Monday, January 18, 2010

Saving Trees and the Quality of Student Writing

Hello. My name is Kim Yaris and I am a paper addict. I recently went through the files sitting on the floor next to my desk. As I peered down at the pile I had made, I saw that I had wasted what easily amounted to more than a ream of paper. Gazing at that pile made me think about the number of trees I personally have been responsible for killing. The guilt was overwhelming. While I take some solace in knowing that I have been faithful about recycling over the years, clearly, I need to do more to reduce and re-use. But what?

And then it occurred to me.


When working with young writers, I have traditionally instructed them to draft on yellow paper and publish on white paper. Somehow, I have expected that the colors alone will signify when to be messy and mark up your work and when to take great care and be neat. However, children have enlightened me. A clean sheet of paper is a clean sheet of paper no matter what color it is. To them, when you write on a clean sheet of paper, it’s done.

And that’s when I realized. What if they wrote on the backs of all of this paper that I’ve been wasting? Clearly, a piece cannot be considered finished if it is on the back of a used sheet of paper. So I tried it out with students in second, third, and fourth grade. I instructed them to write their drafts on my used paper. While a couple complained that they couldn’t write without lines, for most, no lines meant messier work which meant all the more reason to revise. They willingly added, deleted, and moved around their words. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not witnessed it over and over in classroom after classroom. But it happened. I re-used my reams of wasted paper and reduced the use of yellow lined paper and in the process, I transformed children’s openness to revision. Wowie, wow, wow. Who would have thought a simple change could get such a big result?

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