Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Can we get students to read our comments on their papers?

I'm in the middle of grading papers. I started, a while ago, grading the electronic files using Word's reviewing capacity (track changes and comments). This results in i) it taking much longer, because I make many more comments and ii) my comments and editing being potentially useful because they are actually legible (which they never were before). So, this is potentially very good for the students. But: I have no idea whether they actually read the comments (especially because I make it fairly clear that I am not interested in what their grades are, only in whether they learn a lot, so very rarely get to listen to students who challenge their grades). I just had an idea: I could withhold their grades until they return the paper to me, with a response to every single comment I made. The comment could just be: "ok". I simply want a mechanism for making them read the comments. Has anyone else done this? Or does anyone have some reliable mechanism for making them read comments?


  1. Harry,

    Short answer: no. You'd hope that students would pick up the habit (from their composition courses perhaps) of looking at instructor comments. But only the most intentional and self-aware students see instructor comments as an opportunity to learn something about their own work that they might then apply to subsequent work. Long answer: You can link reading the comments to later grades. You could, for instance, have students complete an assignment for which you provide comments, then require that they revise that assignment with the later grade dependent in some way on how well the later assignment takes your comments into account. But that's to introduce an extrinsic motivation that might well be counterproductive if the aim is to get students to engage more regularly and more richly with the feedback they receive.

  2. One thing I heard about just recently is screencasting. There are several apps available for this, some of them free. The app records you talking about the student's paper, and at the same time it records what is on your computer screen: so, the paper itself, and you can underline or highlight things in the paper as you go, talking and highlighting the bits you're talking about. And you could tell the student his/her grade somewhere in that recording, rather than on the paper itself, so that the students will want to listen to it to learn their grade. Apparently a lot of students really like this. It does seem like a good bit of extra work, though, so I'm not sure I'm going to use it.

  3. When marking philosophy or history essays in high school, I return papers with comments, but without a grade. I post the grades for the assignment a few classes later. By then most students have poured over the comments in an attempt to predict what their mark will be. The happy side effect is that I have fewer students complaining about marks because I inevitably mark the papers higher than they expect after reading everything.

    Most of my students are learning how to write philosophy papers in the first place, so we have a standing agreement that if anyone resubmits their paper (after processing the comments) I will only publish the mark of the edited piece.

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