Filling in the Margins

Recently, I suggested that if you ask students if they read your comments, you'd find out that more than half of them don't. I was talking with a colleague, +Layla Helwa  last night who said the exact same thing. The students check their grade – and put it away! All that work never read, all that work for nothing…and as we increasingly move into paperless digital management systems, I expect even fewer students are reading teacher comments. If they aren't reading it on papers handed back to them, they certainly aren't going back into an LMS or Google Classroom or eBackPack to find what you've written.

I don't have easy solutions to this, though I do have some ideas.

1) Consider audio feedback. Record your feedback. Some of our marginalia is hard to follow. And while some of our savvier students will know the traditional symbols and shortcuts we use, most won't. I know that I've had students thinking I've been agreeing with them when I've tried to point out agreement error.
Do you really think a student is going to read any of the comments
accompanying this or any grade below a B for that matter? Where is
the learning? 

2) Insist that students rewrite. I have a colleague, +Jeanette Kelleher, who lets students rewrite for a new grade as many times as they want. You want to have students learn from their mistakes, here is one way.

3) When I taught middle school language arts, I had students keep an errors sheet. I made a deal that I would usually correct only two things a paper and never more than three. In return, they had to add these corrections to their error list and check the error list before submitting new assignments. They were not allowed to make the same mistake twice. The error list was part of the portfolio and turned in with the folder containing the newest assignment. By the end of the year, I'd have 40-50 errors students would repeatedly check for. This took some work though it was highly effective. I wouldn't add misspelled words to the list. However, I would add errors such as its vs. it's. 

4) This suggestion doesn't solve the short term problem and good teachers do this to some degree. I encourage you to be even more intentional. Keep track of common errors and frontload the instruction next time; whether that next time is the next week of the next year's students. 

5) Use portfolios to promote self-reflection. Make the students responsible, at least in part, for deciding how well they are learning. It's a weird game we play if we step back and think about it. We don't really ask them how good they think their work is. It is almost as if some of they are saying, "I don't know how good this is; here, you decide." 

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