Does Marking in Red Pen Damage Students’ Self-Esteem?

There is a growing school of thought that using red ink to mark and correct student’s work is damaging to their self-esteem as it is an angry and confrontational colour traditionally associated with mistakes.   Many schools in the UK now have a policy which dictates against the use of red pen for marking , suggesting instead the use of more calming or positive colours such as green or purple.

Red does have its benefits though – possibly the easiest colour to differentiate from the blue or black that your students will have written which may make it easier for them to see where they have made errors and learn from their mistakes.   There is also an argument that if teachers are encouraged to consistently mark in an alternative colour – such as green – that green will simply be seen as the new red and the negative connotations would become associated with green.

Some would argue that it is not a problem that red is associated with mistakes – after all, when you are correcting a child’s homework you are correcting their mistakes and perhaps seeing a lot of an emotive colour like red on their work will motivate them to do a better job next time.  Others however, would argue that the red pen punishment is demotivational and acts to highlight a student’s failings rather than encourage good work.

Maybe the colour is irrelevant and it is the level of marking and correcting that we should be worried about – after all wouldn’t a child find it equally damaging to their self-esteem to find dozens of errors corrected in purple or green pen?  But where does that leave us – ignoring our students’ errors so as not to damage their self esteem?

What do YOU think – should we be marking students’ work in red pen and how far should we go in correcting their errors?