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Correct me if I’m wrong

This post has been sort of brewing for a while: since the spring of 2015 if I’m honest. You may wonder how come I’m so sure about this. It’s because at the time I was using Kaizena for feedback and wanted to write about that. Only I never did.

Handwritten correction of less to fewer
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Also, James Taylor had suggested at that year’s BELTA Day that instead of simply correcting student work, I could indicate the problem areas in the sentence and have the students do the correcting themselves. I found this idea very appealing and immediately put it into practice. I think we ran with it for a couple of semesters, but it turned out to be terribly time-consuming as I had to check every submission at least twice. Some I had to check three times because not all the students managed to do what I was hoping they would; i.e., they made a stab at correcting the error but went off in the wrong direction. I wanted to write about that too, only I never did.

In the post 7 things students expect from an online writing course (see the fourth thing), I briefly wrote about how I don’t actually do that much correcting. I’m not sure this is highly popular with students, as they’ve been taught to expect the instructor to correct their work, and there’s always the nagging feeling that they think I’m not doing my job properly. At the beginning of most semesters we discuss a couple of statements about writing as a group, one of which is: I expect the teacher/instructor to mark all the mistakes in my work. I ask the students to mark the statements as true or false and I don’t think I’ve ever had a student claim this particular one to be false for them.

I use this as an opportunity to explain that there are going to be three slightly longer pieces of writing throughout the semester on which they’ll be receiving detailed feedback and where everything that could be seen as a mistake or potentially confuse readers will be addressed, but apart from that, I won’t be correcting their grammar. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of the writing they do on the course is read by other students and I’ve always figured it wouldn’t exactly be productive to analyze to death something they’ve already used to communicate successfully.

I’ve recently completed this detailed correction for the first assignment of this semester and I wanted to have a kind of record what I do these days, both in terms of the tools involved and how I go about making corrections/giving feedback.

Since I stopped using Kaizena, I abandoned the idea of having students make corrections themselves. A quick digression: I’m pretty sure I’ve come across papers on Twitter on whether student correction of their own mistakes is effective, but haven’t bookmarked any, so please let me know if any research comes to mind. I think what I do now is fairly conventional. Students submit their work as a Word doc – or very occasionally in a different format which I then convert to Word so I can do my thing – and I upload the corrected versions of these back to Moodle when I’m done.

There are two types of interventions I do with the Word doc. If something is likely to be considered a mistake in terms of conventional grammar rules, I use the track changes option to correct this. If at all possible, I will add a comment explaining that this would be considered a mistake as far as standard usage rules are concerned. I’m not sure it’s very helpful to treat absolutely everything as fine just because it is fine in some dialect or other, although I do think students should be (made) aware of dialect differences. In my case, communication science students are generally aware of this in their L1, too, so my job is easier in this respect.

If I want to make a more general point, such as suggest that a student run a spell check on their submission, consider breaking up a longish paragraph into two or more if it seems to be addressing several ideas, or double check the meaning of a word they’ve used, I’ll add comment bubbles. I’ve done a post on a comment bank which I had – still have – in a regular Google Doc, but I’ve since come across this post on the Control Alt Achieve blog and started building up a comment bank in Google Keep, which does feel more organized. In the spirit of Sarah’s Twitter anniversary resolution, I think it was thanks to Adi Rajan that this post came up in my feed about two years ago.

Even though my online groups are small, giving feedback and correcting student work is time-consuming enough to make me want to know if there’s some kind of uptake, even if it’s just students reading my comments. When I used to ask them to correct their own mistakes, this obviously wasn’t something I worried about because they had to do it, even if perfunctorily, to make the corrections. The way I currently give feedback and correct though gives me no indication of whether the corrected version of the document has even been downloaded. There’s something I do about this in the second and third longer piece of writing (hopefully more on that in a future post) but for this first piece, what I do is include a reflection prompt on corrections and feedback in the portfolio section of the course. Not every student addresses this topic, but enough people do for me to feel that the work hasn’t been thrown away.

