Color-Coded Feedback: It’s Efficient and Effective

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color-coded feedback
photo credit: Peter Talke Photography via photopin cc

Few, if any, teachers find grading enjoyable. This is especially true when grading writing assignments. Plus, students hate it when their returned papers are so marked up that it looks like the teacher has re-written the entire paper. This is why providing effective feedback is so important.

The color-coded feedback system, illustrated below, has proven extremely effective at providing meaningful feedback while maximizing time. Most important, I find the quality of  the revised works prove to be superior when compared to the traditional grades system.

Using a highlighter, different color pens or pencils, or even colorful sticky notes, you (or a peer because this system works extremely well for peer feedback) use different colors to provide various types of feedback. This technique also works well for online editing and feedback.

Begin the process by sharing with the students what you’re looking for–a rubric of sorts–and create your color-coded key.

Example 1

Red-Areas that need major improvement

Orange-Some improvement is needed

Green-criteria has been met or exemplary work

Example 2

The following colors will be used to indicate where an error has occurred. Each color indicates a specific type of error.

Red: Subject-verb agreement, the subject and verb in a sentence need to match grammatically

Orange: Verb tense is wrong

Green: Spelling error

Blue: Incorrect pronoun is used

A third way of using color-coded feedback is to have students highlight examples of predefined features whenever they occur. For example, students could highlight a thesis statement in one color, topic sentences or mini-thesis statements in a second color, and transition/conclusion sentences in a third color. Students can then choose their favorite and best examples to share with their classmates.

7 benefits of color-coded feedback

  1. The use of colors increases student focus.
  2. Colors leave a vivid impression of what is effective and what is ineffective.
  3. It’s efficient for both the teacher, or whoever is providing the feedback, and the student.
  4. Color-coded feedback is not overly specific, meaning the student who is receiving the feedback still must determine what to do to improve his/her writing.
  5. The editor isn’t re-writing and instead is only providing feedback and some commentary.
  6. For peer editing, color-coded feedback simplifies the assessment process and makes it less threatening.
  7. A simple glance–which color is used most/least–provides instant feedback to the teacher and the student, and don’t we all love instant feedback?

As teachers we dread grading and we must manage our precious time wisely. Instead of micromanaging student writing, use color-coded feedback, which provides timely feedback that ultimately builds students’ writing skills.

Have you tried color-coded feedback or anything similar? Please share your experience with alternative assessment practices in our comment section or in the Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group.

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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