Tag Archives: evaluating essays

ESL Writing Workshop: Tremendous Benefits for Students and Teachers

Blog Workshop Cover Shot

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

In this YouTube video, I describe the Writing Workshop Approach to teaching ESL writing skills. This approach has been successfully used by a large number of teachers. Some of the many benefits include motivating students by giving them autonomy and allowing teachers to conference one-on-one with students during the class time rather than outside class.

Here is the link to the YouTube video:ESL Writing Workshop on YouTube

Here is a link to where you can read more about the steps in the workshop approach and find a specific model lesson plan with free downloadable exercises/activities.

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When Marking Only Half of a Student’s Essay Makes the Most Sense.

Editing student

I learned an important lesson from one of my Writing class students. I originally thought that AJ was a pretty good writer, but the grammar on her second essay was a disaster. In class the next day, I showed her paper to her with all the grammar mistakes coded and asked her if she was surprised by them. With a look of embarrassment on her face, she said she wasn’t surprised because she hadn’t taken enough time to edit her paper.

This story about AJ is connected to a common myth about marking grammar on students’ papers: Students will feel discouraged if they see that they have a lot of grammar mistakes. Contrary to this myth, when I’ve asked students, “Do you want me to mark every grammar mistake on your essay or only the most serious errors?” I have found everyone has responded, “I want you to mark them all.” 

(See Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers for more about my survey of students’ attitude.)

However, the idea of marking all the grammar mistakes can present a dilemma for us Writing teachers. Are we just enabling students like AJ by, in essence, becoming their personal editor when, in fact, they could have found the majority of those mistakes on their own had they taken the time to proofread the essay?

(See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills for more about marking students’ grammar mistakes more effectively.)

This is how my experience with AJ changed how I approach marking grammar on essays.

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Common Teacher Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers.

I conducted a survey of 26 students to find out how they felt about getting red marks, which indicated grammar mistakes, on their writing assignments.  I was motivated to do this after some colleagues had told me students get upset or dejected when they see these, so they only marked a few mistakes, and one even changed to a different color, thinking that, like her, students associated red marks with something negative.

Three types of marks on students papers

When I give students feedback on their writing assignments, I want them to notice three things:

  1. Good writing points.  These are ideas, details, examples, expressions, sentence styles, grammar that they did well.  I underline these in GREEN to indicate good.  (See Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique  for more details.)
  2. Weak grammar points.  These are grammar mistakes or wordings that they should revise to improve their papers.  I try to indicate these in a way that seem like a puzzle that can be stimulating for students to discover. I use RED to indicate these.  (See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills  for more details.)
  3. Places to improve content.  These are places where students could improve their papers by adding details and/or including examples. I use BLUE to indicate these.    (See “Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays and The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates for more details.)

The survey question to students: If you could only have one type of mark on your papers, which one would you choose?

Color code survey

If those colleagues who thought students were upset by red marks (grammar mistakes) were right, then it would seem that the students would not choose that option, and in fact, probably prefer the Green (good parts) option.   Spoiler Alert: that didn’t happen.

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Saving Mental Energy: Give Two Grades on Essays

Thinking

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) Essay Evaluation Form

Imagine that you read Mari’s essay in which she developed her ideas exactly the way that you had hoped she would.  But her grammar was very weak and even caused some confusion.  You are torn about what grade to give her.  You know that her grammar skills are not strong enough to succeed at the next level, so you don’t want to mislead her.  But you also don’t want to discourage her since her content was so good.

What grade should you give Mari?

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Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills

editing with codes

Learning to be a self-editor

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Some student’s reactions to this technique that teachers use to mark their assignments:

“I like this technique because it helps me apply what I learn to future writing.”
“This technique makes correcting essays like a puzzle.  It’s actually fun.”
“I’m not stressed when I see red marks.  I know that it’s going to be an interesting challenge.”

Because this technique gives students a chance to discover their grammar errors, we have found students have greatly improved their self-editing skills.  And self-editing skills will be of great value to them as move beyond ESL courses.

Here is a description of the technique along with a handout exercise that will introduce students to it.

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Pleasures of “Marking” a Stack of Essays (Flow)

Joy

Feeling euphoria from flow

Early in my career, I had a whisper conversation with two of my novice colleagues.  We had often heard several of our other colleague lament the fact that they had just picked up a set of essays and would have to spend several hours marking them.  To them, it seemed drudgery, and they assumed all of us felt the same.  In private, the two novice colleagues and I were a bit surprised and relieved to find that we actually enjoyed the process of marking our students essays and giving them feedback.  We weren’t weird for feeling this way.   Over 35 years later, I still find this a rewarding experience.  One of the reasons is that it allows me an opportunity to experience flow.

A well-known research psychologist, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (he has humorously explained that his name is pronounced “chicks send me high”) has described this state as having several characteristics.  Amazingly, in our job as ESL instructors, we often get to experience this.

Look at what happens when we are checking a set of essays and how that activity can lead to the euphoric experience of flow:

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“Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays

Surprised

“Wow!” can be expected from professional writing not students’ writing.

An English Comp instructor told me that after reading a student’s essay, she wants to think, “Wow!  These are amazing ideas.”  I’ve also met ESL writing instructors who also looked at her students’ writing in a similar way.  She wanted them to write about “something significant.”  She wanted to be entertained.  She wanted to learn something new.

Actually, those are not what we are trying to accomplish in our ESL writing courses. And even if they were the goals, how could they ever be honestly evaluated?  I’ve witnessed a conversation between two instructors in which one of them was in total amazement about one of her student’s essays.  In it, the student, who was African, described how happy the people in her village were and how people there did not experience depression even though they were some of the poorest people on earth.  The other instructor yawned and said, “I already knew all that.”

After I read an essay, I might say, “Wow!” but it’s not because of the student’s profound ideas.  It’s because s/he used a technique in a way that really help explain his/her idea.

What we’re looking for in essays is how well they are using writing techniques.  These are tools that we can teach students, that they can apply to other writing tasks, and that we can evaluate.

Needless to say, we don’t just list the techniques and expect students to apply them.  The art of teaching ESL is leading students to learning the techniques so they can have them available in their “tool box.”

Here a just a few of the writing techniques that we can teach our students:

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