Copy and paste for teachers

Photo taken from ELTpics by @mk_elt, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Last week I finally got started on grading and feedback in the latest iteration of my writing skills online course, and thought I’d do a brief post on my comment bank. Note to self: see if you can come up with a catchier title than “My comment bank”.

Last summer I was listening to an episode of the Professional Adjunct podcast, in which the hosts, Beth and Jim, discuss an article called “Ten Tips for More Efficient and Effective Grading”, originally published on Faculty Focus. I’m not a regular subscriber to this podcast, but the couple of episodes I’ve listened to have addressed various aspects of teaching online – the asynchronous kind, which I do.

When they got to point 2 – comment banks – I remember it only then dawned on me that I had in fact been creating a comment bank for a few semesters without having expressly set out to do so, or even realizing that was what I’d been doing. I mean, I teach English. I’ve used coursebooks with text banks in the back of the TB, so the concept is familiar. And yet the idea of a comment bank came as a surprise – not the I-didn’t-think-anyone-else-had-come-up-with-this kind of surprise, but more of an oh-I-have-something-like-that-who-knew kind.

I find this type of resource especially useful for asynchronous online contexts or whenever you need to give feedback on work submitted electronically. Once you’ve designed a course in an LMS that covers a whole semester, it’s likely to maintain a more or less similar structure for at least a couple of semesters. For instance, there will be a discussion forum in unit 1 – it may differ in terms of the reading the students need to do to take part, or in terms of the opening post – but they’ll still be taking part in a discussion and you’ll probably want to give them a grade and feedback on that.

I originally used to add comments under headings like “Unit 1, discussion 1” to a Word document, but after a while I switched to Google Docs as I can access the bank across devices. This morning, for example, I had an hour to kill on campus, so I used the office computer to add feedback – pretty convenient.

I have a rubric for each activity that I give feedback on, so if it’s a discussion, I’m looking for a minimum number of posts, minimum number of words per post, participation by deadline, relevance to topic – this is not in order of importance – and so I will usually first comment on how successfully the student has followed the rubric. This can be taken straight from the comment bank and requires minimal adaptation. Then, if there is anything specific to a particular student that I would like to address, I will add a personalized comment. I tend to end with suggestions on what to watch out for in the next discussion, and these are often from the comment bank as well, since they come up more often than you might expect. A case in point would be encouraging them to run a spell check on their posts and pointing them to a resource we have in the course where they can find more information on how to do that, should they need to.

A more recent addition to the comment bank has been marking sections of the text in different colors for convenience. There are at least 5 or 6 comments that I will be using and/or building on for an activity, so it’s far easier to find my way around if each is a different color. I wish I could say I was color coding them – it sounds more organized – but it’s nothing as sophisticated as that; I just mark them in different color so each comment stands out from the ones above and below.

So that’s it, really. It’s a significant timesaver, relatively simple to do – okay, it does take up a bit of time the first time around, but you’ll be tweaking it every semester anyway, so it doesn’t need to be perfect – and is very convenient if you’re doing your grading via an LMS. Plus I think it makes me look at student work more objectively and fairly, although that may just be wishful thinking.

Do you use a comment bank? Any tips you’d like to share? I’m particularly interested if anyone uses anything similar in a classroom environment.


8 thoughts on “Copy and paste for teachers

  1. Kamila

    Hi Vedrana,
    Thanks, this is very useful. I don’t teach online, but this year I’ve done lots of marking on writing assignments. I usually mark on paper because I can do it on public transport. I wasn’t very organized about it and just writing out the rubric on each paper took long. I was thinking of printing the rubric out and just filling it in for the next year. Standardised comments for objectivity sound great, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kamila,
      Thanks for the comment. I was reminded of marking on paper last semester when I had to go through 30 portfolios. I hadn’t done that in a few years and thought it would be easier to collect handwritten assignments rather than setting up a new course in the LMS for them to submit online. It seemed to take forever and was so frustrating whenever I had to write out a comment I’d made on another student’s work – which was often. I think printing the rubric out and filling it in for each student is a great idea – hadn’t thought of that. I think it would work well for that particular course so might try it out if I get to teach the course again next year.
      Re marking on public transport – I’m so paranoid I’d probably figure it was the student’s friend/relative/neighbor standing beside me as I’m marking their work. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kamila

        Hi Vedrana,
        useful advice about being more careful with people on public transport. I’ll keep in in mind. Last week I had the mock tests to mark, so I designed the rubric (very simple Word doc table), printed it out, filled in for each student, cut up and attached to each assignment. It worked bril and save me plenty of time. Now I’m thinking about adding some predictable comments and just ticking them if they apply – but that’s for the next term as this term is over on Friday! Can’t believe it went so quick:-)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Glad to hear the rubric worked so well and saved you time. Comments that you could tick if applicable sound good too. It occurs to me that if those comments were on a separate page (to the rubric), you pick the relevant ones, paste them into a new document and print out a somewhat more personalized feedback sheet (or slip of paper) for each student. It would probably be more work though. I’m looking forward to hearing how things go next term!


  2. Hana Tichá

    Hi, girls. I think your tips are great. What crossed my mind though (for a fleeting moment) was that this type of pre-designed feedback may feel a bit distant. I’m not sure whether I would like it as a student if I saw that my friend, for example, has very similar comments. Of course, I’m talking about off-line feedback now. However, now that I think about it, my feedback is not exactly personalized either. With written assignments, I usually use a grid with a few categories, such as cohesion, content, grammar, spelling, form, etc., and each student can reach a specific amount of points for each of the categories, which then make up the final grade. This makes the grading relatively fair, I think. I add a note or two if I feel it’s necessary but the comments are not very long. Anyway, thanks for some food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hana,
      Always good to hear from you. 🙂 A valid point – I’m not sure how students would feel if they were to compare comments and found them lacking in variety, but online it’s less of a concern because they can only see their own grades and feedback in the LMS. They could, I guess, share these with other students, but I have no idea if they actually do. I think it might be too much work for some. In any case, the comments are rarely entirely identical – some sections may be, but not everything.
      The grid you mention, do you print it out and tick the categories (or award points) for each student, or do you draw the grid on each student’s submission?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I literally started a document to do this earlier this week. I envisage I’ll still tweak comments to personalise them but at the same time I hope it reduces my thinking time on how to word things in a positive yet constructive way

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Elisabeth,
      Thanks for the comment. I also find the bank helpful in the way you suggest – phrasing feedback so that it is positive and constructive can definitely take up time. Thanks for bringing this up.


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