To Photocopy Or Not To Photocopy: That Is The Question!

Yesterday after school we had a Staff Meeting, and to get us thinking, we started with some provocations. Around the room, there were various Easter blackline masters. I didn’t get to see everything, but these included photocopies like,

  • the ubiquitous Easter Bunny Hat (of which, I can’t help but think of this amazing blog post by Aaron Puley).
  • syllable counting Easter activities.
  • various math drill sheets.
  • punctuation photocopies.

We were asked to think about the expectations that these activities met, if they addressed students with all learning needs, and how we could modify them to make them better. The discussions around the room were great, and I loved hearing the ideas that colleagues shared afterwards.

I now need to admit to a couple of things:

  1. During my 13 years of teaching, I’ve done all of these photocopied activities (and more) at least once.
  2. I really dislike blackline masters — at least now!

It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve really felt so strongly about Point #2. And it wasn’t until this year that I made the commitment to only photocopy the same paper for every child in my class if it was an open-ended, differentiated assignment. Why the change?

  • My students all have different needs. Many of the blackline masters that I’ve found are not differentiated, and so, I’m not giving the opportunity for all students to be successful. This bothers me.
  • Many blackline masters do not seem to address all levels of the achievement chart. The majority of worksheets seem heavy on Knowledge and Understanding questions, but not Thinking, Application, or Communication. I want this variety.
  • Practising skills is important, but is the worksheet necessary? Just as I struggle with too much testing, I also struggle with too many photocopies. If I find that students need to practice a skill, often I can meet these needs with game, a small group mini-lesson, or embedded as part of an open-ended activity. Why use the worksheet?

I’m pleased with this change in my practice, as I think that it’s positively impacted on student achievement: with greater understanding from all students in various subject areas. The lack of worksheets means more individualized activities, more student voice and choice, and more engagement. Reading and thinking about inquiry over the summer really helped inspire me to make this change, and I know that it’s a change I’ll continue.

Yesterday’s Staff Meeting, allowed me to solidify my feelings, and I was feeling very happy today about how things were going in this regard, until last period. This is when I cover a Grade 3/4 class for Media Literacy. Due to a variety of different circumstances, I haven’t seen this class a lot lately for media. I was excited to have the students continue working on their commercials that they began planning a couple of weeks ago.

But as I got prepared for today, I realized something: I gave every group the same planner. I expected each group to complete it in the same way and give it to me before they started their script for their commercial. Why did I do this? I think that at the time, I figured that this blackline master would help students organize their ideas, but the format didn’t work for everyone. Here I am vocalizing my support of a reduction in photocopying, and I did just the opposite for this lesson.

Now what? Today, I decided to make a change. I showed students how they could use different devices and formats to finish their plan and create their script. It was incredible to see the difference in the students! All groups were eager to get to work, and they all wrote way more than they have in previous weeks. Many groups even conferenced with me, received feedback, made changes, and are now almost ready to record. It’s not that the organizer that I photocopied was a bad one to use, but it didn’t address the needs of ALL students (including students that have fine motor difficulties and struggle with writing). Even though I don’t photocopy much, yesterday’s Staff Meeting made me further reconsider what I do photocopy.



When do you choose to photocopy? When do you choose not to? How do you make this choice? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



3 thoughts on “To Photocopy Or Not To Photocopy: That Is The Question!

  1. Pingback: EdCamp London | Teaching Math in Pink

  2. I too am not a fan of the blackline master. Being an intermediate person, I really didn’t photocopy a lot. When I did it was always the same for every student. I like how you defined the photocopying you do this year. It must meet a criteria (ei–be open ended).
    In today’s post though you wondered why you did the same organizer for all your students–even when it did not follow your rules. I might suggest it is because you fell back on old habits. You admitted not having seen the class in a while and simply did the ‘fail safe’ thing. Is there really anything wrong having something to start from? I think this is a means to reconnect with the class so you can then be reminded of who you have in front of you. Now, and you did, you can re-engage the students instead of just have the students.

    • Thanks for the comment, Tammy! This is a very interesting point. Maybe the organizer was a way to re-connect with these students. I also think that I wanted the students to organize their thoughts before starting their commercial, and I found an organizer that I thought would help. And it did help many students, but it didn’t work for everyone — this was what I needed to remember. This whole situation reminded me that as teachers, we need to continually reflect, refine, and try again.


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