Guest contributor: Yerim Lee
Yerim is a master’s student in Second Language Education through McGill University’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education. Yerim is doing her thesis work on instructors’ and students’ perceptions of written and audio feedback in graduate classrooms.
I believe that many students have experienced confusion at least once from teachers’ written feedback. The confusion could be due to the teacher’s poor hand writing, insufficient explanation, or due to a misunderstanding of what students try to convey through their writing. Teachers also experience difficulties with written feedback. For example, when I became an English teacher in South Korea, I realized how it is a difficult and laborious task for teachers to provide written feedback to each student. Despite a lot of effort to provide clear, detailed written feedback to my students, some students often came to me for clarification or further discussion. Furthermore, even though I tried to interact with each of my students through personalized written feedback, it seemed that the students’ interest didn’t lie in the personalized comments about content but in areas such as grammatical error correction or proper vocabulary use. This experience as a teacher made me wonder about the roles and efficacy of written feedback and how to effectively use it as an educational tool.
Among different types of feedback, written feedback is often regarded by teachers and students as an important tool for the learning process (Goldstein, 2004). However, written feedback’s efficacy is still inconclusive, possibly due to the fact that teachers and students in classrooms don’t always engage in clear dialogue through written feedback, as might be expected. In particular, when teachers’ intentions are not fully conveyed through written feedback, misunderstandings are likely to occur. For instance, comments such as “good” are not always understood by students. Even though it is a positive comment, students might not understand which part in their writing was “good”; thus, teachers’ written feedback without sufficient explanation might have little effect on students’ learning. In this vein, Glover and Brown (2006) state that feedback might not be helpful for students’ learning if any misunderstanding exists between teachers and students regarding the feedback given. In this sense, we can say that feedback is ideally not a monologue from teachers but a dialogue between teachers and students. Teachers should provide clear feedback, while students should be encouraged to consult the teacher about any aspects that seem unclear. Based on what I’ve found in research related to written feedback, I will also briefly suggest two additional strategies to help both teachers and students make good use of written feedback and support a clear dialogue between them.
First of all, I suggest that teachers provide more balanced written feedback, including comments on form (local issues, or grammar) and content (global issues, or content). One way to do is by setting a target number of comments for each category. According to Diab’s (2005) research, teachers give more attention to grammatical error correction even when they try to provide balanced feedback on form and content. This biased feedback does not necessarily reflect what students want from teachers’ written feedback; thus, this type of feedback might not satisfy students’ needs.
In addition, Montgomery and Baker (2007) claim that teachers may not know how to provide written feedback in terms of the focus of feedback (i.e., global and local). For example, many teachers have difficulty in deciding how much they need to focus on students’ spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, which are local issues, or on students’ ideas, contents, or organization of their writing, which are global issues. Thus, in order to provide written feedback in a more efficient way, it is important that we think about the purpose of providing written feedback to students beforehand (Goldstein, 2004). In this sense, if teachers set a target number of comments for form and content, respectively, and provide written feedback based on that target number, we would not only have a clear purpose of providing written feedback in two specific areas, but we would also efficiently provide more balanced feedback.
If a teacher aims to provide 10 comments each for form and content, including both grammatical error corrections and general ideas regarding students’ writings, it would be possible for them to focus on both categories while avoiding biased feedback. Moreover, I think students would be more satisfied as well in that it would help them become aware of their level of understanding and misconceptions, thus addressing their errors (La Fata Almendral, 2014).
The second suggestion I’d like to give to teachers is to use the “feedback sandwich” concept. A feedback sandwich is a technique which provides comments in the order of positive comments, critique, and positive comments. Although the efficacy of the feedback sandwich model on performance is still indecisive, it has been found that students perceive feedback received as a feedback sandwich technique as more effective than feedback which only includes positive or negative comments. Based on Tanaka’s research (2008), students’ perceptions play an important role in learning because perceptions can affect their motivation and attitudes, which are crucial in the learning process. Moreover, since writing is usually done individually, when the written feedback is only negative, it can harm students’ self-perception (Carless, 2006). By using a feedback sandwich (or otherwise seeking a balance between positive and constructive feedback), teachers can support students’ learning while building their confidence.
Written feedback is not just for teaching and learning; it is a vital tool for interaction between teachers and students. With the suggestions mentioned above, I hope teachers and students can use feedback to engage in engage in productive dialogue and make a better classroom together.
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Diab, R. L. (2005). Teachers’ and Students’ Beliefs about Responding to ESL Writing: A Case Study. TESL Canada Journal, 23(1), 28-43.
Glover, C., & Brown, E. (2006). Written Feedback for Students: Too Much, Too Detailed or Too Incomprehensible to Be Effective? Bioscience Education e-Journal, 7, 16.
Goldstein, L. M. (2004). Questions and Answers about Teacher Written Commentary and Student Revision: Teachers and Students Working Together. Journal of Second Language Writing, 13(1), 63-80.
La Fata Almendral, C. (2014). Formative assessment through written feedback: Examining elementary school teachers’ written feedback beliefs and practices, and the effect of models on written feedback. (3623678 Ph.D.), City University of New York, Ann Arbor. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1550352926?accountid=12339.
Lee, I. (2009). Ten Mismatches between Teachers’ Beliefs and Written Feedback Practice. ELT Journal, 63(1), 13-22.
Montgomery, J. L., & Baker, W. (2007). Teacher-Written Feedback: Student Perceptions, Teacher Self-Assessment, and Actual Teacher Performance. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16(2), 82-99.
Tanaka, M. (2008). Native and non -native teachers working collaboratively: How perceptions and roles affect teacher discourse in Japanese elementary school English language classrooms. (3335008 Ph.D.), University of California, Santa Barbara, Ann Arbor. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304658249?accountid=12339.
January 22, 2016. Exdez istock. Retrieved from http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/reconciliation-and-dialogue/call-to-dialogue/.