Why I've stopped marking essays

This is what I don't do much anymore.
Why do we write? Why do people put words together and share them? What kind of response do we want?

When a student writes, how do I as a teacher respond? What do they get back from me? Does my response match the motivations central to the process of creation? Will it encourage them to create more?

There are two problems with marking the way it is traditionally done:
  1. Nobody has ever written anything hoping to have all of their errors identified. The feedback I need to give my students needs to focus on the purpose of the text and how that purpose is achieved. I need to identify elements of the text that work and don't work for the reader, and some of those elements might be specific language errors and usage, but specific 'errors' of the text should not be prior to the more holistic response to the ideas and purpose of the text.
  2. Red-pen marking (even when done in blue) is essentially proofreading. There is a time to proofread, and it is before the text is published, and it needs to be done by the student with support from the teacher and peers. Students need to own that process. *
The purpose of a written assessment is to communicate first and to identify areas for growth second. My response to a student's work should reflect those priorities. I need to respect their efforts and voice, and then point out what they might do differently the next time, identifying process issues as much as outcome issues. If a student struggles with structure, I need to define that, but also discuss how their process might be adjusted to allow for more focus on structure.  

What do I do instead?
  1. I still comment on the text, but it tends to be more about my response to the content and my process of reading. If something is interesting, I say so: if something is confusing or unclear, likewise.  
  2. I use a rubric to respond to students more holistically. The rubric breaks down the different elements of the text and allows me to isolate them In terms of language usage, I will identify general issues (sentence structure, sloppy spelling, comma use) and sometimes link to resources for them to get more help. 
  3. As we work on a text in class, I require them to look at the feedback from previous assessments to see where they're at and what they need to concentrate on or compensate for. Because they have laptops in class, they are working during class and I am much more involved in the process, helping with developing proofreading skills as we go. I can work with individuals to identify their own strengths and challenges and develop a process for progression.
A rubric I use. This is from the IB MYP Language & Literature criteria. The highlighted text is task-specific clarification.

Some of this is prompted by my own time management. I want my students to write a lot, and if I am doing very detailed proofreading-style marking, I don't have time to get it back fast enough for them to do more.

When I have written something, whether it is a blog post or a story or a lesson, I want feedback. I want a dialogue. But I don't want a proofreading. And so I will extend the Golden Rule to my students and provide more of the kind or response that creative people seek.

* I know that some teachers take the approach that no text is ever finished -- that you can always go back and re-work and edit. I can see some merits in that approach, but part of creating is completing. We can reflect after we publish, but that is a different thing than reflecting as part of the immediate process.