Why Do Teachers Not Use Red Pens Anymore?

For generations, red pens have been notorious for their use as a teacher’s favorite pen, but not anymore. Many schools have banned using red ink to correct students’ work and encourage different colors instead. So why do teachers not use red pens anymore?

Teachers do not use red pens because studies show that red is more likely to be associated with causing anxiety, self-consciousness, and feelings of inferiority in students. This is especially true when teachers use it to correct or grade students’ work. To support mental health, schools encourage educators to use other colored pens, with some schools even banning the use of red pens entirely.

There’s a heated debate on whether this ban is justified. We’ll discuss alternatives to marking in red pen and other ways to make insecure students comfortable in the classroom.

Effects of Using Red Pen and Why Some Schools Have Banned It

A 2013 study by Dukes and Albanesi showed that red pen contributes to stress. They mention that red ink is a written equivalent of shouting, like writing in all-caps, bold, or underlining your words.

The study found that students described “feeling attacked” by the person who’d written comments in red ink. That emotional response interfered with their ability to understand and grow from the criticism.

For an already insecure student, using a red pen can be even more distressing.

In contrast, the red pen didn’t improve the reception of praise either. The study’s test subjects generally reported that they felt the same regardless of which color ink the positive feedback was.

Past its intensity, red ink also contributes to low self-esteem.

A 2022 study by Kimble found that children instinctively dislike the color red in academic settings. They associate it with criticism and failure.

She gives examples of how early memories of books and work containing red pen can cement a negative association with the color throughout and beyond a child’s educational career.

For instance, young children learning to write would have their work corrected – often with a red pen – for handwriting, spelling, and grammar. This early experience can cause feelings of inadequacy in writing that become deep-rooted. And whenever red is seen on paper, such negative feelings can surface, making writing a daunting and difficult task.

Another example is related to report cards, which would often be covered with red ink. The stress associated with the anticipation and the eventual receiving of your report card is a memory that’ll make even many adults uncomfortable.

While some students will use the evaluation from their report as a reason to improve, many don’t. To them, that field of red highlights their failings.

That situation only worsens if classmates see or hear of other students’ grades and feedback. A student risks being teased or bullied for poor academic performance, especially if their mistakes are glaringly evident in bright red ink.

Finally, the study points out that some students have such a negative association with red ink that they would feel stressed around a teacher wearing anything red.

For more information related to the effects of red pen and why teachers should avoid using it, check out this great video by Laura Randazzo:

Are There Benefits To Grading In Red Pen?

The red pen is traditional; teachers and other educators have used it for decades. Because students typically write in blue or black ink on white paper, red ink conveniently stands out.

It is practical for teachers to use red pen because they compile hundreds of grades and must spot their corrections and notes quickly and accurately.

Bright, contrasting ink such as red also lets students spot their errors quickly so they understand how to improve. A more subtle colored ink will likely result in feedback going unnoticed, and what’s the point of correcting students’ work if it’s going to go unseen?

However, given the reasons above about red ink’s adverse effects, schools should try to make learning less burdensome for students by moving away from using it. Current research shows that red pen contributes to that difficulty, even if it is in a relatively minor way.

It also appears that this change hasn’t impacted all schools. According to this survey by Hope, almost 70% of teachers who participated still choose to grade in red pen.

What Are The Best Alternatives To Red Pen?

The 2013 study compared red pen to neutral colors, blue and green. Both colors are more relaxed and softer than red, so students found them easier to deal with.

Ratliff et al. also found in this 2020 survey that students feel they have stronger relationships with educators who grade in blue rather than red pen.

To avoid confusion between the student’s work in blue pen and the teacher’s comments, teachers should choose a lighter shade, like cyan. Green also seems like an obvious choice.

If you’re looking for contrasting colors, pink, purple, and orange are easy to see but lack red’s aggressive factor.

The same should apply to online schooling. There aren’t any scientific studies to determine how students feel about grading styles in online learning platforms. However, for tools like Microsoft, where teachers can control the color of their instructions and comments, they can set them to more neutral colors.

How To Help A Student Who Is Self-Conscious About Their Work

There are many approaches a teacher uses to help a student who is self-conscious about their work.

Teachers should never grade dishonestly, but they can always give constructive feedback and recognize effort. Praising students for hard work can boost their confidence, encouraging them to continually give their best, especially when they struggle with a challenging lesson or subject.

According to this 2000 study by Bardine et al., pupils need continuous positive feedback to stay invested and confident in their work. The study also revealed that children must trust that this feedback matters, so a teacher must give them the necessary time to apply it.

By recognizing that a student is making a genuine effort and guiding them to success, you remind them that they don’t need perfect grades.

Constructive feedback is vital to prevent feelings of inferiority. Often, students struggle with work and become stressed because they don’t know how to approach it.

By setting clear, achievable goals and encouraging a student each step of the way, a teacher can help them feel more confident with their work. Doing so must involve correcting their mistakes, but it consists in doing that in a helpful, caring manner.


Many teachers do not use red pens because studies show that students associate red ink with criticism, even when that’s not the teacher’s intention.

To prevent students from becoming anxious or stressed, teachers should consider grading in green or purple and should remember to give constructive and balanced feedback.


Mr Mustafa

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