History of Commentary

 

Before the end of the 1950s most teacher commentary on student writing centered on correctness rather than content (Connors and Lunsford 204). The majority of comments concerned proper language construction and usage; teachers circled or underlined errors of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. In fact, many teachers used a language proficiency checklist to determine the paper's grade (Connors and Lunsford 204). For each error the teacher would make a check mark next to the violated rule. The more check marks representing such errors as disagreeing verb tense, incomplete sentences, or dangling participles, the lower the student's grade. Teachers who approach commentary in this manner act as proof-reading machines, like spell-checking and grammar-checking programs on modern computers. "Commentary" is probably an improper term to describe the marks made by these teachers; true commentary is composed of observations or remarks that require some thought process to occur between reading the text and responding. For example, the comment, "You need to provide some evidence or support for this generalization," required the teacher to recognize that the student needed to provide more information. Marking spelling and grammatical errors do not require much more effort than identifying the error.

Toward the end of the 1950s a movement began to comment on rhetorical issues besides annotating grammatical mistakes in student writing (Connors and Lunsford 204). Rhetorical issues concern the content of the writing in conjunction with format. Teachers began to pay attention to what was said and how it was said, commenting on more global issues such as provision of support and details of main points, organization of ideas, and logical progression of thought. This new method of marking papers better fulfills the definition of commentary than do circling and underlining usage and construction errors. Addressing rhetorical concerns require teachers to think about the paper's content and how its presentation could be improved. The move to addressing content as well as correctness was an improvement in teacher commentary, however there were problems with its method.

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