"Using Microsoft Word Tools to Comment on Student Essays"

A CAI Workshop

Hosted by Andy Jones on February 4, 2005


The Tools and Activities of the Computer Classroom

In the computer classroom, we have access to a number of tools and processes not available in a "chalk and talk" classroom. Many of these tools have been named and explained in a web-based handout called "Use of Emerging Technology in the Writing Classroom" (http://cai.ucdavis.edu/caihandouts/caigrid.html).
Others instructors have presented similar resources to their colleagues and students. See, for instance, "Word Processing Ideas," mostly computer classroom activities that Professor Stephen Krause (http://krause.emich.edu/) uses with his students at Eastern Michigan University (http://www.emunix.emich.edu/~krause/Tips/word.html). We might look particularly at Krause's discussion of Freewriting, Musical Computers, Abstracting, and UGH Drafts for Self Editing as examples of writing activities that can work with a variety of settings and tools.
Today we'll look at three additional tools, AutoCorrect Entries, Inserting Comments, and Tracking Changes.

Symbols and Shortcuts

Closer to home, we can learn more specific lessons about "Effective and Efficient Commenting" on student essays from Sondra Reid, a retired UC Davis University Writing Program lecturer (http://wid.ucdavis.edu/handouts/effective.htm).

Dr. Reid's discussion of grading standards and grading symbols, and the suggested practice of commenting only on representative errors (rather than all errors), might send us to the web to see examples of grading symbols used by teachers of writing (http://cdis.missouri.edu/studentinfo/coursedata/1917/symbols.asp), and how Composition instructors might more fully explain those grading symbols (http://www.indiana.edu/~cwp/assgn/studentguide.html).

The use of symbols to represent actions reminded me of the "shortcuts" we depend upon when navigating between different applications on our computers or formatting a Microsoft Word document (http://www.fgcu.edu/support/office2000/word/shortcuts.html).


If we combine these two ideas, those of the grading symbol and the computer shortcut, we could imagine ways that Microsoft Word's built-in automatic spell-checker, "AutoCorrect," could be used as a primitive programming application to automate the process of providing marginal comments for the most common problems with grammar and usage that we see in students' essays.

First we should learn how to create autocorrect entries, a process spelled out by a page on the Microsoft site (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HA010346301033.aspx).

Secondly we should consider which writing errors we are most likely to find in our students' sentences. This site, http://papyr.com/hypertextbooks/engl_101/errors.htm, provides the data from the now famous study undertaken by Robert Connors and Andrea Lunsford in 1992, while this site, http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/lunsford/twenty.html, quotes the explanations and remedies found in the Andrea Lunsford writing guide, The Everyday Writer.

As a grader of virtual drafts, I have begun to create autocorrect grading "symbols" that immediately expand to a comment and some advice on a particular kind of writing problem. Using Microsoft Word, then, when I type "/intro," for instance, the words "Missing Introductory Comma" appear. When I type "//intro," one sees "Missing Comma after an Introductory Element." "///intro" yields "Readers usually need a small pause between the introductory element and the main part of the sentence, a pause most often signaled by a comma," while "////intro" becomes "Try to get into the habit of using a comma after every introductory element, be it a word, a phrase, or a clause. When the introductory element is very short, you don't always need a comma after it." I tell my students that I'll be using and quoting the Lunsford book. Even in those classes where The Everyday Writer is not assigned, I still present students with a handout explaining the "20 Most Common Errors." I also link to Lunsford's explanation from my course web site, along with the English Department Grading Standards, and a list of the grading symbols I use.

Try this at home with the sort of comments you use most often. If you depend upon other writing handbooks, such as Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference, then consider using the alphanumeric organization and symbols used by that popular writing guide. You might know, for instance, that "P1-a" in the Hacker book means that one should "use a comma before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses" (244). That way, a student in your class can instantly know the problem and review it further in your assigned textbook.

Inserting Comments and Tracking Changes

In our increasingly digital world, writing instructors may see virtual drafts--that is, drafts e-mailed or "dropped off" in one way or another--before they see paper drafts, so it makes sense that we use tools such as inserting comments and tracking changes as substitutions for our scrawled pertinent questions or red-penned grading symbols. As you probably know, the "Track Changes" tool allows you to visually represent your comments with different color fonts, crossed-out phrases, and signals in an essay's margins for excised text. "Comments" can be inserted wherever a longer response is needed -- these can be formatted as text within speech bubbles, or as footnotes at the end of a page.

Other Helpful Sites and Resources

Four from Microsoft

"Creating an AutoCorrect Entry to Store and Automatically Insert Text and Graphics": http://www.microsoft.com/enable/training/office2000/autocorrect.aspx

"Moving AutoCorrect Entries between Computers": http://support.microsoft.com/kb/186237

"How to Print a List of AutoCorrect Entries": http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=212518

"Microsoft Office Assistance: Markup": http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/CH063555981033.aspx


Three From Universities

The E-Grading Process: Student and Faculty Perspectives: http://web.brandeis.edu/pages/view/Teaching/ElectronicGrading

Advantages of Paperless Grading: http://www.coastal.edu/education/ti/feedback.html

"Collaboration with Technology": http://www.millikin.edu/webmaster/collaboration/


A Webliography (Microsoft Word document)

"Responding to Student Writing" (download "WritingResponsesBibliography.doc")


I'd like to hear your additional ideas on teaching writing with word processors. Please contact me at aojones@ucdavis.edu .

U.C. Davis | English Department | University Writing Program | CAI Program