I am ashamed. Why do simple solutions often elude me? I have been using Google Docs for five or six years now, and one of the main beefs I have with the system is the highlighting tool. It seems like such a small thing, but there is not a way to leave the highlighting tool “on.” I want—desperately—to sweep my cursor across the page, highlighting text as if I had a physical highlighter in hand. Word allows this. Google Docs, however, requires several clicks and menu choices to highlight something, and the process slows things down considerably, especially for an English teacher who reads hundreds of essays in a year and is always on the hunt for ways to shave seconds off the feedback process.
Just last week I realized I have been ignoring a simple solution. I can simply use the comments keyboard shortcut [Option+COMMAND+M] to save considerable time. Now, I highlight my selection, hit a few keys, and then type a quick note: “error #.” It’s so much simpler…and I am a bit sickened by the time I have wasted.
Of course, the time isn’t exactly wasted on my students. The pedagogical practice is sound. I often alert students to grammar errors, but I do NOT tell them exactly what the error is. Instead, I want to communicate, “Hey, here’s a mistake. Can you tell what it is?” Getting students to be more reflective and proactive in error correction is critical to their growth as writers.
When reading the first writing assignment of this school year, I decided to mark only the first ten grammar errors I found. I wanted to speed up my marking, and I did not want to overwhelm my students with too many notations. After marking ten errors (error 1, error 2, etc.), I continued to read the essay and kept a separate set of notes on the error patterns.
In class the students correctly label the errors I have marked and find patterns in their mistakes. These patterns then become the topics for their grammar journals, a weekly system I use to differentiate grammar instruction and make the students more proactive in their learning.
Occam’s Razor, paraphrased, states the simplest solution is usually the correct one. I am rather stunned that I have not been using this simple keyboard shortcut until now, but I also think this small example is more evidence as to how even very reflective teachers can get stuck in “the way we’ve always done it.” I know now I’m even more resolved to clean up my inefficient practices.