Reading & Literacy

The Last Days of the Red Pen?

By Ross Brenneman — March 27, 2014 1 min read
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Every student who’s turned in a paper knows that having it come back to you marked up in red ink may be the worst part.

Mounts Bay Academy, in Cornwall, England, has come up with a different technique for marking up essays, though: Cutting out red ink altogether. Instead, according to the Cornishman, teachers at the school now mark papers with a less-punitive green pen.

But this isn’t, to hear the faculty describe it, about students’ delicate egos. Rather, the green is about engagement. Teachers leave notes in green, and students are expected to respond in purple ink, creating a dialogue for improvement.

“A lot of us in the past have skimmed over the teacher’s comments and just looked for the final overall mark, but by asking students to respond with purple pens [it] forces them to read the teacher’s comments and helps them to create a real conversation,” vice principal Jennie Hick told the paper.

That’s one new approach to grading essays. If you’ve read any of Education Week‘s recently released Technology Counts 2014, you might have stumbled across another approach from this story on the increasing quality of essay-grading software, which is helping teachers with deluges of student papers.

Essay-scoring systems have reportedly made major strides since debuting in the 1970s, and many can now evaluate grammar, mechanics, and style, and even detect plagiarism. (Think of all that Microsoft Word can do, then give it artificial intelligence beyond that of the anthropomorphic paper clip. Suddenly you have something.)

Critics contend that the systems can be hoodwinked easily enough and will never be a substitute for human feedback, but technophobes might find this bit particularly chilling:

Statistical techniques from computational linguists, natural language processing, and machine learning have helped develop better ways of identifying certain patterns in writing.

So basically we’re like five years out from our first Terminator, is what I’m saying. If I were you, I’d stick to the red green pen as a long as possible.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.