looking good on paper: it’s overrated

When it comes time to edit essay drafts and final copies, many of us prefer a clean paper copy to work with. We are used to wielding red ink pen (I used to use green ink if only because it wasn’t red!), flipping pages back and forth, circling, underlining, making notes in the margins. We prefer it because, despite the hassles of handling mounds of paper, we were trained to do it this way, we’re used to reading paper, it works for us, and it has always been thus.

However, reading and editing on paper does not work for our students; they do not prefer it. They know they are entering a world in which paper is not the primary method of conveying communications. For as long as we can remember, the tools of school, with the exception of the telephone, have also been the tools of business: pens and pencils, typewriters, paper. No longer. The tools of business are computers and cellphones, merely peripheral tools in the school setting, unfortunately.

Printing a paper copy of an essay is an extra step done at the teacher’s insistence, not a necessary step in the business of their lives, and our students know it. Think about the reports and essays that get to you late: they were left at home, in the car, the printer ate them, assuming the printer worked at all.

I’ve ‘collected’ Beowulf essay rough drafts from my students, and I’ve completed some basic copy-editing, utilizing those familiar tools, highlighters and green ink. Students will make the necessary corrections and ‘turn in’ a clean copy for a final grade. Check it out. No, it won’t have the crisp feel of white paper.

And that’s the way they prefer it.

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