Communicative and therapeutic benefits of stamping

I bought my first stamp during my first year of teaching. I realized that to write the word “NAME?” on the seemingly endless supply of labs and assignments where students forgot to place their name was a needless waste of time. Thus, once I stamped my first “NAME” onto a page, I knew I could never go back. Game on! My next creation was, “Incorrect Significant Digits”. This stamp has become my hallmark, and doubtless you know why! My few but certainly well-used stamps have saved me tens or likely hundreds of hours over the course of my career. I am known for being a quick marker who provides as close to immediate feedback as one could possibly provide, and the use of stamps has aided greatly in this regard. Marking lab data collection books, for example, is a breeze. The students know the rules — if they break them, well, I have a stamp for that!

My favourite stamp is, “Although your earlier answer is incorrect, marks have been deducted only once — Your mistake is not carried through”. This allows me to make the point to my students that s/he has contravened the accepted method, but that I can keep some hope alive offering part marks. I use this stamp particularly when evaluating Lewis dot diagrams: were a student to draw a Lewis dot diagram incorrectly but then include a proper VSEPR based on their original drawing I would give the student part marks. This stamp is particularly useful for grading assignments: I need students to be fully cognizant of their errors, and correct them before the unit test. My other favourite is “Aaaah! (Screamer)”. This stamp occupies a revered spot on the Mount Rushmore of chemistry errors:  when a student employs Roman numerals for a metal that only has one possible oxidation state, my first instinct is to want to SCREAM (into a pillow) because I have doubtless repeated the idea a hundred times already in class!

I admit I have terrible handwriting. Before my time using stamps, many students would ask me what I had written. The stamps allow students to see clearly what they have done wrong. Full disclosure, as a young teacher I focused perhaps too much on the mistakes my students made, and my rather negative comments reflected this. 

Students asked for some positive comments and so I developed some positive feedback stamps. I had a student with autism one year who was really upset with the sense of permanence that a stamp creates. 

an ink stamp that says "In all, a great job! Well done!"

Nevertheless, I needed him to know what mistakes were being made so I stamped a sticky note and put it into his book at the appropriate spot. He liked this and felt in control of the situation. I view stamps as necessary to help reinforce a system of thinking. I have had the occasional student keep track of the number of stamps they received on a given assignment/test: such students wore a high number of stamps like a badge of honour — this was not my intention, but it certainly aided a little in helping to make the predictably difficult chemistry concepts seem a little less imposing.

My stamps contain comments largely of my own creation: if you think this may be of interest for your next evaluation simply record what you repeatedly write on your students’ assignments/tests. At various times throughout the year Staples offers a teacher discount, thus allowing me to add a couple of new stamps at a reasonable price. The stamps are reasonably priced (less than $20 depending on size), but I encourage you to pick wisely regarding what you put on them and be sure to proofread (see my stamp, “Proofread carefully to see if you any words out” (“left” omitted on purpose). I would suggest using all caps, Times New Roman font and be sure you have selected red ink — not because red is the colour of correction but because it contrasts well with black/blue ink, the trade colours used by most students. 

I usually add a couple new ones each year. Stamping students’ work is an efficient way to provide feedback that they easily understand; as well, stamping a page while marking is extremely therapeutic — hammering something down onto a page is good for the frustrated chemistry educator’s soul! Proceed with caution, however, as you too may become addicted to stamping. Permit me to turn a familiar phrase:

I know who you are by the company you keep — I know how you teach by the stamps that you preach!

a collection of different types of ink stamps with chemistry corrections, for example name, significant digits

a collection of different types of ink stamps with chemistry corrections showing positive and negative feedback