As teachers, we spend time pouring over student papers, making comments along the way that we hope will create better writers. Given the amount of time it takes to comment on papers, this makes grading stacks of essays even more of a burden than simply reading that many pages.
Databases: Just Great Big Lists Of Stuff
To take the sting out of grading written pieces, I suggest that we create a list of comments we make on papers, a teacher comment database. That way, a teacher can write “23” at the end of a student’s paper, put the appropriate grade on it, and move on without spending anywhere near as much time as it would take to mentally craft the comment and commit it to the page. The student can go to the list, that teacher comment database, and find out what “23” says about their writing. The student gets in-depth feedback if it’s wanted and the teacher doesn’t waste any time if it’s not.
Without writing lengthy comments on papers, I save some sanity and still provide assistance to students that want it, all by a simple number. Since the comments are online, I can include links to sites that further discuss the problem and even create pages of my own with review exercises to complete. And maybe I can get papers turned around quicker, which is a really nice side effect.
And I suggest that we use WordPress to do all this.
WordPress In A Nutshell
WordPress is a piece of blogging software. Really, though, it’s a way to put information into a database, that great big list of stuff, and then call it back out, organizing it in several different ways (by category, month, year, author, etc.). Create an entry in WordPress and you’ve really just created a new entry in a database, a new entry in that list. Along with that entry, you’ve associated a date (when you wrote it), a category (what phrase you decided best describes your entry), and an author (who you are). If I wanted to see all the entries in a certain month, your entry would come up if you wrote it that month and you wouldn’t have to do anything special.
Comments On Comments
If each comment was a new entry in WordPress, a new entry in the database, each comment would have a date, a category, and an author, at the very least. It would also have its own permanent page with… well… comments. So there could be an ongoing conversation about the comment: what it means, how to fix it, why it was assigned to my paper, a better explanation of it, and so forth.
With a team of teachers, we could quickly get a pretty decent set of comments together. If each teacher had an account, all comments by one teacher would go into the database as written by one author. The comments could then be grouped by author (teacher) in a numbered list, so each teacher can have a unique set of comments and numbers. And, if I happen to like another teacher’s comment, I can use that one, too. I’m not limited to the comments I create and I can rely on someone else coming up with the perfect wording to describe the problem I’m seeing. If I want to find what someone else wrote about egregious subject-verb problems, I can search for that and see what pops up, add that to my list, and write the new number on the paper.
If no time in class is spent on something, it’s not seen as important by the students. To make it clear that the comments attached to each number are worthwhile, time would have to be used in class to debrief each essay.
The database with transcripts of all the numbered comments would be up on all the computers. Students could write down suggestions for improvement. Maybe requiring a rewrite of the essay would increase student incentive for copying down such a thing. Maybe they don’t copy it all down verbatim, as that seems more tedious than instructional.
For a while, I’ve been thinking of a chart for students to track essay scores and comments throughout the year. If they only have to write down the gist of the numbered comment I’ve given them, students will have an idea of what to do next time and it won’t be such a chore to get the information.
Does this makes sense? Are you with me? Can you start gather some of the comments you’ve written this year? What problems do you see? Would a small, working example help convince you or show you what I mean? What domain name should I buy? Do you know of a place that will give me free hosting for this? Have any grants that could help pay for the hosting?