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Essay Comment Excuses

e-Comments Chrome Extension

e-Comments Extension

Many teachers take a great deal of personal pride in their essay comments. A community college colleague of mine made a life-long practice and ritual of grading his freshman composition papers every morning from 6:00-8:00 a.m. He provided extensive feedback and his students appreciated his dedication to developing their writing craft.

Now, I realize that I have lost a number of my readers after that opening paragraph. When we hear about such examples, we feel a mixture of aspiration and guilt. We want to have a similar impact on our students. Teachers are idealists. We want to make a difference in the lives of our students, and we believe that reading and writing are key ingredients to living a meaningful and productive life. However, most of us fail to measure up to our own expectations. Guilt sets in. No one likes guilt, so we conjure up essay comment excuses.

Excuses to Avoid Writing Essay Comments

I would, buts.

  • I would, but I already work a 60 hour week. That community college professor described above teaches fewer classes and does not have adjunct duties such as dances, football games, etc.
  • I would, but “they” cut my teaching days/salary.
  • I would, but my colleagues don’t have the same commitment as I do, so I follow their lead. We sometimes do read-arounds, so I have to grade as they do so as not to spoil their objectivity.

Rationalizations

  • My students don’t/won’t read my essay comments anyway. They glance at the grade, skim the comments, and trash their papers.
  • I use a holistic rubric or a 6 Traits +1 matrix so my students get a general feel for what they did well and what they need to work on. More detailed comments might draw students away from the “big picture.”
  • I have to grade the way students will be tested. Their standardized test uses a four-point rubric with no comments. Teaching has become test-prep.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Let’s face it. We’ve all used one or more of those excuses to avoid the hard work of commenting on student papers. But we know that specific comments are the keys to writing improvement. Commenting throughout the writing process is simply a necessary component of effective writing instruction. We know that essay comment excuses are just that-excuses. Please comment on this post to add on more. I’ve just given you the excuses I’ve personally used over the years.

So, how can we do a great job with essay response and still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work? Canned comments.  But… really good ones. Prescriptive ones that that identify, explain with examples, and show students how to revise… Ones that target specific writing style, grammar, usage, organization, evidence, spelling… everything. Ones that are aligned to the Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing and Language… Hundreds of comments, written for different age levels… Ones that can be automatically inserted into Google docs and slides… Ones that you choose and are not chosen for you by some automatic grading program. Ones that you can easily personalize and are truly authentic. Ones that allow you to insert links for content references or even writing practice. Ones that allow you to differentiate instruction. Ones that students will have to read and respond to… Ones that will save teachers time.

This free resources will make life a bit easier for teachers… I just released a new free comment insert program for Google docs that will save grading time and improve writing feedback. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues, with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Check out the introductory video and add this free extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. Cheers!

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Why not use the same language of instruction as the e-Comments program for program instruction? Mark Pennington is the author of Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Differentiated Spelling Instructionand the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

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How to Write Effective Essay Comments

Press Release e-Comments

e-Comments Press Release

Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses.

Of course, the real world problem that conscientious teachers face is time. Responding to multiple drafts with effective writing feedback is time-consuming and, at times, mind-numbing.

I would like to share with you a free resource that will help get your life back… I just released a new free comment insert program for Google docs that will save grading time and improve writing feedback. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues, with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Check out the introductory video and add this free extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. Cheers!

Writing instructors classify the types of essay comments as following: corrective, directive, and facilitative responses.

Corrective responses are copy edits. Using proofreading diacritical marks, abbreviations, or short phrases, teachers identify mistakes in syntax, usage, mechanics, and spelling. Some teachers simply mark errors; others provide more prescriptive comments as to what is wrong and why it is wrong, and how to correct the writing issue.

Directive responses deal with both form and content. With directive responses, the teacher gives specific direction to the writer. The goal is to provide expert advice to the writer. For example, “Your thesis does not respond to the writing prompt. Re-read the writing assignment and re-write your thesis statement to specifically address the writing task.” Generally, directive response is used with matters of structure and writing style.