One other thing I should mention is the track changes option. There’s a tutorial in the course materials on how to view suggested changes if this option has been used. When I’ve corrected everyone’s submission, I post an announcement on the course noticeboard, pointing out that this tutorial is available should anyone want to have a look. (An indicator that they’ll want to have a look is if the suggested changes don’t show up for them automatically and they don’t know what to do about this.) Step two, when each individual submission is uploaded, the student is notified of this and the message says, among other things, that they should make sure to view the suggested changes – now as I write this, I realize that I should add a link to the tutorial on how to do this to the message.

The reason I mention this is that even though you think you’ve got it all covered, of course you don’t, and it is through a random comment that you realize that a student was completely unaware of any changes suggested to their text apart from the comment bubbles. Panic sets in as the idea surfaces that maybe no one has ever, in any of the last couple of semesters, seen any of the corrections. You’ve been doing it all for nothing, plus the students all think you haven’t actually been doing anything! The panic gradually fades away and you do all you can do, which is post an announcement explaining once again how corrections are made, a link to the tutorial, and a screenshot to illustrate how to access the review tab.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear how you address corrections/feedback/corrective feedback on written work, not necessarily online. Any tips?

By ven_vve

ELT, elearning, higher ed, teacher training, translation. Partial to the island of Vis since the pre-tourist era.

9 replies on “Correct me if I’m wrong”

A really interesting read- thanks for posting. At higher levels, I highlight the error and indicate the type. Students have a correction sheet (three columns: error, error type, correction). I feel it works well, I give them a time limit or say pick five errors as I don’t think they take it all in. At lower levels, I correct the glaring errors and signal one or two language areas the students need to look at and then provide feedback on task achievement. I’ve used comment banks on EAP courses and I think it’s a great idea. I keep meaning to create some for the levels I teach now. Methods I’ve abandoned include making jing video commentaries of me correcting the errors.

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Hi Geraldine, thanks very much for the comment. I forgot to mention that my students are at B2/C1. I like the idea of the correction sheet – do you then look at the errors they’ve attempted to correct and what happens if the correction isn’t what you were hoping for? For instance, if you indicate that a different tense or preposition should be used, but they use a tense or preposition that’s still not correct? I found that to be the most time-consuming part and I was also a bit worried that this would undermine their confidence and they’d remain dependent on the teacher to say what was correct (or “correct”).
I also had a semester when I recorded screencasts of me correcting – I think I used Snagit. I remember a talk where the presenter said this was much quicker than adding corrections and comments but I found it took up more time than I felt was a justified investment for something students would watch (maybe) once.

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I’m lucky that I have a small B2 class this year so I can monitor and see what they are doing while they are doing it. The students keep writing files at my academy and they should keep their correction sheet in the file, so I can also look at it when they hand that in. However, the quickest and most effective way with my teenage students is to incentivise them to make the correct correction. It’s worked well when I tell them they need to hand in a corrected version of the original piece of writing. Generally, they are good at asking when they aren’t sure but it does help that I have a small group. But, yes, even though it’s self-correction there are times when they still depend on me. I totally agree about the screencasts. Some students loved it, but a worrying amount didn’t watch them.

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Hi Vedrana,

Thanks for this interesting read. I’ve never taught any asynchronous online classes so it’s interesting to learn how things are done. Overall, I think the problems you face are similar to a certain degree. When I hand it my corrected writing, I also am sometimes not sure if the student has read my comments. What is, in your opinion, the biggest difference between marking writing in a f2f class and an online class?

In my Czech class this year, I’ve tried colour coding mistakes. I think I had grammar/vocabulary/spelling and punctuation. The students were really into it, trying to identify their own mistakes. A colleague uses a technique of putting a small dot/large dot for a big mistake/small mistake at the end of the line. These are all great strategies, but very time-consuming. So what I ended up doing towards the end of the course was have the students write texts daily, instead of randomly, and I just corrected all the mistakes I saw and handed the writing back. This allowed us to increase the amount of writing done in class, which I think did the trick. So where I am heading is that maybe people improve by writing more often, not necesarily by the feedback they receive.

