University of Wisconsin–Madison


In this resource, we offer a brief how-to guide for using SpeedGrader to make both marginal or annotated comments and “big picture” or global comments on student writing. We also highlight the benefits of one type of grading rubrica free-form comment rubricin Canvas.

SpeedGrader allows you to view students’ writing assignments, comment on those assignments, and evaluate them. You can also incorporate and use rubrics to evaluate student work. In addition, students can use the feature to add comments in response. 

Figure 1

Here’s how to access SpeedGrader: Open the assignment file in Canvas (here’s how to create an assignment). You should see an image on the right-hand side of your screen (as shown in Figure 1).

1. Marginal or Annotated Comments

With the “DocViewer Toolbar” in SpeedGrader (Figure 2), you can use one of six annotation types for commenting on a student submission. As shown below, the highlight annotation is similar to inserting comments in a Microsoft Word document.

The toolbar includes (1) an arrow to select text, (2) pointer annotation, (3) highlight annotation, (4) free text annotation, (5) strikeout annotation, and (6) free draw annotation. With the free text annotation, you can insert a text box with your comments over the top of the student’s writing. The free draw annotation is similar to using a pen or pencil to circle, underline, and write on the student’s text. The area annotation provides a way to insert boxes around certain passages and then make marginal comments.

Figure 2

Marginal comments can take these forms (for examples see p. 285–295 in this pdf): 

  • Facilitative feedback asks students to engage with their work more critically (e.g., revise argument, consider audience, or offer another perspective). This form is used to pose questions to students about their intended meaning as shown above.
  • Directive feedback clearly tells  a writer what to do or not to do. An example of would be: “Provide an example to make your point clear.  This takes out the guesswork.”
  • Editorial feedback corrects the text and labels grammatical errors. We recommend explaining patterns of error you’re seeing in an end comment or single marginal comment.

2. Big Picture or End Comments

You can use SpeedGrader to provide “big picture” feedback on student writing. In the image to the right, you’ll see several options in Figure 3: (1) ‘assignment comments’ box in which you can write a comment, (2) ‘file attachment’ option which can be used to create and submit a PDF or Word Document with your feedback, (3) ‘media comment’ option, and (4) ‘speech recognition’ option. 

Figure 3

When submitting a media comment (3), you can choose to record/upload a comment. You will need the latest version of Adobe Flash Player for this. See this resource to learn more about providing audio feedback. With speech recognition (4), you can record your spoken comments and they will be transcribed.

Regardless of the option you choose, your big picture comments should (1) start with praise or something that worked well before moving into your main critiques, (2) establish priorities for revision for the student, (3) address the assignment learning goals and/or evaluation criteria, and (4) summarize your marginal comments (if you gave them).

3. Developing and Using a Short Comment Rubric in SpeedGrader

When creating and editing any assignment, you can create a rubric or add one that you previously used in Canvas. It can save time and frustration to create rubrics in Google Sheets first and then import them into Canvas. Here are instructions for using Google Sheets to create rubrics and for importing them into Canvas. A free-form comment rubric allows you to save comments and form a bank of them for future use (Figure 4). Page 277 in this pdf shows one example of a short comment rubric, which the instructor uses to comment on each section of a research proposal.

Figure 4