Facilitative comments also deal with both form and content. Using the Socratic model, comments are worded as thought-provoking questions. The goal is to make the writer responsible for writing decision-making. For example, “Is there a different type of evidence that would help to prove your point?” Generally, facilitative response is used to respond to the content and/or argument of the essay.

Writing instructors classify the key components of writing discourse as following: Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion), Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format and Citations, Parts of Speech, Grammatical Forms, Usage, Sentence Structure, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules.

Many teachers use these components in holistic or analytical rubrics and provide separate evaluation for each.

Closing comments are usually used to personalize the overall writing comments. Closing comments may summarize the essay comments, emphasize a positive or negative in the writing, refer to the writer’s progress, provide brief praise or encouragement, or assign the overall grade

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Why not use the same language of instruction as the e-Comments program for program instruction? Mark Pennington is the author of Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Differentiated Spelling Instructionand the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

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How to Use the Computer to Grade Essays

Thought I’d share how I started using computers to grade essays and offer fellow teachers a great resource to provide better essay response and cut grading time by half. Years ago I played around with the Insert Comments feature of Microsoft Word® and learned how to put in and format the bubble comments. I started using these comments to respond to and grade student writing submitted by email. At first, I only assigned a holistic rubric score, made a few comments, and patted myself on the back for learning how to insert audio files for brief summary responses. Students loved this paperless process. Read more…

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Grammar Checkers for Teachers

Conscientious teachers still mark up and comment on student essays. Despite recent trends toward holistic grading and the views of some kind-hearted souls who believe that “red marking” student writing irreparably crushes self-esteem, the vast majority of teachers do respond to student writing. Of this majority, some comment on writing content; some on essay structure; some on the quality and relevance of evidence; some on the proper use of citations; some on grammar and usage; some on mechanics (punctuation, capitalization, spelling, etc.); and some attend to matters of writing style. Rarely does a teacher do it all.

It’s exhausting and time-consuming. So, naturally, teachers look for short-cuts that will save energy and time, but ones which will still give students what they need as developing writers. Enter spell checker and grammar checker software. Whereas spelling checkers, either as a stand-alone software or as a tool embedded in word processing programs such as Microsoft Word®, do a reasonable job of finding spelling errors (other than troublesome homonyms), grammar checkers simply cannot replicate that effectiveness. But there are some helpful resources to lighten the teacher’s load…

Wikipedia has a nice article, Grammar Checker, which explains the programming limitations of grammar checkers, but suffice it to say for non-techies: grammar checking software is a whole lot harder to program than is spelling. My take is that we should encourage students to spell check and revise accordingly, but skip the grammar check and proofread instead. Geoffrey K. Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, agrees with greater reservations:

“For the most part, accepting the advice of a computer grammar checker on your prose will make it much worse, sometimes hilariously incoherent. If you want an amusing way to whiling away a rainy afternoon, take a piece of literary prose you consider sublimely masterful and run the Microsoft Word™ grammar checker on it, accepting all the suggested changes.” (Monkeys Will Check Your Grammar, 2007)

The popular website Top Ten Reviews does a nice job reviewing the four most popular grammar checkers, although their top choice, Grammarly, did happen to advertise rather prominently on their site. In the review site’s testing, Grammarly caught 10 of 14 “grammar” errors. Now, to put on my English teacher’s hat, these were not all grammatical errors, but I nitpick. Of course, I had to try my own writing submission with the Grammarly software:

To pee, or to pee not: that is not the question. When in the path of alien invasions, it becomes necessary for the rights of the governed to outweigh the rights of the graham crackers, it is the right of the fig newton to abolish that nonsense speak.

The results? I could break down all of the issues, but you get the idea.

