Make a teaching toolbox for better, faster student feedback

Teacher Toolbox: Run On Sentences in Alfred App

Building upon How to Give Your Students Better Feedback in Less Time

This article above (you should read it — I’ll wait) encourages teachers to develop a “Teaching Toolbox” — essentially, a text document containing good, detailed feedback that you can quickly and easily paste into student work while you’re grading. The big objective is to create the very best responses you can to the most common student mistakes you encounter in your grading, so you can go beyond one-word feedback like “vague” to something specific that the student can use to improve their writing.

The article doesn’t do such a great job showing visually (or technically) how one might do this. I thought this might be a great opportunity to talk about how to use handy tools like Alfred, text expansion, and clipboard snippets to keep all your best feedback close to your fingertips.

Text Expansion

Text expansion is a trick to create shortcuts for the text phrases you write most frequently, so you can simply type a shortcut like :tcsignature and your computer knows to expand it to something like:

Ted Curran
Instructional Designer

Text expansion can save you lots of time if you repeatedly enter the same kinds of information — like when you’re grading! To learn more about all the tricks you can do with text expansion (and to find the best apps for your favorite platform), check out Lifehacker’s extensive resources on the subject.

In the context of this Teaching Toolbox idea, you can create text expansion shortcuts for your most common comments, so that simply typing TT:RunOn can expand to something like

This looks like a run-on sentence. Try reading it out loud and listening to where you naturally stop speaking. That’s where your sentence should end. To learn more about run on sentences and how to fix them, read more here –>

Notice that this snippet is written with a clear explanation of the problem, and it gives the student action steps to correct it and a link to go read up on this idea.

It may seem like a lot of work to create such a complete comment for each common mistake you encounter. However, if you look at this as a reusable resource that you’re building over time, you will reap the rewards of your hard work every time you re-use that snippet to give a student good feedback.


If you use Mac, you should check out Alfred — it’s a great app launcher and tech swiss-army knife that speeds up your everyday tasks. Rather than using a dedicated text-expansion app like Text Expander, I just use the capable text expansion features in Alfred. I used the Clipboard Snippets feature to create an entry for each of the most common feedback items I’d like to invoke at a tap. A few keystrokes, and it’s pasted into the document I’m working on!

Whichever tool you’re most comfortable with, you can use text expansion to make the process of developing a Teaching Toolbox a little less painful and a lot more efficient for your workflows!

A Few More Thoughts on Feedback

On the original Teaching Toolbox article, commenter Jordan raises some good points.

You should be very focused and intentional about the kinds of feedback you give students so as not to overwhelm them. It’s easy to respond to all the grammar and spelling mistakes in student work — even when your lesson objectives don’t expressly teach or assess grammar and spelling. Of course, we’d all like it if our students proofread their work before turning it in, but (A) that often doesn’t happen, despite everyone’s best efforts, and (B) if your focus is teaching 18th Century History, then your feedback might be most effective if it focuses on the content of students’ submissions rather than the form the language takes.

Always make sure your feedback is aligned with the objectives of your lesson, and spend your precious feedback energy on helping students master your content.

This helps you fight the urge to punish students who don’t proofread (the world will punish them enough for you) and focus on solidifying their ideas in your course content.

I’m inclined to disagree with Jordan on a different point, though — he thinks that this type of Teaching Toolbox is good for low-level comments on grammar and mechanics, but would not be as effective in a content-centric course like Philosophy. In his teaching, his feedback has to be personalized around the way students construct their arguments, so he has to write personalized feedback to show them where their arguments fail.

I think there is a way of writing feedback where you can write general feedback and then deploy it in personalized ways. One example from the realm of Philosophy is the site YourLogicalFallacyIs…. It’s a set of detailed descriptions of all the logical fallacies, designed so you can send people a link to the one that they’re committing in a given online discussion.

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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