A recent study shows that teachers correcting an English learners’ paper will find more errors if they are correcting it with a red pen than if they are using a blue one:
Rutchick and his colleagues argue this demonstrates “using red pens increases the cognitive accessibility of failure-relevant concepts.” However, they concede that other factors could be at work. Being associated with aggression, the color red could conceivably increase graders’ testosterone level, making them more assertive and critical.
…they conclude that “it seems sensible to avoid presenting students’ work covered in a color automatically associated with failure and negativity.”
“Red pens, ubiquitous in academic settings, are not inert objects,” they add. “They are laden with meaning.”
The study, unfortunately, doesn’t delve into the basic issue of correcting student papers, though today’s column in the Boston Globe, Redlined:
Correction isn’t the most important thing writes about the same study and does raise some of those deeper questions.
In my book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, I cite research from John Truscott and Stephen Krashen that finds correcting grammar errors by writing on students’ papers to be ineffective. Instead, I suggest that using inductive methods like concept attainment and playing learning games can be much, much more effective in helping students learn correct grammar. In addition, they require much less time from the teacher.
What do you think?