Marking Errors: A Research Proposal

I read a really interesting research proposal written by one of our Hebrew teachers.  Exactly which method of writing instruction works best?

  • Explicitly marking each error in a student’s paper.
  • Marking a line, indicating an error, but leaving it for the student to identify what the error is.

Which method do you use?  Which method do you think would help students learn errors and how to correct them?

My colleague’s research focused on improving writing for L2 (second language) students.  In the case of her students, the L2 is Hebrew.  I found her proposal intriguing.  Which method of writing instruction would produce better results?

I personally mark errors.  I use standard proofreading marks.  I make notation of subject/verb or pronoun/antecedent agreement issues.  My students’ papers are often quite marked up by the time I’m done.  I am interested in finding out if I am doing the best thing for my students.  In many cases, I find students making the same mistakes over and over, no matter how often I mark them.  I mentioned this idea to my department head as a potential research project for us next year in English classes.  I need to locate some research studies.  This could potentially be publishable.

Any English teachers out there interested in looking at this with me?

8 thoughts on “Marking Errors: A Research Proposal”

  1. I would generally put a check to the right of a line and write down the section of Hacker that addressed the error. They were required to look up the info for a homework grade and correct the errors. Usually I tried to focus primarily on those aspects we'd covered in class. If a particular type of error occurred more than once, I'd make a note of it in my comments at the end of the paper.

    If I just marked the errors as they occurred (which I tried), they tended to just correct them without thinking about them for the revisions.

  2. I did something similar to Nina's technique. I put a check to the left of a line of text to indicate grammar/mechanical errors. Checks on the right indicated stylistic and/or content missteps. What I found was that it forced students to try to figure out what the error was, making them more likely to avoid it in the future. When they were truly stumped, I would try to guide them by asking questions or having them work with a classmate to determine what the error was. This strategy also kept their papers from being a sea of red, which I think can be a bit deflating for students who have spent a good bit of time on an essay.

  3. I, too, spend a large amount of time marking errors, yet never see an improvement. I work with L2 kids, also, so this idea is intriguing.

  4. Sure. I will help you look into it. How can I help?

    My preconceived notion (and experience by me alone) is working on 1–5> errors per child at a time (depending on kid's IQ/ability) is about all they can handle. After that, (imo), they Just nod like they understand, but Just re-write or do whatever you want to get you off their backs.

    Syb (mex)

  5. I won't correct a kid's writing — as the others' have said, they don't think about it then. I'll write in the right-hand margin something like 'run-on,' or 'chekc your verb tense.' As I read a paper, I list correct spellings of misspelled words at the bottom of the paper.

  6. You know what? I'd love to actually do something formal with this. I think it's even cooler to me because I've got L2 Spanish AND L1 (if you will) English. I would love to be able to collect some data and actually draw some conclusions other than "Welp, they still have no clue."

  7. I mark the errors if they're simple (punctuation, spelling, etc.), and underline the text if it's something stylistic or mechanical. My experience is limited and my students were working pretty far below grade level when all is said and done, but the ones who looked at their papers when they got them back at least used the corrections to improve their rewrites. In the long run, even after some specific mechanics reviews however, I found the same errors cropping up in their own writing – I suspect for some students it's really about carelessness rather than not knowing. I got some useful suggestions from the previously posted comments – thanks for bringing the matter up for discussion.

  8. For comma mistakes, I circle an incorrect use of a comma or the area where a comma should exist. For run on sentences, I underline or bracket the sentence and write "run on" in the margin. If a sentence reads awkwardly because of sentence structure errors, I write "AWK." If the sentence is confusing because of poor content or missing words, I write "Conf."

    I don't mark every mistake, especially if there are many within the first few paragraphs. In that case, I make the effort to get them all on the first page, write a note saying that I've stopped reading for grammatical mistakes because it is impeding my ability understand content.

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