> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: Do you have a red pen?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Do you have a red pen?

Hannah (2nd Year B.Ed student) commenting on my last post about apostrophes, said that she had recently been taught about the (presumably negative) effect of using red pen all over a pupil's work. She was looking at it in the context of teaching grammar.

One of the good things about AifL is the emphasis on being more directive in our comments. Put simply: you did this well -and to improve that, try a little of this . Target marking or 'comment only' marking helps get away from that disheartening 'not good enough' or 'try harder' type of response that doesn't really help a pupil improve.

If anything, I find I am using more red pen than ever -because I am entering into a kind of dialogue with my students about their work. Granted, I have had to explain that the red pen is A GOOD THING. I hope they are getting it! I try to encourage them to write back to me about my comments. Using red pen helps me find my comments, and maintain some sort of consistency.

There is something about this whole issue of 'not upsetting a pupil's confidence by pointing out their mistakes' that bothers me. I think we are passing on to them our own fear of making a mistake- when the reality is that learning moves forward through mistakes. I would rather a piece of writing full of mistakes and possibilities than one with no mistakes and no soul.

I like showing my pupils the writing notes of some poets e.g Wilfred Owen. His first draft is full of re-writes and scoring out.

I hope my red pen is 'The red pen of Creativity' rather than 'The red pen of Wrong'. But I also think we need to teach our pupils that it's okay to make mistakes.
This blog is in part my own attempt at putting my money where my mouth is - I started it knowing I would make mistakes at times -and fearing that the technology would be beyond me. It is! But I am learning...


Tony O'Neill said...

I liked your thoughts on the whole red pen thing. There seems to be a pervasive view of the world that the ultimate success is to feel good about yourself. Feeling good about yourself is a good thing but I don't think it's the most important thing. Making mistakes is part of life. It's how people grow. Communicating to kids that they're never really wrong stunts the growth. It's helping them to learn from their mistakes that's important. Long live the red pen.

Sid said...

I agree with Tony. It seems that there's some doubt over what the role of the teacher is. Is the teacher supposed to turn the pupil into a confident adult, or are they supposed to teach the pupil how to improve academically? I'd plump for the latter. The fact remains that even the stupidest students can be extremely over-confident in their own abilities. Dangerous in the extreme. Even on my course, which deals almost exclusively with writing or analysing language, some people have amazingly poor grammar and spelling.

Tony O'Neill said...

I'm almost nervous to ask this question, but what do people think education is? Practically speaking it almost always is the passing on of information. But this is far from what I think it is. I must confess that I am becoming more convinced that the answer to this question lies in philosophy. Maybe you could do another survey as to what young people think the goal of education is. Just a thought.

lizzie said...

yeh, good point, even now, I'm trying to think of what I think education is and it's hard to define. I think if pupils know what education is and know what they want to get out of it that might help them to understand the teacher's viewpoint better.

On the red pen issue, I think attitudes are changing, at least my attitude is changing. Recently I recieved an essay covered in red pen. A couple of years ago I would have felt discouraged but this time I knew that my tutor was just trying to help me improve, a lot! But I think it's important to realise that the teacher is just trying to help you! As I'm sure you agree!

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Lizzie, that is an important point. Sometimes I think teachers should keep reminding themselves and their pupils that it is okay, and, in fact a good thing to make mistakes, so that we can learn.

Thanks for your comment!

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