Monday, November 23, 2015

Should Teachers Copy Edit When Grading Papers?

Nancy Sommers, in Responding to Student Writers, says yes:

“Conversations about the paper load inevitably find their way to thorny questions about grammar and punctuation errors. To ignore such errors, especially ones that impede communication, sends the wrong signal to students. Yet to mark and correct each error sends an equally wrong and discouraging signal. But where is the middle ground to balance instruction with response?

“We need to remind ourselves that errors are a natural and normal part of learning to write. As writing teachers, we have a wide repertoire of strategies to employ when teaching grammar and punctuation, including lessons and exercises, in class or online. Correcting students’ errors is one such strategy, but it is not always the most effective. When teachers become student’ copy editors, they take away the responsibility and opportunity for students to recognize and resolve their own mistakes. Research studies have show that students can identity and correct their own errors, if given the opportunity. (See Richard Haswell, “Minimal Marking,” College English 45.6 (1983): 600-04)

“We can and should expect students to proofread, to use their handbooks, to go to the writing center, and to seek help from their teachers to answer specific grammar or punctuation questions. And we must feel we are able to hold students accountable, even if we haven’t pointed out every error in their drafts. Holding students accountable not only promotes learning but also teaches them to use resources and be active participants in their own learning.

“It is often difficult, though, to resist correcting students’ grammatical and punctuation errors. After all, as writing teachers we are trained to recognize and remedy such errors. And it is often difficult to resist students’ expectations that we mark all their errors. Yet I’ve found that using a similar responding strategy for grammar and punctuation errors as for rhetorical problems saves time and increases students’ responsibility and authority. That is, I focus on patterns—and overuse of passives or misuse of apostrophes, for example—rather than correcting each and every mistake. Similarly, spending classroom time at the beginning of the semester to explain my typical approach—what language and format I’ll use to respond to grammatical and punctuation errors, including abbreviations and shorthand—helps students learn from such comments.

“Asking students to become their own copy editors encourages them to develop a reflective and analytical habit of mind. And it frees teachers from being comma cops. Instead of correcting each error, I circle, highlight, or underline a pattern of errors or put a check mark in the margin to indicate the presence of an error. It is the students’ responsibility to find the remaining errors of the same type. And instead of rewriting their sentences, I make suggestions: ‘How about using active verbs instead of ‘be’ verbs?’ The specific choice of active verbs is theirs, not mine, and they learn more from the process than if I had chosen one for them.

“To strengthen their writing skills, I ask students to keep editing logs in which they copy and edit their sentences, write the grammar or punctuation rules, and explain how to correct the errors. Editing logs are a variation on the theme of ‘trends and patterns.’ When students identify their pattern of errors, apply principles from the handbook, and chart their own progress, they gain control over their writing. The goal is to keep the focus on learning and on building skills, one lesson at a time.

A colleague says no:

“I have a different take on this. My students have told me repeatedly that they want their papers copy-edited because they can’t find their own errors. (I’ve flat-out asked them: ‘Would you rather see a sea of red marks, or just an overview of what you did wrong?’) Many of them have told me that they struggled in earlier English classes because they only had the vaguest idea of what mistakes they were making.

“When I hand back a paper with all the double spaces after periods circled, the misspellings noted, and the continuity issues pointed out, they get a concrete visual of what they’re doing wrong. It’s eye-opening for them, and they seem to appreciate the feedback.

“Now, if only I could get them to stop making those mistakes...