Minimal Marking

Thursday, July 23, 2009.

I’m assembling my syllabus for two writing courses I’ll be teaching this fall. For the first time, I’ve established a series of images or icons–what I call a teacher’s graphic vocabularly–to help students understand the ideas I want them to learn and strategies I want them to practice. Examples are here , here, here, and here.

I’ve also developed a brief series of editing marks that I use when responding to and commenting on student writing. I first came upon this idea many years ago when reading Richard Haswell’s  “Minimal Marking” (College English 45 (1983): 600-604) .  And I’ve continued to refine what marks I use year to year.

Rather than editing a student’s writing–that is, providing all of the corrections for students, “minimal marking” is intended to indicate areas in need of revision.  My version of 9 marks looks like this:

minimal marking
Two consequences of this practice: first, rather than simply edit according to a teacher’s visual cues and written corrections, students must ascertain the problem, determine what options are available to them, and then edit or revise accordingly– in other words, minimal marking is a teaching tool rather than an editing tool alone; secondly, this practice saves teachers time, especially when writing teachers have 25 to 35 students per class.

Some other advantages: Because I will have students work in writing groups, these 9 marks are easy for students to learn and practice on each other’s work.  Also, because I hold individual and group conferences with students on their work, I can easily elaborate upon any mark they have questions about.