Guess what’s in my head


I’ve posted before on the subject of corrections (see ‘feedbactive’) and am taking a break from a pile of them right now to clear my head and vent ever so slightly, while maintaining a weekly publishing regime.

In other words; procrastinate shamelessly.

Here’s the thing, It takes me anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes to read, assess and comment on a senior English or English Language (a kind of linguistics subject) essay. Multiply this by 20 to 50 and there’s a kind of ‘Dementors kiss’ effect where the temperature drops and all the happiness leaves ones body through close proximity.

I’m neither proud nor happy to admit this because I love my job and I respect my students and the work they do. Still, if I’m honest, I need to admit that corrections are hard work. Here’s why.

There is a decidedly unhelpful ‘reward for effort’ issue involved here. I can measure the time it takes to go through the process of correcting work in minutes. Sadly, the time taken by students to look at this is measurable in seconds. All the underlining, commenting in the margins, careful consideration for what constructive commentary should be offered for improvement is treated as so much Christmas wrapping. Maybe not all but certainly most students tear through this and just look at their grade before ‘filing’ the work away.

Gutting! Not that I’m bitter about it or anything but, if this was all that actually mattered I could fly through my corrections in no time. The mark a piece will get takes virtually no time to establish. It’s all the skill building and constructive commentary that takes time.

Dropping all this effort is not an option so I find I’m increasingly interested in looking at ways to break this vicious cycle.

My latest idea is to play ‘guess what’s in my head’ with my classes. With my latest round of corrections I’ve put away the red pen and picked up a blue highlighter. Wherever I find a word, phrase, idea or grammatical construct I would normally make comment about I have highlighted it but intentionally not written a comment. I have literally highlighted the areas I found noteworthy. Next, in a variation on the activities in mentioned in ‘feedbactive’ students will complete a few simple tasks designed to get them actively thinking about the work they undertook and then I’ll give them the piece back. Their task will then be to re-read their work and consider for themselves what it was I thought was worth highlighting. Once done, each student needs to sit down with me for a minute and conference what they think they’ve learned about their work and present skill level. Then I’ll hand over the assessment sheet complete with my comments and the grade.

Good pedagogical practice? Revenge? Probably a bit of both.

Better get back to the pile. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

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7 thoughts on “Guess what’s in my head

  1. Well said. You describe the very thing that pains me and provide an innovative and meaningful alternative. With 100 essays just submitted on Friday, I will be unleashing the blue highlighter…maybe pink instead. Brilliant!

    • Thanks for that. I inflicted my cognitively malicious plan last friday and found that it took the students most of a 50 minute lesson to complete the process of reviewing their work as opposed to just cutting to the chase and looking at their grade. There were a few mitigating circumstances though so I’ll explain further later this week.

  2. I graded papers endlessly. It took up my weekends and then some. Between lesson plans, grading papers and going to endless meetings the job was a grind. I enjoyed a good lesson getting over to my students. Grading papers seemed like such a waste. I always had he problem of the smart kid who aced everything but did not work as hard as the C student who worked his butt off to get the C. It just never made sense. Working to potential seemed correct and yet it was not done. And then the parents would complain. Little Johnny never gets a C, and I pay your salary and what do you know and on and on.
    After forty years of education I have learned that the actual process has little to do with teaching and more of getting through the grind.

  3. I have written a lot of material that could be used in the classroom and you have my permission to use it if you think it is viable. Make sure it fits the curriculum and is approved for I do not want you to get in trouble. Sincerely, Barry

      • Sounds like a true teacher. I have been there and done that. If It were not for tenure I would have been fired flat. Not that I did anything wrong but parents putting us in the middle, or a student playing a game or a word misunderstood.

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