Marking written work can be incredibly time-consuming, and it’s disheartening when you see the students glance quickly at your detailed comments and put the piece of writing away in their bags never to be looked at again.
So, what can be done to a) reduce your workload as a teacher and b) encourage students to actually learn something from your feedback*?
We all know that it’s important to get students to take responsibility for their own work and many teachers use a correction code to encourage students to self-correct. This can be useful, but you still need to be selective. Too many corrections/comments can lead to the student feeling overwhelmed and demotivated, and/or the student not knowing which of these areas are high priorities.
- Choose one or two areas with the whole class that you will focus on for this set of written work only. For example, if it is an opinion essay, you might choose to focus on text organisation. Or you could choose a grammatical area, such as articles, that the whole class finds difficult. Instead of the teacher choosing these areas, you could negotiate them with the class before they start or after they have written the work but before they have handed it in.
- Ask students to individually select two areas they want you to focus on as you mark their work. They could either write these at the bottom of their work, or highlight sections that they don’t feel as confident about.
- Focus on just one or two (anonymous) pieces of work that you look at with the whole class. Take it in turns so that everyone has this opportunity. Especially with a monolingual group, it is likely that many of the issues will be the same for most students.
- Just correct one paragraph of each student’s work. Then ask them to self-correct anything similar in the rest of the piece.
Of course, with all these approaches it is important that the students understand that not highlighting something doesn’t automatically mean that it is correct, but that you are being selective.
Set aside time for students to respond to and act on your feedback
In the UK this has the lovely acronym DIRT (directed improvement and reflection time). If we don’t want our carefully thought through feedback to be ignored, DIRT is vital. However, it is unlikely in most contexts that you will have sufficient class time for students to sit and re-draft the whole pieces of work in class. Again, be selective.
So, if you have just marked one paragraph, students could work on that one paragraph in class, and then look at the rest at home. Or, if you have just marked errors with articles, you could write a selection of errors on the board for the class to correct, and then ask students to correct just one paragraph of their own work in class. Or if they have asked you about a particular section, give them time to work on rewriting that section in class, in response to your feedback.
Once students are familiar with the DIRT technique, you can write DIRT activities on the bottom of their written work. For example, ‘Find at least three sentences where you have used ‘and’ and ‘but’ and change them to use more complex linkers’ or ‘rewrite paragraph 3 and make sure that the tenses are used correctly.’
Extensive feedback that students do nothing with is, quite frankly, a complete waste of everyone’s time, so why not experiment with some of these ideas?
*Of course, feedback is not only about pointing out what could be better, and it is also important to point out what went well.
You can find another post on written feedback here: