Put Your Comments In A Table

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Oct
  • 16
  • 2007

Do you find yourself writing the same comments on student papers? For any given assignment, are you finding patterns of errors that you comment on? Probably a mix of 5-10 different comments, but everything you write is a variation of the same set of comments, right?

Here’s how to get that base set of comments that will make the rest of your grading easier (at least for that one assignment). For me, this is a new way to grade papers thoroughly, but quickly. I did this with the first batch of paragraphs I collected and it worked well enough that I’ll try it again on another piece of writing.

You have to read. There’s no way around that, so don’t think this is going to cure all that ails you. You have to read. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to read all papers with the same amount of focus.

Comment Table

I have 4 periods of juniors. I split the collected papers in half. One half, I read very thoroughly, writing a 2-4 sentence comment on each one and putting a grade on it. Then, like I’ve suggested before, I catalog each comment. Just use a 3-column table in Word. The far right column is for the comments I write. The middle column is for the score each paper earns. Sort the table by that middle column so all those with the same score are close together, then simply number that far left column. Each comment/score is now numbered so that when I write 4 on a paper, I know the comment it deserves and the score it receives.

The remaining half of the papers, I read those just closely enough to determine which comment I’ve already written would be appropriate. I write the comment number(s) in the upper left corner. This not only helps me write good comments on students’ papers, but it helps me grade consistently. All papers that exhibit the same troubles get the same scores. And since I’m just copying an existing comment onto the page, it’s much faster than creating the comment on the spot.


1. Paul Phuoc says:

[10/25/2007 - 4:53 am]

You did that years ago, and I found the table to be quite useful. I remember receiving quite a few 4s (awkward sentence), maybe some 5s (stupid wording) and once I got a 9 (your paper sucks). Way to ruin a prospective English major…not really. Here’s actually some decent feedback:

Sometimes when I really enjoyed a book we read in class, I’d put more effort into writing the paper due that Friday. When my paper came back, reddened with comments, I’d look at it as some personal attack directed at my style of writing, and probably made me lose some sleep that night.

Commenting using the table sytem made it less impersonal, as if getting 3s and 4s were normal. I don’t know about the other students, but it gave me the confidence to come in after class/school to have you clarify the comments and open up for additional instructions to improve the paper.

2. Todd says:

[10/29/2007 - 8:09 pm]

Ah! That’s actually a different way of commenting that I’ll be sure to write about in a bit. The table I discuss here is something that only the teacher sees. It’s a table of seemingly tailor-made comments that can easily be written at the end of a paper. But really, it’s just one of several cookie-cutter comments that apply because most batches of papers exemplify the same series of errors.

Phuoc, in the last few years I’ve taken to writing a lengthy comment at the end of the paper instead of circling all mistakes throughout the paper. This entry was all about how to get a list of lengthy comments that a teacher can write at the end of each paper without having to expend the intellectual energy that it takes to craft these comments. But they are still completely appropriate comments to leave on a paper.

Yeah, the table you’re thinking of is good, too. And it’s nice to know that it abstracts things a bit so they are less personal. Good feedback. Just wish I could get that honesty from current students.

3. Damian says:

[10/31/2007 - 5:47 pm]

I’ve thought about this approach many times in the last few years, and have even gotten as far as creating my own table of comments. My problem is that in trying to apply comments, I always find myself wanting to write more to clarify and tailor the comment to the particular clause, sentence, or concept on which I’m commenting. I just collected two batches of papers from two different classes with every intention of doing this (your post brought it back to mind), but I chickened out instead and wrote comments.

I went out like a sucka.

It’s a mental block I just can’t get around. All’s not lost, though, as I feel I’m at least getting better at giving feedback. I’m no longer spending an hour per paper, like I did with my first batch of To Kill a Mockingbird essays so many years ago.