Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A back to school blog - beware pen colour!

Teachers - beware pen colour! A recently published US study has found that the colour of the pen used by teachers when marking student's work has an impact on student-teacher relationships. The research, led by Professor Richard Dukes and Associate Professor Heather Albanesi from the University of Colorado involved 199 undergraduate university students who provided feedback on four versions of an essay (either low-quality or high-quality) which had marks and comments from a teacher in either red or aqua coloured pen. They were asked to provide feedback on:

  • Whether they agreed with the mark given
  • What mark they would give the paper
  • Various qualities of the teacher, including whether the teacher appeared to be knowledgeable, organised, nice, enthusiastic and had a good rapport with students

They found that while there were no differences between the perceptions of the quality of the work based on pen colour, perceptions of the teachers were higher for the essays marked in aqua compared to red. Professor Dukes reported that it the colour red is "loaded with emotion". It appeared the use of a red pen equates in the student's mind to "shouting" in the same way as writing in all capitals.

The main message of the research, according to Professor Dukes was that teachers should avoid using red pen if they want to convey constructive, critical comments to students. It "adds emotional loading" to the feedback, and if the teacher does not intend this negative emotion to be part of the communication, it would be worthwhile to rethink the pen colour.

"When the student ..performs well.. and receives a high grade, the situation is a "win-win" (teacher and student are feeling good about the process)," says Dukes. "However, when the student does not perform well, at least some of the blame is put upon the teacher."

This may also be related to the study of colour psychology, which claims that colours evoke emotions, can dramatically affect moods and are powerful communication tools. In the study of colour psychology, red has been found to evoke feelings of anger and hostility, while colours such as blue and green are soothing. There are also physiological responses related to the colour red, it increases the pulse and heart rate, and raises blood pressure and increases the appetite by increasing the metabolism.

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