Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Photocopier is jammed

I really liked Jo Facer’s recent blog on ‘PowerPoint’ recently. An exploration of things we take for granted in teaching. Things we see as being a natural part of teaching, when in fact they might not necessarily be of use, value or support to learning in the classroom. I also like Jo’s approach to the tricky topic. Rather than say that PowerPoint is crap, she gently lifts the sticky plaster and slowly peals it away. There’s no sudden ripping off with plasters and inflicting pain and shock. You have to be careful with plasters; you might pull of the scab or quite a bit of hair.

So, taking Jo’s approach, I want to look at photocopying. Now, before people start attacking me with vitriol: I am a certified expert on photocopying. I have spent several years using the things and I can do several whizzy things on one. Back-to-back. Stapled. Collated. Card. Enlarged. Reduced. Right, back to my point: I think photocopying has a negative impact on teaching.

My opinion is based on serendipity. With tightening budgets, I asked the department to reduce the amount of photocopying they were doing. I applied that principle to my own teaching. The only thing I photocopied were extracts from texts, knowledge organisers and tests. The results were surprising.

Exercise books

I’ll be honest about this one. I dread picking up exercise books sometimes. Often, I feel like I am fighting a filing cabinet rather than exercise book. When looking for work, all I find is a piece of origami. Unfold this flap. Lift this tab. Turn the book on its side. Turn the book upside down. Unfold sheet. So, where is the work? Thank you - you have decided to spread the work across twenty seven million pieces of paper. Looking for progress shouldn’t be an epic journey across Mordor. It shouldn’t also be a jigsaw scattered on the floor as soon as you open the book. A jigsaw takes me a good hour to put together. Nobody is going to have an hour in your classroom to put all the pieces together and see the progress of Tiny Tim in your subject.

Annotating texts

English teachers love to annotate a text. While they read this, they probably have taken a break from annotating a text. They love annotations so much. In fact, their Twitter feed usually features pictures of annotations and kittens. If we are lucky, the combine the two and annotate pictures or poems about kittens. I am quite partial to annotating things myself, but I have always had a problem with it. We spend five years using annotating texts in English, yet, even after repeated instruction, students fail to annotate texts in the exams.

I have students who could highlight an extract within an inch of its life, yet they couldn’t tell me something meaningful about the text they have just coloured in. I dread a highlighter, for that reason. It gives the illusion of understanding, when the student knows nothing about the text. Clever people do annotate texts, but some clever people don’t.

Reducing the amount of annotating texts has made me focus more on using the texts more effectively. Reading a text is important and ‘colouring’ the text is an attempt to make the process attractive, enticing and engaging. Come on, Malcom, you know we only use the green highlighter to colour in adverbs. Annotating is not reading, so let’s not kid ourselves it is. Reading is an internal process. Annotating is an attempt to link an internal process with an external one. Two different processes.

Rather than annotate a poem, I have looked at questioning and comprehension of a text, rather than spot anything interesting you notice about the text and colour it. Yes, English lessons have gone a bit monochrome, but at least I don’t have psychedelic trips where I need to search for my glasses. Wow, I love the combination of the different colours, but what is the purpose of the poem?


Pick up an exercise and you should see work, work, work. A student comes to school to learn and develop. If I open a book, I should see work. Learning is complex and a lot of stuff happens in the brain. Learning has happened in the classroom. Now, I am not silly enough to suggest that all learning should be evidenced in the classroom. That way madness lies. But, shouldn’t an exercise book show work – the product of learning. Shouldn’t the books evidence work that a student has completed for a teacher? What does a couple of photocopied sheets tell me about the work completed?

I teach students to write and read. Surely, my exercise books should evidence the work students have done to improve these two aspects. Does a sheet stuck in reflect this?  Can I say that a sheet in a book indicates how hard a student has worked on his writing skills? A hardworking student will fill a page or sheet given to them regardless of the task or topic. A student who doesn’t work hard and doesn’t fill a page might look like they have worked hard if they have completed a sheet.

Worksheets can be of use in lessons, but the majority of time they mask the amount of work a student has done. It creates the perception of hard work. Simple question: what would the work on the worksheet look like if it was just an activity on a page? Yes, the worksheet filled a page, but in reality it is five lines of real work in an normal exercise book.   

Ofsted don’t judge teaching, but they do judge books as a reflection of the teaching. So, do the exercise books show hard work?  


Getting thirty students to stick in a sheet in a book is a complex process. I model it several times for students, but still one student stick it in the wrong place, or upside down. How much time is taken up with handing out gluesticks? How much time is taken up with handing out sheets of paper? How much time is taken up with modelling what to do? How much time is taken up with getting students to tidy up the mess?

The process of sticking a sheet in an exercise book is dead time. It is time which could be used for…ummm.. more teaching. I shudder when I have a stick something in a book time. The classroom ends up looking like an explosion in a confetti factory. We have the top set students taking twenty minute to make the sheet straight and fit the page. We have other students accidentally gluing the pages together.

Sticking a sheet in a book is never a simple five minutes.


Spot the teacher with a lesson observation. That will be the teacher with several carts of photocopying. I have in the past asked students to go to medical, so I could have a free desk to spread out my photocopying for a lesson. But, sir, I am not ill. I know, but, look I need the space: this lesson involves twenty bits of paper. And, my special colour coordinated system will not work unless I have the space.

Limiting the amount of photocopying has made my planning better. In fact, it has given me more time to plan and think about my planning more. My planning before would often revolve around photocopying. Lesson one use resource B. Lesson two use resource Y. Right, I need thirty copies of B and Y.  The planning would revolve around a resource and my photocopying the resource.

Instead, I make it fit on one slide. If I can do it on a slide, I don’t need to photocopy it.

Since reducing the photocopying, I have a fairly clutter free desk. The books look nice. The recycle bin is empty. I no longer have the end of day, week, term chuck photocopying in the bins sessions.

But, the most important thing, I am not rushing to get on the photocopier at the start of school. I don’t have to worry when scrawled on paper across the machine it says: the Photocopier is jammed.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Meanwhile my S3 class and I spent a couple of lessons coming up with ideas to CUT photocopying such as emailing the staff/pupil bulletin daily and we saved about £30,000 on our reckoning. Then the mighty Canon company pointed out that if we cut the copies they were allowed to increase the price per sheet to ensure they STILL got the same money at the end of the year. Local Council did the contract for all the schools so it then became obvious there was no point in cutting as we'd be paying the same. So much for reducing our green footprint etc. I think this is why so many use so much photocopying 8-) I now try and use knowledge organisers and create A3 sheets with everything summarised so kids can just have about a dozen sheets of stuff for all the texts. Some good stuff here - thanks

  2. It's definitely an English Teacher problem. When our finance office sent out a list of the staff members who abused the photocopiers the most, nearly everyone on there was from our department. In KS3 I've tried to move towards a photocopied booklet of texts/extracts for every kid for every module. It means that they take responsibility for the resources, and I'm not queued up for hours every night trying to work out how many copies of different poems, worksheets and articles I need for all the different classes. I really agree with you about the chaos that is created by getting the glue sticks out, and having just marked a set of year seven books for a module that didn't have a booklet, I'm baffled by the strange places that kids have stuck things. Loads of sheets are hanging out, or are several pages on in their exercise books from the learning objective for that lesson. Definitely not indicating progress!


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