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I am a luddite in so many ways. I don’t own an e-reader, I prefer vinyl to my Alexa, and I look forward to the times where I can hike or travel far enough away for my phone to get no reception.

This tendency sometimes follows me into my classroom as well, as I find that while we are often quick to proclaim technology a universal savior, there are plenty of places where it can be an unnecessary complicator that detracts from the core work of the classroom—namely reading, writing, and thinking. 

The one area where I am utterly convinced that technology is an unequivocal upgrade, though, is in responding to student work.  

Part of this is the nature of typing versus writing. Most people can type at roughly double the speed they can write, meaning we can give the same feedback in half the time.

Further, giving feedback via Google or other online platforms allows us and the students to visit and revisit our feedback anytime. This ability to recall feedback in the press of a button can be useful for everything from conducting conferences with students or parents to opening the door for both teachers and students to track feedback over multiple papers.

But what I’ve been most excited about recently when it comes to digital feedback is the ability that commenting digitally gives us to use links to send students to resources and mentor texts from across the web. The fist time I heard of doing this was in this Catlin Tucker post, and the idea spoke to me instantly because hyperlinking to things is a really useful part of the grammar of the blogging world; whenever a blogger has a concept that readers might need more information about, we just add a hyperlink to ferry the reader directly to a relevant resource. I do this all the time (see two sentences earlier) when I blog, and now I do it all the time when I respond to my students.

Over the last year I have built a small, but rapidly expanding, folder of links to mentor texts, worksheets, and tutorials that I can quickly link to in students’ writing to provide examples, inspiration, or more information.*

For instance, if a student focuses an essay solely on dry, dull facts, I might send the student links to this Chevy ad and this Allstate ad in an effort to show them that one’s pathos (emotions) and ethos (credibility) matter in persuasion too and big-time marketers know it. And if they don’t know about pathos and ethos, I can send them to this TED-Ed Talk on the subject.

Or if a student has a lot of comma splices, which can be really hard to succinctly explain, I might link them to the Grammarly Blog’s relatively clear explanation of what they are and how to fix them.

Or if a student who is writing a college essay keeps talking in generalities as opposed to specifics, I can link to student examples that get their power from being specific (I particularly like Ana’s example).

My use of these links is still in its infancy; it has only been a year since I started to use them in earnest. But in that year these links have become a powerful new tool for helping me to give students richer, fuller feedback–feedback that directly incorporates mentor texts and detailed information. Further, these links can often help me to give my feedback faster, largely because the burden to explain and show everything is lifted from my shoulders.

I should say on the subject of lessening the burden that the one caution I would give is that using more than a few links can hurt our credibility. As soon as our comments are more links to other sources than suggestions from us, it may seem like we are using links to do our jobs. But if used judiciously and thoughtfully, the links are the opposite of that. They indicate a teacher who has put in the effort to find valuable resources and cares enough about students to find ways to expand the possibilities of feedback well beyond what can be put in the one inch margins on the side of a page!

Yours in Teaching,

Matt

Let me help you!

Teachers are busy–too busy–so we need to share with each other. That is why this blog exists. I’ve studied and written about writing instruction for over ten years and would love to share what I’ve found with you. Join my mailing list now and I will send you a thoughtful post about teaching writing each week. As a thank you, you will also receive a copy of my free ebook A Game of Inches: Making the most of your feedback to student writing and deals on my upcoming book from Corwin Literacy on how to give feedback faster and better.

*A Quick Note: In conjunction with my upcoming book, Flash Feedback, from Corwin Literacy–which discusses the idea of using links in feedback in more detail–I plan to have a large database of links that is similar to how MovingWriters does their Mentor Text Dropbox. All subscribers of this blog will get access to that database once it is completed!

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