Tag Archives: evaluating essays

Getting Back Up with ESL Paperwork: Effective Solution

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There seems to be certain times during a term when we can feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork coming in. During those times, it makes sense to establish some priorities concerning how we approach “marking” the various assignments.

It’s sometimes tempting to rationalize not giving any feedback on or returning some homework assignments by thinking that there are intrinsic benefits for students to just do the exercises. We say to ourselves that it’s not absolutely vital that they get them back quickly (or even, in some cases, ever). Thus, we might consider doing a “triage” with assignments. Essays might get top priority for our time and attention with “lesser” assignments just filed away or held off until sometime in the future when we are all caught up.

Surprisingly, this feeling of being overwhelmed can actually open up a motivation to respond to homework assignments in a way that is more effective than how we would “normally” do it when we have plenty of time.

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• LINCS Topic 3: What can you recommend for offering effective feedback on writing? How can teachers manage the amount of time it takes to give feedback?

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

This posting is a more detailed response to my interview question on Day 3 .LINCS Discussion: Student-Centered Approach to Teaching Writing Skills. .

Below in blue, you’ll find the details that I’ve added to the Day 3 LINCS’ posting.

Giving feedback to students on their writing is such a rewarding aspect of our job.

However, it’s important to do it in a way that is meaningful to students yet user-friendly for the teacher. Here is how we can do it.

Giving meaningful feedback in in a manner that is time and energy efficient

In general, we’d like to give three types of feedback on a piece of writing:
1) Indicate what they did well.
2) Lead them to discover their grammar mistakes.
3) Point out where they could improve their content.

1) Indicate what they did well.

Imagine that you are a student and just received your paper with this positive feedback from the instructor at the end of the essay:

This was a good essay.  Your ideas were interesting.  You used advanced sentence styles, and some of your examples helped me understand your main points.

Will these comments actually help you, as a student, apply how you wrote to future writing tasks?  Which specific ideas were interesting?  Which specific sentences was the teacher referring to as advanced and which examples were helpful?

A time-consuming alternative that some teachers turn to is to write the comments in the margin next to noteworthy places in the essay.  The drawback to this, especially when commenting on paper, is that it is time consuming, there is little space to write them, and the handwriting needs to be clear.  Also, one wonders whether students will actually read the comments.

Before describing an easy, efficient and effective method for giving focused positive feedback, it’s important to understand the reason why we want to give positive feedback.  What we are trying to do is to encourage them to continue to use writing techniques which have made their writing assignments coherent, cohesive and interesting.

This means we’d like to point out, for example, where they have effectively used…

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• In-Class Essays: More Important Than Ever

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

As I was reading Elio’s two-page essay, I was amazed at how good it was. In fact, it seemed too good, way better than anything he had ever written.  Although I was sure someone else had written it or had given him extensive help with it, or it had been downloaded from the internet, I couldn’t prove it. When I mentioned to him that it was so different from his previous papers, he just smiled and said that he had worked very hard on it over the past two weeks.

It would be a travesty to pass a student like Elio based on his out-of-class essays (OCEs). From reading most of his assignments, I was confident that he did not yet have the skills to be successful in academic classes, especially English Comp. Also, our higher-level ESL courses would lose all credibility in the eyes of the campus if unprepared ELL students were being allowed to take their courses.

According to research, because of the ease with which all students (not only ELLs) are able to download essays and plagiarize, more and more academic instructors are basing a large percent of their students’ grades on their performance on in-class papers written under a time limit. Thus, instructors have recommended that we include in-class essays (ICEs) in our ESL courses.

Reasonable expectations for in-class essays.

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• Don’t Give Points. Give Green Instead. Save Time from Counting and Recording Points.

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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:

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