Study shows red pen corrections bum students out

Oh, the dreaded red pen, the scarlet letter of the academic world. Sure it's easier to read where we screwed up, but according to a recent study it erodes any warm, fuzzy feeling we might have about our teachers.

Sociology professor Richard Dukes and associate professor Heather Albanesi of the University of Chicago conducted a study with 199 undergrads, and found color counts in the student/teacher relationship.

The researchers randomly gave the participants four version of an essay answer along with a grade, given by a hypothetical teacher named Pat. The four versions included "high-quality" and "low-quality" responses written in either red or blue. The students were asked to rate whether they agreed with the grade, the grade they would have given the paper and digging deeper, what they thought about the teacher. Were they knowledgeable, organized, nice, enthusiastic, and maintained a rapport with students? This was followed up by a questionnaire.

The results showed the red pen doesn't matter if we do well — we're happy either way. But if we don't do well results indicated we put at least some of the blame on the teacher.

Dukes told The ABC that using a red pen translates as shouting to a student, much like typing in all caps can. Since shouting is linked with emotion, that's a big red flag for teachers. Teaching is also about the relationship between the student and teacher — it's not just that the information is conveyed — but also about how.

Of course part of that is personality, but the tools used also help that relationship. According to the study if teachers have "constructive, critical comments" to convey in writing it is likely to be swallowed more easily with a blue pen.

While the results of the study were of moderate strength, they were statistically significant according to Dukes. He told The ABC:

"They are like a gentle rain — not life-changing, but it is raining."

When put like that, it drives home the idea that the build up of the shouting can be pretty depressing for a student making them feel negatively about the subject or perhaps even their ability to learn. According to Dukes, just change that pen color.

"[Doing so can] generate worthwhile results by facilitating teacher-student interaction, and can do so without affecting rigor in the delivery of the curriculum," he noted in the interview.

The study was recently published in The Social Science Journal.

The Social Science Journal, via The ABC

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