Providing written feedback through color-coding

This year I taught 7th grade literature and there was a lot of writing to be done. This was followed, of course, by a lot of grading. So I started out by grading students’ work using the proofreading symbols the languages department had been using; and even though I had previously used similar symbols, I didn’t really feel I was getting through to students. Some of the symbols seemed complicated and it felt I was taking more time explaining what these meant than actually providing support in the correcting writing process that came after providing feedback.

proofreading symbols

For this reason, I decided to try out something new and initially started using the highlighling option of word docs to correct my students’ writing with colors. Visually, the difference was huge!

Color-coding in a Word doc:

color code word

However, I took foreeever to highlight the words and choose a color, even using keyboard short-cuts. Plan B: I bought myself a set of different colored mini highlighters (pink, orange, green, purple, blue, yellow) to do the same correction by hand and see if there was a difference in timing. There was! I discovered it still took time to highlight (’cause let’s be honest, color-coding is time-consuming), but it took less time than doing it in Word. It helped save time to keep the top off all the highlighters while I was correcting.

When I gave back the color-coded written tasks for students to reflect on and correct, I noticed their understanding of the corrections was more fluent and they made a lot of them on their own without constantly asking: “Miss, what does ‘sp’ mean?”. Moreover, I could compare one trimester of using symbols with one trimester of color-coding and saw a more positive impact of my feedback through colors.
Nevertheless, I asked students to speak their minds and tell me which mode they prefered based on their experience with symbols and color-coding. They all agreed on “using colors”, saying it was just so much easier to identify the types of errors immediately by looking at the colors instead of by having to read and interpret the symbols.

Color-coding by hand (with highlighters):

So I stuck with color-coding for the third term. I’ve tried to use colors with the same meanings (purple: spelling – yellow: verb form, etc.) and have seen less struggle in students when trying to figure out what I’m pointing out to them, since there is recognition in the color and their meaning. However, the color codes are not fixed, since I’m still figuring out which are the best ones to use as well as which are more appropriate for certain writing tasks and ages. I definitely need to get myself more colors. Furthermore, I’d love to see how this works at a primary level!

Mental note: Encourage the primary team to start color-coding!

In light of the above, I am very conscious that correcting in this way takes time and might not be openly accepted by teachers who have 60, 80, 100 or 200 students. Additionally, I am aware this would not work with color-blind students, but haven’t had any color recognition issues so far. I will not deny I struggled with time to correct the works of my 26 students, but then again, correcting tasks is time consuming anyway, so I think it’s definitely worth giving it a shot.

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