Teacher Comment Database

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Mar
  • 06
  • 2006

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.

Practically Speaking

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?


1. Laurie says:

[3/7/2006 - 9:46 pm]

I agree that the nitpicking comments do not help improve writing and I agree that comments you are considering using are more meaningful and I still don’t think that using comment 23 is going to make any student want to write more or again. Isn’t the only way any of us improve is to write and write again, which means rewriting? What if comments about student writing were delivered via a blog? Would that be more readily accessible to them than written comments?

2. Cassandra Turner says:

[3/7/2006 - 4:26 pm]

Wow. I’m not even sure what to write. Can we expect students to write and comment when we can’t even be bothered to do it for our students. I don’t know how to make my link pretty for the rest of you, but I was just reading a the blog of proximal development and came across a different line of thinking on comments: http://www.teachandlearn.ca/blog/2006/02/27/readerly-comments/

3. Todd says:

[3/7/2006 - 7:51 pm]

Very interesting thoughts over there at the Blog of Proximal Development. Thanks for the link.

I don’t think I’m suggesting that we expect students to write and comment, but having a blog full of teacher comments makes that conversation a possibility.

Do you say “Wow. I’m not even sure what to write” because you think I’m totally off base? Is my thinking all wrong about this? Because I’m actually kind of excited about it.

4. Laurie says:

[3/7/2006 - 8:27 pm]

I think that from the teacher’s standpoint the teacher comments database sounds like a good short cut. From a student’s standpoint it might not be a welcome change. I think you are on to something with the types of writing you are asking your students to do. I love the “This I Believe” site…what a goldmine of ideas. I think that the point of that entry on the Blog of Proximal Development is one that begs for more thought. I know that when I turned something in to a teacher, I did want to know what they thought as readers. That opinion was more important than the corrective red marks of the grammarian.

5. Todd says:

[3/7/2006 - 8:34 pm]

And what I think, all the while I’m making those red marks on the page (only because the green died on my four-color Bic pen), is “Who cares?” I typically don’t allow rewrites anyhow, so what good does it do the student for me to circle every single time s/he missed using a comma? Even when I do allow rewrites, those kinds of errors, the ones that I point out, are often the only ones fixed. So we set the precident that if we don’t mark it, it isn’t wrong. That’s a bad writing paradigm to fall into.

And for the students with “23” on their paper, the comment database would give them a chance to read a bit more in depth about what the teacher thinks of the paper. The student wouldn’t be forced to write a comment about it, but the option would be there. And if the student ever was forced, I can only assume it would be during class, so it’s no extra work. Is it?

6. mike says:

[5/25/2007 - 10:12 pm]

the teacher comments database is,as the students giving exam and then the checking point by points and giving the grde which they are able, and teaching them during year, and so much more.

7. Todd says:

[5/27/2007 - 9:11 am]

Mike, your comment doesn’t make sense. Could you say that again? Read through it before you click “Submit Comment” to make sure it says what you want it to. Too bad I can’t let you edit the comment after you submit it, but that’s just the way it goes.

8. Keren says:

[1/4/2009 - 5:46 pm]

This database will be a great start. Two questions- will it also be sub-divided by grade level/or school(elem. mid. high)?
Will there also be a list of the types of writing example(expository, descriptive etc.)?

Sign me up…. Great IDEA TODD

9. Cliff Green says:

[3/26/2013 - 8:15 am]

Hi Todd,
I ran across this page while searching for teachers’ best comments. I really like your idea and would immensely appreciate a copy of the comments in the database if it is at all possible/allowed.

10. Michelle says:

[2/27/2015 - 9:31 am]

I came across this page while searching for software that has a repository of teacher comments embedded–something a colleague told me about years ago. i am working on a paper about improving student response to and understanding of our feedback.

I have to chime in and say that as a writing teacher, I am appalled by the idea.

If we are teaching students that writing is a means of useful communication, we had better damned well be able to use writing to communicate clearly to them about the writing that they have done in response to assignments.

All this is is a mechanized short-cut to engaging with students. It treats them as units, rather than scholars.

11. Todd says:

[4/17/2015 - 2:46 pm]

Michelle, that’s not the intent and I’m sorry you see it that way. This was a method to assess some common errors and move through writing quickly while still being valuable to students. Kevin Brookhouser has done a better version of what I originally envisioned with grmr.me.

If there are problems that are typical, a system like this would help deal with that and afford time to either move on to the next assignment or for me to write a response to the content instead of the structure. Go back and read what I wrote. It’s about finding a way to still engage with the students about their work and admitting that this is horribly time consuming on the teacher’s end of things.

I wonder if there’s a difference in the way universities and high schools see this part of the teacher’s job, Michelle. I have 170 students, so 170 papers to grade and I’d like to assign more of them if I can. At 5 minutes per paper, that’s 14 hours just to grade one assignment from my students. On top of everything else there is to grade. And plan. Add to that the huge number of students who aren’t getting anything from my carefully crafted comment (because the same problems manifest in future papers) and I’m wasting time that could be spent on something else more useful for the student. Anything I can do to cut down that time and still provide feedback that students will read, I’d like to take a look at.