Thursday, June 10, 2010

Providing feedback on student writing

Lots of conversation lately about a recent study showing teachers using red ink scored papers more severely than those scoring using blue ink. (Read the Boston Globe article on the topic here or the published study here.)

Essentially - three different experiments were set up for the study.  In one, volunteers read two paragraphs from an essay they were told was written by an English language learner and were instructed to mark errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar and word choice.  Half used a red pen for correcting and half used a blue pen; guests using the red pen found signifcantly more errors than those using blue.

In another experiment, students were asked to grade a one-page paper written by an eighth grader - half with a red pen and half with blue. The paper had no spelling or grammar errors but was written at a fairly basic level.   Once again, those scoring in red gave the paper lower scores than those marking in blue.

In reading the comments on the articles and blogs related to this study, many seem to feel that the papers should be marked in red.  If we don't find the errors - how will students learn? Others point to the psychological aspects of being returned a paper covered in red marks.

I have always been a fan of giving manageable feedback to students.  That is - mark them on whatever aspect of writing/content that we were focusing on and acknowledging other strengths of the paper.  For example, if we were concentrating on word choice - the greatest amount of feedback would be on that aspect of the writing. Any glaring errors, or ones that should have been "mastered" by that point, might be pointed out but the focus should be on the skill that we are assessing for.

Teaching writing is complex - which makes assessing writing complex.  The key is to make the feedback, regardless of the color that it is given in, meaningful and something that the students can use in future work.

What are your thoughts?

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