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Cost-effective “Corrections” on Essay Assignments (Christopher Thaiss)

Comments are your personal., professionally informed response to the ideas and expression. They supplement your grade and should reflect your assessment. Skim the entire paper quickly before writing anything. Don’t try to identify and comment on everything. Pick a few problems that represent serious logical confusion, or a few promising ideas inadequately developed.
  1. Identify and praise success.
  2. Personalize comments. Address the author by name and refer when necessary to yourself.
  3. Never just correct a mistake in grammar and spelling (copy editing). Studies have shown that simply being presented with a corrected text leads to NO improvement. But do flag a few mechanical errors and let the student know they matter to you. Many mistakes result from laziness, not ignorance. Students reason that they don’t need to clean up and polish their prose if their readers don’t care.
  4. Show how the problem could be corrected. As a last resort, rewrite.
  5. Show how the problem could be recognized next time.
  6. Refer the student to a tutor about a specific problem.
  7. Relate a problem to the difficulty it causes the reader.
  8. Never just write “awkward” or “?” without comment.
  9. Ask questions for clarification.
  10. Phrase suggestions tentatively.
  11. Write legibly and don’t use abbreviations or proofreading symbols, unless you are sure students will understand them.
  12. Criticize ideas and their expression, not the person who wrote them. This may mean controlling your exasperation and frustration. You are evaluating a paper, not an author,
  13. Bear in mind the purpose of these comments. Are you essentially trying to justify your grade by demonstrating how bad the paper is? Are you trying to push the student to think through and develop ideas in this paper? Are you trying to prepare the student for improvement on the next paper? Are you trying to feel super-conscientious by spending a lot of time and ink on the paper?
Student Self-Evaluation Form (Christopher Thaiss)

(Complete and attach it to your paper.)

  1. Explain what you tried to do in this paper.
  2. Describe or list the things that were most difficult about the assignment.
  3. What are the successful parts of your paper?
  4. What still needs work?
  5. What would you like advice on?
Some Common Errors and Suggestions for Treating Them (Christopher Thaiss)
  1. Spelling: English spelling is quirky; there are many more exceptions than rules. (It's amazing that people spell as well as they do!) Because many excellent writers have also been poor spellers, it's clear that there is no essential connection between spelling ability and writing ability. Nevertheless, many people avoid writing because they fear misspelling, which has been excessively used as a basis for punishment in schools and other social situations; hence, many poor spellers appear to be poor writers. If you wish students to use writing as a tool for complex thinking, do not mark spelling errors in their writing except in those instances where papers are taken through the drafting and revision stages to an explicit editing stage. When marking spelling during the editing stage, prioritize words that the student repeatedly misspells and key terms in the discipline.
  2. Punctuation-Commas: Like spelling, punctuation marks are only used in written language, not in speaking, and correct usage is determined by convention, not by any obvious logic. The conventions for comma usage are particularly vague-professional copy editors frequently disagree on comma decisions-and so it's logical that students make more coma errors than any others involving punctuation. Again, go lightly on marking these, and don't mark them except in the editing stage. Here are two common types of comma errors:

    • comma splice-using a comma instead of a period to mark the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next

      Ex.: Correct English punctuation takes many years to learn, correct English spelling is always in a state of flux. Note: The comma splice is acceptable in British Edited English; it's only an error in Standard American Edited English.

    • leaving out the second comma in a non-restrictive phrase or clause

      Ex.: Mina Shaughnessy, who studied the writing of freshman students in the open-admissions CUNY system ( )gave us many important principles in her book Errors and Expectations.

  3. Syntax-Subject/Verb Disagreement: The most common type of error made by students of English as a Second or Other Language.

    Ex.: The non-native English speaker make errors in subject/verb agreement because many languages do not mark difference in singular and plural as English does.

  4. Word Usage-Vague Pronoun Reference-“That," "This," "Which": These pronouns become confusing when they do not refer to the nearest preceding noun. We make these errors because in writing we often fail to clarify for our readers the references that are clear to us.

    Ex.: He said at the meeting , "Since it takes less time and effort to mark spelling errors than to give any other kind of comment on a piece of writing, many teachers have given students only this kind of response to their writing." Can you believe this? (To which part of the sentence does "this" refer?)

    NOTE (Gene Richie)
    See Rei Noguchi’s research in Grammar and the Teaching of Writing, which suggests that grammar is most effectively taught within the context of the writer’s own work.


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