It’s a never-ending issue for anyone who teaches writing: How do I provide my students with enough feedback that they can learn and improve their skills without spending so much time that I can’t do anything else in my life? Images of red pens and cryptic codes scrawled in the margins reflect common response practices that almost all of us experienced as students and that many of us have utilized in our own teaching of writing.
In this post, I share a few electronic tools that might make response to writing more efficient and effective.
Microsoft Word: Track Changes and Comments
Tried-and-true tools for electronically submitted assignments are Microsoft Word’s Track Changes and Comments. Turn on Track Changes and you can edit (adding, deleting, or modifying text) and show readers what changes you made. Although similar to what teachers often do with a pen, this tool lets students accept or reject changes. In Comments, we can highlight text and write notes in the margin of the document. An advantage of both tools over handwriting is that the typed comments are completely legible and could be copied into a translation program should students not understand what you are asking.
More recently, Google Docs has brought the same features onto the internet. Google Docs’ “Suggesting” mode, like Word’s Track Changes feature, allows teachers to mark up electronic documents. An improvement over their Word counterparts, these tools allow students to see comments on the same document they have been working with (avoiding the confusion of emailing multiple versions of a document back and forth). In addition, teachers and students can have a written dialogue in the comments, allowing students to negotiate their intended meanings. Google Docs can be used for peer response as well, where the teacher can follow students’ commentary.
Grouling (2018) explored ways that iPad tools could change how teachers provide comments on student writing. Using the tools available in Notability, teachers could write on student texts with a stylus or type in comments, moving the process toward personalized handwritten comments. Using the stylus allowed teachers to circle and underline parts of the text in ways that could not be accomplished with the more limited tools in Word, for example. Other apps that allow similar annotations on PDF documents from tablets include pdf-notes for iPad, UPAD, iAnnotate, and qPDF Notes (some of these apps also allow for audio commentary).
Audio commentary can further engage students who dislike written commentary. For example, Ahern-Dodson and Reisinger (2017) used a PDF annotating program that allows for typed and handwritten commentary, while the teacher recorded audio comments as mp3 files. They found that a teacher produced three times as many words in her audio comments as in written comments, using a more conversational tone, asking more questions, and providing more options (rather than commands) to student writers. Analysis showed that the audio comments engaged more with the writer than text alone. Students also preferred the audio comments over written comments. Some PDF readers allow audio comments (such as in Adobe Acrobat or Preview), as do some PDF annotation apps, like DocAS Lite.
Teachers are discovering many other exciting new approaches to providing feedback on their students’ writing. Have you tried screencasting your commentary, for example? Share your ideas in the comments!
Ahern-Dodson, J., & Reisinger, D. (2017). Moving beyond corrective feedback: (Re)engaging with student writing in L2 through audio response. Journal of Response to Writing, 3(1). Retrieved from http://journalrw.org/index.php/jrw/article/view/71
Grouling, J. (2018). The genre of teacher comments from hard-copy to iPad. Journal of Response to Writing, 4(1). Retrieved from http://journalrw.org/index.php/jrw/article/view/103