Differentiate feedback to your diverse learners through Annotate PRO’s comment bank features

Tyler Wenzel
11trees Product Specialist

 As great of a teacher as you are (we know you must be great if you’re reading this!) you are only mortal. You only have 35 hours in a day. How can you deeply engage your students with detailed, timely feedback without somehow breaking the laws of physics? That’s where we can help. 11trees’ Annotate PRO (AP) makes sure that you are able to get the maximum return on the time you dedicate to providing feedback to your students. Because we know that feedback is the most impactful tactic teachers have in their control.

Annotate PRO makes it easy to create detailed explanations for common issues, in advance, then reuse that feedback with just a click – in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Google Classroom, Canvas, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard, even Gmail. You’ll be able to give higher quality guidance to your students because your time will go into thinking, not typing. You can invest time saved by NOT typing hundreds or thousands of characters into engaging with each of your student’s individual needs. 

But what if you magically had all the things you might conceivably say to students about their writing, in a big list? It wouldn’t help if they were all jumbled together in a giant spreadsheet. Content is only half the battle. To illustrate, in which of the folders in the screenshot below would you like to find one of your documents?

It’s obvious that finding the needed document in the document container on the left is going to be significantly less of a headache (yes, we all have folders that look like the one on the right. I didn’t even have to fabricate it to make the screenshot). What good is a library without the Dewey Decimal system? Even though we value the efficiency of organization, easily maintaining that organization can be a struggle. AP is a solution to that challenge – making it easy for teachers to create, organize, share and use libraries of reusable comments to speed feedback and engagement in the solutions you already know and love.

11trees’ College Edition 2nd Edition Library, a Library you can try for free and license for individual use or school-wide use, comes with more than 230 comments covering grammar, style, organization, argument, and formatting. It illustrates the way that AP can help organize content for discoverability and easy use. 

Content is conveniently organized into Groups and Sub-groups for quick navigation, even including positive feedback – making it easy to offer encouragement and authentic compliments on specific work. AP tackles two challenges you face as a teacher: the time needed to write feedback and the tools to organize and find it. 

Written by teachers, for teachers, the College Edition Library can be just a starting point for you or your institution. You have your own style and each student has their unique needs. You can easily extend the College Edition Library or create your own Libraries, Groups, and Sub-groups. The sky’s the limit to how extensive your Libraries become. You can create frameworks for feedback common to the courses you teach, then adapt them for each situation or student. Institutional clients can share Libraries, too. Collaborate with colleagues to create quality feedback Libraries aligned with your curriculum, then use analytics on how that content is used to gain insights into student needs and strengths

Let’s demonstrate how this could work for you. Imagine an English language teacher who is grading papers. Mechanics can be a challenge to master, even for proficient student-writers. There are the common mistakes like comma splices and misused apostrophes. Then there are comments you might want to author yourself based on your personal, professional feelings on topics like how to use semicolons; just because we love them doesn’t mean you have to. With all there is to say on the subject of mechanics, imagine mixing those comments in with other grammar concepts into a resource you can use term after term, year after year. 

You have the granularity to make your system as expansive or precise as needed. Everything is completely customizable, so you’re not stuck using the same system as anyone else. Take Comments and move them between Groups or create new Groups and Sub-groups for them.  AP is not limited to English language instruction either. Customize it to any scenario where you need to regularly annotate or provide feedback – whether in a Google Doc, Microsoft Word Doc, Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard – you get the idea.

One of the most important applications of Groups and Sub-groups is efficiently differentiating instruction by targeting feedback to the student’s skill level. We’re not talking about some giant robot tutor in the sky choosing what feedback to give students based on datamining their work and guessing at what generic feedback to provide based on artificial intelligence. AP depends on your intelligence. 

ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction provides us with a powerful example of using AP because we can use an internationally accepted definition of skill, from the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR), to organize feedback for different capabilities. 

In the CEFR framework an “A1” student is someone who is only capable of rudimentary communication. Explaining the intricacies of adverb use is not going to be helpful for them. An A1 level comment on adverbs would define the concept and use simple examples such as “I run quickly.” On the other hand a C2 level ESL student (completely fluent) quite likely has a better grasp on grammatical terminology than your average high school student and would benefit from understanding the nuances of how natives use adverbs like discourse markers. Feedback to this learner could include a link to further reading or a video providing in-depth commentary on the issue. 

How do you ensure the student gets a level appropriate comment? Sub-groups! Let’s use the CEFR as an example again. It has 6 levels. (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). Each level has defined expectations and topics that are taught. Look at this (barebones) framework for a library: 

At the Group level we have different CEFR levels, and we use Sub-groups for the different topics that are taught at that level. If you want an even further level of organization you could make a separate Library for each level, and then have the Groups be broad topics like “Verbs”, “Grammar”, and “Pronunciation” and use the Sub-groups for specific verb tenses or grammatical concepts.

ESL is just one obvious example where levels are clearly defined. AP can be adapted to any discipline: math, science, writing, etc. And of course AP includes a powerful search function, so once you’ve created content to segment feedback you can quickly search for an appropriate comment without worrying about Groups and Sub-groups. In the example at right we’re searching for “comma” and surfacing multiple comments across different Groups in three different Libraries. One click will add the feedback to a document, discussion board response, even a Gmail message.

While this sounds good in theory, does it work in real life? I know it does. I designed a 300+ comment library for the large ESL institution where I teach. I joined 11trees as a result of working on that project and led the implementation of Sub-groups to help share large AP content Libraries with many, many instructors while making sure the user experience made content easily discoverable.

11trees is more than a software company; we actively work with educators around the world to constantly improve the tools and content we provide. 

The clock is ticking, so try AP for free today (did we mention that a powerful, basic version of AP is forever free to individual teachers?) and see for yourself how AP can help you multiply your impact and engagement with students.