Minimal Marking: A Humane and Practical Approach

Guest Post By: Aniya Wells

In the time we’ve spent on the student end of the student-teacher relationship.  We’ve all had the experience, even the smartest among us. The teacher hands back an assignment to the class, and before you can even flip to the last page and check your grade, your heart sinks.
Your essay is covered in corrections and amendments and suggestions,
drowning in a sea of red  ink it would take a Moses to clear away.

This is a profoundly discouraging sight for a student,
to be sure, but it’s also unhelpful, inasmuch as it turns the teacher into an
editor who, unlike a real-life editor on a newspaper, for instance, is not a
collaborator who will be accepting a next draft for publication. It sets the
teacher up as an authoritarian voice and makes the act of turning in work seem
like a trap set to catch the student.

Back in the 1980s, professor Richard Haswell
published a paper entitled “Minimal Marking” [College English 45
(6):600-604] that outlines a system of the same name. It’s a great alternative
to correcting every little mistake that appears in a student’s paper. While
it’s designed for college work, it can certainly be ported to younger grade

It works like this: instead of correcting mistakes
individually, a check mark is placed in the right margin of each line that
contains an error (potentially two or three). The nature of the errors is not
specified. The important part is to include some kind of process for submitting
second drafts. Always remind students: real writing is rewriting!

Thus students learn to go back and correct their own
errors, rather than receiving corrections handed down from on high in an
accusatory-seeming manner. This way they have to actually search through their
own writing and think about where the mistake may lie, a more engaging process
that’s less threatening and more empowering, and which makes them more likely
to really internalize the lessons learned.

To really take this minimal marking to another
level, some form of collaborative learning is advised. You could have
conferences with students after the second draft is submitted, or break into
small groups in between the two drafts to search through each others’ work and
find what the check marks stand for. Students could also keep an error log, and
by getting to know the mistakes they were most prone to making, learn to avoid
them in an atmosphere of curiosity rather than shame.

Besides the abovementioned benefits to your class,
you’ll find that not only can this method save you a lot of work as a teacher,
it can help create a more constructive framework for addressing grammar and
writing issues, so you’ll feel less guilty when you break out the red pen to
tackle that pile of papers!

Aniya Wells particularly loves reading and writing about
online education, although her interests span different niches as well,
including personal finance, parenting, sustainable living, and more. Accredited online degree programs
are hard to find in the online morass of scams, so Aniya’s ultimate goal is to
help her readers figure out the maze of online education. She can be reached
for questions or comments at aniyawells@gmail.com.

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