While working at my computer, I heard my officemate, Nadya, sigh. She had a stack of homework papers that she was in the midst of marking, counting points and recording. She told me that she was starting to feel burned out from all the paper work and wondered if I felt the same.
She showed me how she was evaluating her students’ homework. They had written 10 items, and next to each one, she had written points. For example, a 2/2 meant that the student did that item correctly, a ½ meant it wasn’t completely correct, and 0/2 meant it was completely incorrect.
That morning she was in the process of (1) totaling the points, (2) writing a score at the top, and (3) recording the scores in her grade book. She said that she didn’t have time to write anything more specifically about the reason for the points on the students’ papers.
I then showed her a set of papers that I had recently marked. I don’t write points next to each item, but instead, I marked each with green or blue. Then I explained that by doing that, I’m able to specifically reinforce what they did correctly or point out what was incorrect. At the same time, I don’t need to write and record points, which saves me a tremendous amount of time.
Here are samples of our different approaches to marking assignments:
Nadya’s “points-style” marking
My “color-style” marking
The green shows specifically what the student did correctly on an item, and the blue indicates a mistake. After I return the papers, students revise anything marked in blue and show me.
The purpose of marking assignments
For Nadya, giving points was a way to make sure students did the assignments and helped her decide what grade to give students for her course.
For me, using colors was a means for skill-building in that it helped students notice precisely what they had done correctly and to encourage them to use those skills in the future.
Common question about the “color system.”
Question 1. What happens if a student doesn’t do an assignment if you don’t give points?
Answer: I have found that students will do assignments if the purpose is clear. (See • If You Want To Really Motivate Your ESL Students, This Will Do It. ). A great incentive is if they can see that they will be developing a skill that will help them perform better on the culminating tasks. These tasks can be an essay or paper written at the end of each unit.
I also tell students that I won’t mark their next paper/essay (with colors that indicate their strong points, mistakes and places that need more details) until they have completed all assignments. (See • ESL Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique ) This has proven to be an effective motivator for 99% of the students.
For courses that include a panel, I tell them that won’t show their papers to the panel if they haven’t completed all their assignments, or I tell them that I’ll tell the panel about their study habits, which could influence the panel’s decision. (See • User-Friendly Writing Panel Process: Time and Energy Efficient And Effective)
Question 2. How do you decide students’ final grade for the course if you don’t give points on assignments and don’t record them?
Answer: In ESL, we are teaching skills, so it would seem to make sense that the grade should be an indication of a student’s language skills. Anyone looking at a student’s grade, for example, their next-term teachers, administrators, and even potential employers, should be confident that a student with a high grade has met the skill-standards for that level. It would be deceptive to give a high grade based on assignments completed rather than skills.
The best indicator of a student’s writing skills is how well they can write paragraphs or essays or other types of papers. Thus, for courses in which students receive a letter grade, using some kind of scoring rubric can help the teacher make a fair assessment of the student’s writing skills. (See Sample Rubric)
On the other hand, for Pass-Fail courses, a panel approach is ideal. For this, the teacher consults with at least one other teacher (preferably one who is teaching or has taught at the next level since they would best know whether the students have the skills necessary to be successful at that level.) In brief, the teacher shows the panel the paragraphs, essays or papers of just the students whom he or she is not sure should pass or repeat the courses. Together they decide what level would be best for those students during the next term. (See • User-Friendly Writing Panel Process: Time and Energy Efficient And Effective)
In sum, we can greatly reduce our paperwork load, save our energy and still motivate students to complete their assignments and provide them with meaningful feedback.