As teachers, we strive to offer relevant and thorough feedback to our students, yet writing the same comments on your students’ copies may become repetitive and tiresome. To address this problem, I have developed a way to provide meaningful feedback with less typing for teachers.
Using Google Workspace (Sheets and Docs), I created a homemade comment generator, saving hours of essay grading time while providing students with robust comments. This tool works as an interactive grading rubric, allowing teachers to reuse comments they have previously created themselves.
Here, I will present how I use my comment generator and walk you through the process of creating your own basic comment generator, which you can easily adapt to your specific courses and your teaching needs.
The genesis of the comment generator
Fifteen years ago, when I began teaching at the Collège de Bois-de-Boulogne, I quickly realized that I repeatedly provided similar comments in feedback to students.
Errors were consistently repeated in activities such as oral presentations and essays. For instance, mispronunciations of common words like “there” and “house” were frequent in oral presentations. In essay writing, issues like weak thesis statements or topic sentences that failed to connect with the thesis emerged repeatedly.
Another challenge I encountered with respect to providing feedback was when students would come in one after the other to do their oral presentations in front of me. It was increasingly difficult to capture all the mistakes and record all the essential comments during these sessions. The situation was even worse when it involved group presentations, where multiple students engaged in discussions, making it challenging to attribute comments to specific speakers. The only solution was to record the presentations and then painstakingly review them later, resulting in hours upon hours of additional work.
These challenges fueled my desire to find a more efficient method for delivering feedback to students and search for an alternative approach.
With a long teaching career ahead of me, I decided, within my 1st year of teaching, not to spend countless hours reiterating the same comments over and over again. Instead, I started to build a bank of comments. Each time I encountered a mispronounced word or identified a new issue in essay correction, such as unprofessional or unacademic language, I added it to the bank. In this manner, it has been a work in progress for the last 15 years, as I have consistently enriched the bank with insights and comments to provide more effective guidance to students. This is how my homemade comment generator was born.
As the name suggests, a comment generator is a tool designed to generate comments. However, unlike some existing platforms such as Turnitin or AI-powered tools, which are primarily tailored for essays, the homemade comment generator I’ve developed allows teachers to reuse comments they have generated themselves. Therefore, it has a broader application than the comment generator tools you might already know. It can be effectively used for various purposes, from oral presentations to projects. In addition, it offers a more personalized approach; it is all about providing feedback with purpose.
How a comment generator works
A comment generator operates on a systematic approach, which I have developed over the years. Once you have selected your bank of comments, you can efficiently categorize them into sections. Personally, I have used multiple databases using spreadsheets. These databases of comments include:
- Editing and Revising
- General Comments
To facilitate the process, I’ve condensed these sections into a single spreadsheet page, incorporating 7 distinct tabs. This arrangement not only brings a logical order to the feedback process but also offers students a comprehensive critique of their work. Importantly, the comments are not only negative; they also include positive feedback.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how I use a comment generator:
- I begin by transferring (copying and pasting) my evaluation grid or evaluation overview onto either Excel or Google Sheets.
- Within each section or criterion of the grid, I create dropdown boxes where comments can be inserted. For instance, under the “grammar” section, a text box allows for the insertion of specific grammar-related comments.
- To avoid demotivating students, I set a maximum limit of 5 comments for each section. These comments are reserved for errors that are either particularly severe or recurring.
- To add a comment, I simply type a keyword or a word that I believe is part of the comment and all my comments related to this word will appear.
- I select the appropriate comment according to the situation.
- I repeat the process for each section.
As you might have noticed, my comments identify issues in technical terms, explain them in plain language, and point the students toward resources to explore concepts further. This method ensures the students receive robust and meaningful feedback. In addition, it’s important to let the students know that not all errors have been identified iwhich might justify their grades.
These videos present complete tutorials on how I use the comment generator for writing and speaking evaluations.
The comment generator serves not only as a feedback tool but also as a valuable revision tool for students.
To do so, I share with my students the top 30 comments that have consistently emerged in each section. They can consult this publicly available list and see if they have made any of these top 30 common mistakes, allowing them to pinpoint areas of improvement.
This list acts as a checklist in their revision process, providing them with clear guidance on where to focus their efforts when refining their work.
Benefits of a homemade comment generator
This approach benefits both students and teachers significantly. It reduces the teacher’s workload and empowers students in their learning process.
