Sunday, June 6, 2010

Piling on the red pen

I used a green pen the first I taught because I thought the red pen suggested harshness. My students looked at me like I was an idiot and said – go for the red. In the meantime, I’ve learned to like it but I've been going a little lighter. I never knew there was such a science to it, as described in The Globe’s The Word column.

For schoolchildren, the red pen has long been a fearsome weapon, blazoning the marks of failure on once pristine writing assignments. And in recent years, many teachers have turned down the volume, switching from red’s loud rebuke to gentler purple pens. Now research has illuminated another aspect of the red-pen effect: A study published last month reveals that teachers armed with red pens actually grade more severely than those using blue.

The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that when participants marked up a paper supposedly written by an English learner, the red-pen wielders found more language mistakes to criticize. And when asked to grade a paper with no actual errors — just some doubtful style choices — the red-inksters awarded lower overall marks than the blue team.

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