excited now as I was then when my instruction and my students' understanding collide!


Sadly, however, I get a sense that now an intruder threatens to sap my passion. I worry that the intruder might prevent me from putting as much energy as I can into creating lessons that energize me and engage my students. That intruder is paperwork.

It seems to me that paperwork has slowly crept into my daily life at school -- and now threatens to overwhelm it. With its roots firmly planted in the soil of accountability, I find I am spending more time than ever filling out forms in order to fulfill expectations from all levels of administration. Sometimes the weight of that paperwork is unbearable.

Recently, I talked with a group of teachers about the mind-boggling mountain of paperwork that comes our way. These teachers came up with more than 75 ways that paperwork intrudes on their lives. With all that paperwork, I wonder how teachers find the time to teach!


Thankfully, a handful of free online tools have come to my rescue. Those tools have helped streamline some of the most tedious paperwork tasks that get in the way of one-on-one time with my students. They have helped me bury some of the paperwork. They have helped me focus on my "soul mission" -- connecting with my students. Best of all, those tools enhance my instruction time by helping students reflect, organize, and think in new ways.

Learning Checklists
This practical learning tool scaffolds students as they learn to take responsibility for their learning. It enables me to create customized checklists that I can print for student use.

Just when you think you've seen everything, the Web comes up with another powerful learning tool! Blogs provide a place for students and teachers to "think" online -- separately or together. The Blogger Web site provides space for journaling, organizational thinking, locating research sources, having classroom discussions, or even publishing student work.

Rubistar's easy-to-use template helps teachers create curriculum-specific rubrics in a minimum amount of time. The rubrics help define assignment expectations for students and they speed up the marking process for teachers.

Paperwork Doesn't Work!

Teachers listed 77 paperwork tasks that intrude on their actual teaching. Those include:
* Giving and recording assessments.
* Filling out student behavior logs.
* Maintaining a "parents to call" sheet.
* Writing action plans for failing students.
* Sending home discipline notices.
* Writing lesson plans.
* Updating the homework log and homework hotline.
* E-mailing parents.
* Replying to e-mails from parents.
* Writing a monthly newsletter for parents.
* Inventorying textbooks.
* Updating the attendance register...

And the list goes on! How much of this mountain of paperwork is familiar to you?

This online survey tool provides a way to find out what students, parents, and peers know and think. The survey results arm educators with data to adjust and improve instruction and communication.

This site offers a fun way for students to create research organizers for reports and projects. It is a great tool for guiding student thinking.

This practical Web site turns word lists into customized word search, crossword, and math puzzles. Puzzles can be saved in a "custom account" to be retrieved later.

This site not only organizes favorite Web page bookmarks, but it creates special topical folders for students to use as they research specific topics.

The Connection Cube
Helping students make connections between what they already know and new learning is one of the most important things teachers do. This online tool helps students connect learning to new contexts.

Laura Candler's File Cabinet
This site provides a variety of practical forms that can be used in any classroom.

About the Author

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda writes a "HotLinks" column that is regularly featured in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.