Comment Bubbles and Redline Documents

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By Prof. Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

I live-grade one of my students’ early memo assignments.  It’s a short 900-word IRAC that I grade (in fact, read for the first time) in front of each student during an individual conference in my office.  One benefit of that process is that there is a chance for the students to explain choices that they made in the writing process.  “Why did you opt not to use this case?”  “What was your thought when you put together this paragraph?”

Another possible way to achieve a similar benefit without the time-consuming week of individual conferences is to have students use Word’s comment bubbles and redline function.  For any kind of document you have students create and turn in, comment bubbles could be a useful way for students to explain strategic choices they made.  You could ask them, for example, to identify specific places they deliberately tried to make a passage persuasive and how they went about that.  You could ask them to flag any time they intentionally used the passive voice and to explain why (which will give you a good indication of how well they know what passive voice is in the first place).  You could even ask them to label the parts of an IRAC in their analysis.  The comment feature serves as a self-assessment tool and permits more targeted feedback during grading and conferencing with the student.

Combining the comment feature with a redline document could also be illuminating.  You could have students “grade” or “correct” a sample exam answer, submit to you a redline version showing the changes they made, and include comment bubbles to explain why they altered the original answer.  Not only does this permit students to approach material from a different perspective – how would you assess someone else’s work for meeting certain criteria rather than how would you answer the question – it brings them closer to practice.  As any summer associate knows, practitioners read, edit, and teach through redlines.  Associates are to learn from the changes made to the draft by a more senior counsel and implement what they have learned on the next assignment.

A colleague of mine does something similar in his transactional drafting course: students are given contract provisions drafted by the other side in the transaction and are asked to edit the document on behalf of their client.  Part of their score on the assignment comes from how they have explained why a particular clause is problematic and how the language they proposed would solve the issue.

When I take the time to ask and listen, my students’ thought-processes as they were creating a particular written work provide insight into their learning.  That insight, in turn, can help me relate better to them and their struggles and will allow me to be a more effective teacher.  A job well-done also turns students into more effective, self-motivated, and independent learners.  Asking students to use comment bubbles and redlining is yet another tool in your arsenal to achieve those goals.


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