Monday, September 10, 2007

The Red Pen

Another misunderstood and often maligned implement of teaching, the red pen and its counterpart, the red pencil, are a vital item in many educator's tool boxes.

Used for comments and for grading, many feel that the color evokes negative reactions in our students and may even cause them to turn off from the activity that we are encouraging in our assignments. Red, they say, is the color of anger and warning and should not be used on impressionable minds. Papers covered in red colored comments are alarming and the student will probably not read those comments.

Early in my career I bought this line of reasoning and invested heavily in turquoise, lime green and violet pens. My graded papers were a multi colored wonder -- especially when I started grading a paper at work and finished at home. In a different color pen. After a few years of this I realized why teachers have used red for generation upon generation. It is simply easier to see and distinguish from the surrounding text. When it comes to marking a test, a student is less likely to claim their paper was mismarked if you use red to point out the mistake. And frankly, the kid who wouldn't read the comments in red is unlikely to read them in purple. And does ink color really take the sting out of a failing grade? Or add to the thrill of a "100?"

These days, on the rare occasions that I mark papers, I do so in whatever pen or pencil I have handy. Except for tests. Those I grade in good, old fashioned, red. If it's nearby.


Some family input here ... Squidette feels that red is more dominant over the blue or black that she uses to write her papers. When asked if comments in red make her nervous, the answer was "yes." When asked if comments in other colors make her nervous, the answer was ... "yes." Papa Squid, when asked what color he grades papers in, responded "whatever color is in the nearest pen."


knitseashore said...

Happy belated birthday to Little Squid! Did you find his present that you were searching for all over the city?

It is interesting about the red pen. In my day job, when I print things out to work on them, I use a red pencil. If I edit online, the edits come out in red. No one has complained so far, but perhaps they use that same color with their students? Are teachers allowed to use red?

Anonymous said...

Red, to me, is a danger sign. It truly can cause an elevation in blood pressure or so that magazine I read last week tells me. Danger, excitement and a failing grade all in one LOL

Penny said...

I hated red for years. actually that might be an understatement. But markups and grades from my teachers, I wanted and didn't mind red.

Until I started grading myself. (yes, even a computer scientist may have to grade with a pen!) I didn't want red. I wanted to be kinder and nicer. So I graded in green for a while, or whatever was closest as long as it wasn't black or blue. When I had to grade final papers, I marked up one student's with a green pen, and turned it back to him saying, you better fix these ... he didn't. I returned him more comments with red. They got fixed. Go figure.

Now my pen of choice is actually a specific brand of red ball point. For everything, since I'm a student again and not teaching or TA'ing anything... and my papers are now all typed.

Funny that.