Simplifying writing feedback

The longer I’ve taught English, the more dissatisfied I’ve become with traditional methods of “grading” essays.  Specifically, I’ve been frustrated by how hard it is for students to decipher all of the visual clutter on one page.  How do students decide what’s important?

A solution:  color blocking.

When I sit down with a stack of short assignments–or even essays–I have two markers and one pen.  

  • I first peruse the essays and decide which weak areas the class as a whole share.  
  • Then, I read the essays looking specifically for those particular weaknesses.  I underline or box those areas in orange.
  • Then, when a student has writing success, I underline or box it in green.  
  • After “markering” the essay, I give more feedback in pen on both the positive and negative areas.  
  • When I give summative comments, I have two columns, strengths and areas to grow.  All of my comments fit into those columns.

Although my comments are bare bones, ultimately, I think they’re more helpful.  (And in class surveys, students have confirmed my suspicions.) Yes, I do blast over some of the nuance of writing feedback.  But I think we as teachers can have so much nuance that our comments become dense and unhelpful.

Yes, there are times for copious written feedback, but should it be our go-to?

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