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:
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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?
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.
(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?
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.
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: