The Effect of Comments

The renowned German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said, “God is in the details.”

I sometimes think about that quote and how it impacts us as teachers. Sometimes one seemingly insignificant detail is the difference between triumph and failure. That one little thing can make a huge difference in a lesson or even a child’s life.

One critical detail is the importance of comments in Google Docs. In the past, I had guided students in their revisions by simply writing in the middle of the document. I would make it clear that it was my writing by using either capital letters or a different font color (or both). Students could then change their writing based on what I had written. Unfortunately, my students often disregarded what I had to say and neglected to improve their writing.

Lately, however, I realized that it was time for me to go ahead and use the well-known comments feature of Google Docs. It surprised me how this small difference–I was giving the same feedback–made a big difference in the students’ reactions. They were excited to get comments, and they often replied with humorous responses. I was absent yesterday, but I was still able to comment, and some students used the opportunity to say hello. I also noticed a change in the quality of the students’ writing: students were much more likely to follow my suggestions and take steps to improve the quality of their writing.

I have also noticed the value of giving this feedback in class when they are writing. The real-time aspect of comments keeps them engaged and much more likely to follow the advice I give. When I gave feedback away from the writing time, it often got ignored. The effect of instantaneous feedback is real and potent.

The bottom line: details matter.

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