Musings about the photocopier

How my reliance on the grey goddess changed over the years…

Some of us are old enough to remember the delivery of the first photocopiers into school. That was a technical revolution for sure. This revered machine superseded the purple splurdgy banda sheets that were the memories of primary school days. The joy at being able to produce a class set of sheets in such a short time, without being left purple by the experience was every teacher’s dream. 

The photocopier was used carefully, with respect and every avoidance to cause any woe with a paper misfeed. You really didn’t want to be the teacher who jammed the copier and wrecked everyone’s week whilst the repair man scheduled his visit. 

The photocopier repair man ought to have been on the payroll. He was revered as much as the machine itself amongst staff in a way the leadership team could only aspire to. He was actually the one who solved all our problems and made life better despite leadership attempts to tell us otherwise. Photocopiers are a teachers best friend except for the untold stress they create when they are out of order or when there is no A4 paper to be found  and teachers start to sweat and panic showing actual diagnosable symptoms.

The copiers tended to become part of staffroom culture, the central meeting point, the rush hour hub of the school. Timing your trip to the photocopier was in itself an art form to make sure you had a good clear run. We knew our way around those machines as we became copier engineers in our own right, we handled paper jams, low toner, we could back to back, collate, scan and turn the simplest sheet into award winning booklets; all whilst simultaneously dealing with playground issues, marking and slurping coffee.

Some schools have whole departments for reprographics and whilst teachers moan and groan and complain bitterly about their photocopying loads, they secretly prefer to do it themselves rather than hand it over to the reprographics team. That team, try as they might, do not ever quite meet the high demands of the copying pros secretly disguised as teachers.

I have spent my fair share of time hanging around those copiers, until the last few years when I started to notice I didn’t really visit the copier at all. We were lucky to have a TA pop in on the first morning of the week and check what copying we needed. She gave up visiting after a few weeks as I had nothing to offer her.

I thought about why my trips to the photocopier were so dramatically reduced and realised it went hand in hand with the way I had adapted my practice. Each child, for instance, had their own set of 0-9 number cards and I regularly used these for children to generate their own maths questions to solve. If we were looking at the concept of addition, we would share some examples of addition, we would work in groups to unpack and observe all the things we noticed about the function of addition. We would generate some ‘rules’ we could create about addition and then, using our number cards, we would test out our own rules and see if they worked. I found that this approach led to deeper understanding of the concept, they naturally stumbled across issues such as the need to carry over  or the correct setting out of the place value and then wanted solutions, they collaborated, shared tips and felt ‘in charge’ of their learning. Invariably, they would create much more demanding addition sums than I would have given them. When I shared this snippet with colleagues one questioned how I marked the work and didn’t it take longer? I guess the marking did take a little longer but it was more interesting, insightful and informative, and I had saved time in prep and copying.

I am getting carried away, I enjoy teaching this way and ultimately, it led to not needing worksheets, hence the lack of trips to the photocopier. Similarly, I moved from formal comprehension tasks to creating comprehension tasks as a gallery walk around the class. We would share a text, the questions would be posted around the room and students would walk around, adding their impressions to the sheets. They were only allowed to add something that wasn’t already there, forcing them to read each other’s thoughts and develop understanding of the text. It was non-threatening, effective and had no photocopied sheets. In terms of evidencing the learning, we would post the gallery sheets in the class, we would photograph them and add to digital portfolios and we would recognise that as well as deepening understanding. we were learning to manage our time and communication skills along the way as well as noticing the power of learning from one another.

I have many photocopier memories over the years but I urge you, next time you head to the grey goddess, pause for a moment and think about the pedagogy. How could the learning be achieved without the trip to the copier? 

Your planet and your pupils will be grateful.

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