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Ditch the Dreaded Red Pen for These 5 Feedback Alternatives

Understandably, for most teachers, endless, time-consuming red pen marking is not their favorite part of the job. However, giving feedback remains to be one of the best ways to improve student performance. Correcting assignments allows students to understand the subject matter while providing clear guidance on what needs to change to excel. Teachers have relied hugely on the red pen to mark assignments and tests.

Yet, learners dread the red pen, leading to serious questions such as: are there alternatives for giving feedback to students and effectively so? The short answer is yes, there is. Find out here:

5 Feedback Alternatives to Ditch Your Red Pen

1. Give Feedback in Groups

For group assignments, provide formative feedback as a group. Doing so gives students the guidance they need to improve their work while not singling students out. Students will get your corrections and recommendations without feeling it's their fault for a lower grade.

2. Break Assignment Up to Encourage Subject Mastery

Sometimes you might have to break the assignments into smaller bits to encourage subject mastery. Delivering the feedback one on one also helps to address each learner's strongholds and the areas that need improvement. 

On the other hand, you can write and present your feedback through the students' email addresses. The emails you send should include details of how every learner did and should be personalized.

3. Record Feedback Videos

Luckily, we live in a generation where everyone has embraced technology; no more "culture shock." Recording a video giving detailed feedback on how the students have done is a perfect alternative to red pen marking. Besides that, it gives you the ideal opportunity to discuss the learners' strengths and areas that need improvement.

Having a rubric open in a separate tab can help you quickly switch to the part of the assignment/test that needs discussion. As the learners witness you using the rubric, they will know that the next time they complete their assignments, they are more likely to follow the outlined work. 

If you do not know where to start, Screencastify can help you record the videos easily. Download it from the internet and add it as an extension in your browser. It is perfect for making learning more personal through blended, hybrid, or flipped classroom videos.

4. Add Comments to Student's Google Docs

Over the years, Google Docs has become one of the most reliable feedback tools for teachers and learners. In the right-hand margin, Google Docs allows you to add comments alongside the students' assignments.

You might find using Google Docs tricky as the students can "resolve" comments before reading or putting whatever you have recommended into practice. You can eliminate this possibility by using the "Private Comments" option.

5. Consider Running a Feedback "Lottery"

Giving feedback using a red pen comes with many constraints, and boredom is one of them. Imagine if you have a class of 32 students and you must go through all their drafts in a night; it's tiring, right? Running a feedback "lottery" can help solve this problem! This is how it works: select a pool of 6 or 7 (whatever number you can comfortably work with) of your best students. Take the drafts of the selected students, go through them, and then provide your feedback (this can be through recorded videos).

The next day present the graded work anonymously; the remaining students will look at how the selected students performed, the areas they need to improve, and compare with their drafts. This saves you a lot of time while still providing your feedback effectively.

Pro Tips on Giving Feedback to Students 

Regardless of the method you choose to give your feedback, incorporating the following pro tips will improve your success rate and student's confidence when reviewing their work:

  • Always separate your feedback from the student's grades. Letting the learners estimate their possible grades allows them to understand your feedback better. It's not always about the grade.
  • Allocate enough time for the students to review their feedback. Just like professionals, they need time to comprehend what you have just told them.
  • Allow the students to develop ways to improve based on the feedback given.

The Key Takeaway 

Red pens were good while they lasted. They shaped most of our careers. However, we all know the fear and panic they cause whenever we have to hand assignments back to our students. Recording videos, giving feedback in groups, and using the feedback "lottery" technique are alternatives to using a red pen.

Written by Mary Joseph
Education World Contributor
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