So, are there any computer short-cuts for essay response and grading that do help the conscientious teacher in providing quality essay response throughout the writing process? Yes there are, but these must remain where they belong: in the control of the teacher. At present, computer-scored essays remain a pipe dream.

However, a comfortable balance can be struck between technological efficiency and teacher judgment.

e-Comments Chrome Extension

The e-Comments Extension

Here’s a freebie to add to the Chrome extension toolbar that just might make life a bit easier for teachers this fall: e-Comments Chrome Extension. This free comment insert program for Google docs and slides will save grading time and improve writing feedback. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues, with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College.

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Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers.

Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well. Make sure to pass along this article to one of your favorite colleagues or your department.

Writer-Teacher Mini-Conference Procedures

  • Not every student needs to be seen every day. Use a Status of the Class chart to plan conferences in advance.
  • Walk the room to complete your planned mini-conferences and supervise student behavior. Briefly eavesdrop on any peer conferences as you circulate.
  • Make students responsible for completing the Status of the Class. Students can certainly x-off the box below their names on the Status of the Class chart after they complete their mini-conference. Some teachers use pocket charts labeled with the stages of the writing process (brainstorming, pre-writing, drafting, peer response, revision, editing, publishing) and students are responsible for placing name cards in the pocket that matches the stage where they are working that day.
  • Keep mini-conferences brief. More frequent conferences tend to work better than less frequent conferences, so shorter conference times mean that the teacher will be able to meet with students more often.
  • Establish a focus for your mini-conferences. Traditional Writer’s Workshop devotees favor a student-centered inquiry approach, asking thought-provoking questions such as What are you working on? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How do you think your writing is going? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How can I help? These are all fine, but I tend to be more directive, so I announce to the class at the beginning of Writer’s Workshop “I will be focusing my conferences on _________ today, so be prepared to discuss this focus and share a writing sample that reflects this focus in our conference.” The daily focus could be any step of the writing process or any of the 6 Traits of Writing. Often, I tie the focus of the mini-conference into the focus of a recent mini-lesson to get more bang for my teaching and coaching bucks.
  • Establish a system of accountability for your conferences. Let students know that you have high expectations of them. I award participation points for my mini-conferences.
  • Allot some of your mini-conference time each day for students to ask you questions and get your coaching feedback on issues of their own writing. During this time, I sit at my desk and students line up with their writing in hand. Tell your students that only three students can be in line at one time for a student-teacher writing conference. You want students to spend most of their time writing, not waiting in line. Sometimes having writing down the students’ names on the board or a “take a number” system is a good way to manage a conference order and keep the students on-task.
  • Some Writer’s Workshop teachers do not write on student papers; I do. To be efficient (and train students for higher education), I teach students the common editing marks. Download my set of Writing Posters (which include these editing marks), if you wish. I do suggest marking only a few mechanics (punctuation and capitalization) and spelling issues per visit.
  • Verbally explain any content, structure, or grammatical problems. If there are such errors, mark a ain front of the sentence and send the student back to revise.
  • Differentiate instruction. If the focus of your mini-conferences is using speaker tags and quotation marks in dialogue, and a dozen of your students need help, invite the group up to your whiteboard to teach these skills or assign targeted worksheets to be completed individually. Oftentimes, a class mini-lesson will not do the trick for every student, so group or individualized instruction certainly makes sense.
  • Use your school’s computer lab or set of Chromebooks to complete mini-conferences. Computers are ideal for the social context of writing and work
    e-Comments Chrome Extension

    The e-Comments Extension

    well with Writer’s Workshop mini-conferences. Have students submit their work in Google docs or slides.Here’s a freebie to add to the Chrome extension toolbar that just might make life a bit easier for teachers this fall: e-Comments Chrome Extension. This free comment insert program for Google docs and slides will save grading time and improve writing feedback. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues, with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College.

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

The first, Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets (perfect for mini-lessons) corresponding to the Common Core Writing Standards, e-comment banks for Microsoft Word and Google Docs, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64 sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

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