Myth #1 - "Grading" papers means marking all the grammatical errors.
Although some students can sometimes learn to identify their own grammatical errors when teachers exhaustively mark those errors, most students don't learn to edit through teacher marking. Moreover, fixing grammatical errors is often the least important element of what students need to learn to become better writers. Marking errors can be exhausting, and given the payback, it just isn't worth the time. Instead of marking all errors, experts in responding to student writing suggest these guidelines:
- Keep in mind the distinction between "the big picture" and sentence-level or editing responses. Students are likely to pay much more attention to comments about their ideas or the structure of the paper and will generally overlook editing responses.
- Consider a 4/1 ratio: Four global comments for each mechanical correction. If you're spending only a few minutes on each paper, then you might not even get to the one mechanical correction.
- In the case of an essay with numerous sentence-level problems, comment only on those errors that impede your comprehension of the student's writing.
- If need be, sit on your hands to stop marking errors. You are likely to overwhelm the student if you mark every error, and you'll be doing the editing work rather than the student.
- Help the student prioritize those errors that most demand revision. Identify two or three patterns of error the student should work on. If you aren't comfortable identifying patterns, ask the student with multiple errors to go to the Writing Center to ask for an Error Pattern Analysis. Our consultants are trained with specific techniques to cluster errors into logical categories and then to help students understand the principles underlying the errors. Instead of dealing with 50 errors on a page, students can see three patterns. And learning to avoid three flawed patterns is much easier than finding what look like dozens of disconnected errors.
"But, but, but..."
"Preparing clean papers is a key element in helping students," you say. "I'm failing my students and they'll fail in the future if I don't help them fix the flaws in their writing."
Experts agree with you. But if you mark the errors, students still don't necessarily learn to fix them. Instead, help students understand the importance of careful editing and then put the burden for that work squarely on the student.