Pen and notebook

There is no magic EdTech wand you can wave to make your students become better writers. The way to become a better writer is by writing. In my last post, I calculated that the amount of time required to grade a class-full of essays was overwhelming for most instructors, and noted that this could result in students being shortchanged.

In the spirit of being a constructive critic, rather than simply complaining, here are some of the ways that I cut down on my marking time for post-secondary students of varying experience and ability levels.

  1. I always give a full comment at the end. Sometimes this is quite full! Why? Because in my classes, students are not supposed to be learning grammar; they’re supposed to be learning how to think. I need to show them that I’ve thought about them thinking.
  2. I use symbols in the margins that link back to the full comment. For example, “in the area on p. 2 where I put a **, you make your best case by linking primary and secondary material.” Why? Because examples help consolidate learning, and I prefer that the examples come from the students’ own work to facilitate replication.
  3. For papers with poor grasp of grammar and mechanics, I copy-edit only the first paragraph, and refer students to a writing center. Why? Because that shows them that I’ve noticed — but again, teaching grammar is not my job.
  4. Having said that, if there’s an easy trick to remember the mistake (“would you say "the monster ate I?”), I write it in the margin. Why? Because my feedback is usually faster than the writing center.
  5. I use a combination of short-writing and step-writing assignments, with only one big paper per year. Why? Because then I can guarantee turnaround in less than a week — usually between class meetings. And students still have their work somewhat fresh in their minds.
  6. I require one rewrite, and the rewrite requires a cover page explaining how the student addressed my concerns. Why? Because that way, I know that the student has read at least one full comment — and I can make sure that my comments are understood.
  7. Marking is best done in line, on transit, and before meetings. Why? Because (as I say in #5) I require short assignments — this way, I can make the best use of otherwise idle moments!

Those are my major strategies for marking; what about yours?

About the Author: Jaclyn Neel is a visiting Assistant Professor in Ancient History at York University in Toronto, Ontario.