I know that English teachers love words. I love words, but I also love numbers. I'm not talking about math (though I love math, too); I'm talking about the Conventions of Composition website that offers self-help for grammar.
My primary goal in assigning students to write essays is to help them learn to write better. My primary goal in marking a student's essay is to help the student learn to write better. My primary goal in allowing rewrites is to help students learn to write better. Do you see the pattern?
Given this objective (helping students learn to write better), I've given substantial thought to what kinds of feedback and what processes to recommend that will help students write better.
For improving content, I've written several rubrics that explain the elements of masterful writing. I've separated the strands of analytical writing to include thesis statements, organization, use of textual, evidence, and mechanics (including how well the essay does at not repeating the writer's past grammatical errors). I love how these rubrics explain what good writing has and does, but the rubrics look at an essay in a big-picture way.
To look on a granular level, I mark mistakes using the numbers from the Conventions of Composition website. If a student goes to the number of one of her mistakes, she'll find the rule, some examples, some practice sentences with the correct answers, and three or four links for further instruction on that same topic.
I like that a student can look at a marked essay and see easily which comments have words and which have only numbers. I think it helps observant kids to differentiate between my different kinds of comments and their different kinds of errors.
Of course, I'm happy to explain grammar rules to my students and to give them practice sentences, but the Conventions of Composition website gives access to the same information on their own time. As a student rewrites an essay, she can learn how to avoid repeating her errors. And if students don't repeat their errors, they learn to write better!
What do you think about grading by numbers? Please post a comment or question below.