A time-saving approach
It offers teachers a substantial time-saving advantage, even when dealing with a vast bank of thousands of comments. Over time, you become so familiar with your comments that you can predict what you would have written, even if it’s a comment you last used five years ago. You can simply start typing relevant keywords, and the comment generator provides a list of possible sentences or phrases, making the feedback process more efficient. This approach allows teachers to focus more on the quality of feedback and less on repetitive tasks.
A comprehensive approach
Moreover, the level of detail of the comments provides comprehensive feedback, especially when students have dedicated considerable time and effort to their assignments. Simply marking errors with codes like “SP” or circling words with minimal explanation can be frustrating for students who have invested five to seven hours in their work.
Students rightfully expect a thoughtful appraisal of their efforts. When teachers go the extra mile in offering constructive feedback, it conveys dedication to the student’s progress. In my experience, I’ve had students approach me after receiving such feedback, expressing their appreciation for the time and effort invested in providing them with a meaningful evaluation.
In addition, it reduces the need for students to seek immediate clarification because the detailed feedback provides a comprehensive understanding of their mistakes.
There used to be a queue during breaks, with students holding their papers, and having questions on the various comments and markings. With the implementation of this feedback system, these queues have largely disappeared as students no longer felt the urgency to ask about the meaning of some comments.
A student-centered approach
This approach not only identifies problems but also provides students with practical solutions and resources for improvement, such as online resources, books, or other materials.
It empowers students with a deeper understanding of their mistakes and a clear path to enhance their performance. Those academically inclined students who are genuinely interested in learning don’t only want to correct their errors but also see this feedback as an opportunity for self-improvement.
The provided resources allow them to explore the issue further and take charge of their own learning. Those students can then avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
How to make your own comment generator
As teachers, each of us has unique teaching styles and specific needs when it comes to providing feedback. There are various methods to provide feedback, including traditional approaches like pen and paper or more modern methods like voice recording.
However, if you prefer typing or using a comment generator, you can take advantage of this system’s efficiency. Therefore, I highly recommend starting your personalized comment generator.
The key is to begin with general comments that can cover a wide range of situations and then gradually become more specific as needed. For example, you could start with a general comment on “spelling”, but as you get into the more specific situations, you could add a sub-comment to this one that deals with specific spelling cases and such.
Here are some steps to create a basic comment generator in Google Sheets:
- Create a new spreadsheet.
- Create 2 tabs: one labelled “data” and another entitled “comments.”
- On the data tab, populate a column with your most often-used comments.
- Create an outline on the comments tab with a title and general information every student will receive.
- Below your outline, select a cell and then choose menu options “Data > Data validation.”
- Choose “Add a rule” and select “Dropdown (from a range)” in the Criteria field.
- Select your data range.
By following these steps, you’ll have a basic comment generator that allows you to select and insert comments efficiently. When you type a longer comment in the comment generator, you’re crafting a fully detailed response that you won’t have to type out again. Instead, for subsequent instances where a similar issue arises, you only need to input a few keywords or phrases, and the generator retrieves the entire comment for you.
For a more detailed step-by-step guideline, watch the tutorial provided below.
As you become more comfortable with this approach, you can explore advanced concepts, such as dividing your comments into sections or specifying each comment with these elements:
- Problem identification (you meticulously describe the problem)
- Examples (you offer examples of both incorrect and correct usage)
- Resources (you provide hyperlinks to additional resources. They can range from your grammar website to specific chapters in textbooks or other online sources.)
Remember that your comment generator is a work in process, and it’s essential to continuously refine and expand it over time.
A collaborative comment generator? Why not!
Creating a comment generator benefits individual teachers but also offers opportunities for departmental collaboration.
Pooling your effort by working together on a collaborative comment generator can be especially valuable for new teachers, freshly graduated from university or still acclimating to the teaching environment. Comment generators provide them with a structured approach to evaluating students’ work.
For departments interested in implementing a shared comment generator, here’s how it can work:
- Using tools like Excel or Google Sheets, you can simply share the comment generator document. Depending on the software, you can grant access to anyone, limit it to people within your college, or define specific permission sets.
- Each teacher can then decide whether to use the shared database as is or create their copy for customization.
- The ultimate vision is a collaborative effort where departments collectively maintain and improve their comment generators.
This collaborative approach encourages consistency in feedback across courses and levels.
While this collaborative idea has great potential, it’s worth noting that I have yet to come across any instances of departments fully embracing this concept, including my own. Although discussions have taken place about the possibilities comment generators offer, we haven’t yet fully integrated them into departmental practices.
I firmly believe that comment generators offer significant opportunities to improve your teaching practices and the students’ learning experience. I invite you to explore the possibilities of homemade comment generators and share them in the comments below!