I’d be interested to know whether people really learn from their mistakes, because I did a little action research project recently with my Czech class, which consisted in putting back the diacritics in a simple sentence three times a week. I thought the students would have got better by the end of the project, but the improvement wasn’t as optimistic as I had expected it.

Another thing I noticed is my students’ writing got better after we started our library project and they began reading regularly. However, that is just my impression and I can’t prove it in any way.

As always, thanks again for a great read and looking forward to more posts from you! Cheers.

Kamila

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Thanks for the lovely long comment, Kamila! The biggest difference between marking writing in F2F classes and online? When I taught F2F I used to collect handwritten assignments (we’d insist they be written out, btw, because otherwise we’d just be making life easy for those who plagiarized). I’d either correct them by hand and this would be terribly tedious if there was a lot of repetition (and there frequently was) or, if I wanted to say more than just correct mistakes, I’d do the correcting on the piece of paper the students handed in and would add longer comments in Word, print the page out and tuck it in their portfolio. I think I was more prone to praising and giving positive feedback if I could type it out because the writing stuff out by hand just took too long.

Online I don’t do anything by hand, so in theory it’s faster although I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to spend more time looking over what I said than I probably should. I guess an important difference is that F2F, if I notice a mistake has come up repeatedly, I can easily address it with the whole group in our next session. I’m not saying tech shouldn’t be used for correction/feedback if you’re teaching F2F – I remember we used Padlet in a F2F presentation skills course and students who didn’t have time to (or for some other reason couldn’t) present in class made a short recording (3-5 mins) and the other students and I gave them feedback and suggestions for improvement on the Padlet wall.

I’m interested in what your colleague does re big/small mistakes; how does (s)he categorize the mistakes as big or small?

I think you make a very important point when you say that students improve (faster?) as a result of writing more rather than having their writing corrected. The correcting I do is as little as I can get away with, given student expectations. Also, because we’re online for the whole semester, I think if I didn’t do any correcting they might think I wasn’t reading what they’d written.

Did you blog about your action research? Would be very interested to read more. I think I said on Twitter that Croatian has comparatively few diacritics compared to Czech, yet some L1 speakers of the language often have problems with them. My suspicion is also that their accuracy would improve if they read more.

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Great blog post, thank you. Just to add to some of the comments, I’ve also used screencapture software to record the marking process, including a running commentary to bolster any written feedback that is given. Although generally well received, it’s time consuming and I’m still in two minds whether it’s no more them a novelty which only the most discerning really appreciate and benefit from.

For adult learners, I ask for their work to be typed- it’s easier to mark and looks more professional than squeezing comments into the margins or trying to write footnotes.

I often add hyperlinks which learners can follow to give more analysis of a language point than I would be able to succinctly make in a comments box. This is easy to do and has been generally well received.

I feel constructive feedback alludes to something rather than states what the issue is directly. This means I try to avoid reformulating an utterance as nothing is really learnt from this. Instead, I try to raise consciousness but hinting what it might be. If the learner wishes to know more, they need to click the link to a page which deals with the point in detail. I agree with you that there is some expectations on what the teacher should be doing when it comes to correction but without some scaffolded challenge we are merely proof reading.

The other thing to mention is too much is overkill and will likely deter. This is why we should hold back and balance our comments with positive aspects and words of encouragement.

Once again, thanks for a great post!

– Olly

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Hi Olly, thanks for the comment! Agree with the point that work that’s been typed out is easier to mark. Often it’s easier to read as well. I remember a couple of semesters ago a student left a comment on another student’s journal entry saying that this was the first time she’d been able to actually read what he’d written because it was online and thus not handwritten.

The other point you make re balancing correcting with positive comments is very important. This is an area where I feel I could put in more effort. I do try to always include an overall positive comment or encouragement on a general level, but I think I should try to single out specific aspects for praise as this would probably be more useful. Thanks once more for stopping by and sharing your views.

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