Over the years my handwriting has deteriorated to the point where even I cannot read it! This makes writing feedback for students a somewhat fraught experience for both of us! I wrote last week about the digital layer that sits above the physical layer in your classroom and a neat way to work around a poor handwriting is to use this digital layer to facilitate feedback. I have found that the mailmerge function, available in Word, for example, is very useful for painlessly providing students with feedback on their work which is both legible for the student, and useful to me.
The method I use is to create a spreadsheet with student names and email addresses at the start of the year. Because my Moodle uses LDAP authentication – in other words students log on with their school email account, this information is already sitting on Moodle in downloadable form in the Gradebook module. I can then use this spreadsheet as my mark-book for the year, even if I am not capturing grades on Moodle. A mailmerge document is a document, such as an ordinary Word document that can draw in fields from a database, such as a spreadsheet and display them in a letter, or email format. At the end of every term, for example I email students the marks I have recorded against their name, and this helps spot any errors, or jolt memories that a piece of work is outstanding, allowing any discussions about this to occur well before reports go out to parents! In its own right this is a powerful tool which has considerably lessened the load of classroom administration. Students respond well to this because it gives them a chance to see how they have done, sort out any issues, and because, as a process, it preserves privacy.
You can also type in feedback comments, however, and I believe it is this which elevates the humble mailmerge into a transformative tool in the classroom. Your mailmerge document can pull through student’s marks and comments and display these in a letter or email which can be given or sent to the student after an assessment.
This is especially useful for assessment on oral work, or other presentations where you cannot write comments on the script that has been handed in! As an English teacher, one of the more awkward moments is the need to give feedback on oral presentations. General comments can be made to the class as a whole, but one does not really want to give personal feedback to the whole class, as it is too personal. I always make notes and hand these to the student after their speech. But my handwriting renders these all but useless. What I do now is type my comments into the spreadsheet after the class, and then email the assessment and comments to the student as a mailmerge. A great benefit is that I then have a record of the comments in my spreadsheet, which helps me keep tabs on different aspects of a student’s performance, and spot improvement, or lack of it, more easily. I do the same with major pieces of writing, and end up with a tool of considerable diagnostic power when compared to a simple gradebook which only records marks achieved. The true power of the gradebook is the ability to record impressions and comments, and keep these on record painlessly!
If you use skills ladders, as I do when teaching computer skills, you can use similar techniques to record progress across a wide range of criteria, and provide feedback to students at the click of a mouse!