Going paperless

EdTech & Design

The Power of Paperless

Why paperless classrooms are a huge help for some students, and good for everyone

Organization. Time Management. Executive Functioning. Fine motor skills.

These are common areas of need listed in Individual Education Plans. Yet figuring out how to address them is often a source of frustration for students, parents, and teachers alike. I leverage Google apps to support those areas of need and empower students with disabilities.

Facilitating collaboration and communication

Many students with special needs struggle to articulate or even recall what they did in class. For parents, logging in to my Google Classroom from their child’s account allows them to help because they can see exactly what is happening in class.

A parent of one of my students explained to me, “It is the only way I can track what he has or hasn’t done. I can ensure assignments are handed in, rather than putting the work in his binder and hoping he remembers to hand it in the next day.”

Adding the Resource teacher or Educational Assistant to the Classroom further enhances collaboration and student success.


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Differentiating instruction

Inclusive education requires teachers to differentiate instruction based on student readiness, ability, and interest. With Classroom, I assign different versions of an assignment or quiz to certain students in the same class. Only the version that is assigned to a particular student will show up in their Classroom Stream.

Supporting fine motor skill and attention deficits

Most students can write and listen, but struggle to do both simultaneously. For many students, such as those with dysgraphia, taking notes during class is a fruitless exercise. I reduce cognitive load for everyone in my class by uploading all course materials into Classroom so that students have digital copies of all notes. Students can refer to the notes during class, and again afterwards for repetition and review.

“It is fun and it reduces my stress.”

Students with language-based learning disabilities or poor fine motor skills have brilliant ideas that they have difficulty recording.

I use a simple yet empowering tool called Voice Typing to unlock the potential in those students.

This assistive technology can be found in the Tools drop-down menu in Google Docs and Slides. Students simply press the microphone icon and then speak into a headset to dictate their ideas. When I receive their work, I’m confident that I’m actually evaluating their true understanding of a concept, not just their ability to write about it.

Self-esteem, motivation, engagement, and achievement all increase dramatically as students dictate a page of text in the time it would take them to write or type a couple of sentences.

When I asked about the impact that Voice Typing has had on her written output, one of my students smiled and proudly said, “It helps me get my work completed faster,” while her classmate added that “it is fun and it reduces my stress.”

Improving organization

In my paperless classroom, assignments do not end up in the black hole at the bottom of a backpack. All course materials are accessible online on any device, at school and at home.

I do still provide the option of paper handouts for some things.

I do this because not every student has access to technology or Internet at home. Providing multiple means of representation addresses this equity issue and is a principle of Universal Design for Learning.

In Google Classroom, content is organized by topic and tasks are automatically added to a to-do list arranged by course and due date. This adds structure and routine, which decreases student anxiety. When students finish a task, they can turn in their work through my Classroom anytime, anywhere. This reduces barriers for students with executive functioning disabilities and allows me to provide timely descriptive feedback.

Google Drive has become the new binder. But an unorganized Drive is the electronic equivalent of a pile of crumpled papers at the bottom of a backpack.


So I take a little time to coach my students to effectively organize their digital binder:

1. Create folders for each subject

  • The equivalent of dividers in a physical binder
  • Every file should be inside a folder

2. Colour code each subject

  • Visual learners will associate a subject with its colour
  • Use different shades of that colour for different strands or units

3. Name files accurately

  • File name should be short yet tell you exactly what the file contains
  • Descriptive names help when searching for files

One of my students succinctly described the benefits of his digital binder, saying “I know where all my work is, and it is saved there automatically.” No more lost work.


Illustration: iStock

First published in Education Canada, March 2020

Meet the Expert(s)


Michael Pascaris

Teacher, Toronto District School Board

Michael Pascaris is head of Special Education at a high school in Toronto, where he engages and empowers students with disabilities using...

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