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 levels.

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@k.