Dialogues Between Teachers and Students Through Written Feedback


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.


Please note that the Ramblings of a Linguaphile site is currently being used for thesis research. Between June 14, 2017, and December 31, 2017, any comments made on posts to this site may be used for research purposes. The identity of the person who posted the comment will be kept anonymous. For more information about the study, please see the About page. By commenting, you consent to participate.



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/.


9 thoughts on “Dialogues Between Teachers and Students Through Written Feedback

  1. I agree completely on balancing our feedback as teachers. When it comes to writing, I must admit that is very difficult for me to make it clear for the students. I mean, I do not like writing too much on the students’ papers to explain my corrections in detail. However, I do like mentioning when the content is remarkable. My emphasis is usually on the latter, if there were many mistakes in grammar and vocabulary. You see, from personal experience, when I was a student myself, long corrections by teachers made me feel discouraged, like I had to much too work on and left me with a feeling that I should play it safe next time. Like: “Choose small pre-fabricated phases so that no margin will be left for mistakes, even if you would like to convey another or more profound thought, and do not try to be creative with the language”. I definitely do not want that for my students. Ideally, I would like feedback, after having corrected a paper, to become a real dialogue with the student, preferably “live” and not in writing. So that we could go over his writing production and discuss it in a positive fashion on how to improve his work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing about your experience, Maria! We certainly do want to be careful not to give learners the impression that mistakes are bad. You’re right that balancing our feedback is important for that.

      I’ve had the privilege of being able to teach one-on-one at the school where I used to work, and it really was wonderful, because I could sit down with students and go over the written feedback I had given them together. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, but I think even in larger groups, we should encourage students to seek clarification.


    2. Yerim Lee

      Hi Maria!
      Thank you for sharing this with us!

      I like your idea of having a real discussion with students after providing written feedback. By doing so, both teachers and students can be able to understand each other better. In turn, it will help students learn better in the classroom. Yet, having one-on-one conversation with every student requires a lot of time and effort for teachers.
      Thus, in order to compensate that weak point of written feedback, audio feedback, which is providing feedback verbally by using a recording tool, is started to be used by teachers. Still, it is somewhat difficult to make comments on form with audio feedback due to its nature.
      Hence, once again, it makes me wonder what could be the most effective way of providing helpful feedback to students.


  2. courtneycon

    During my short time teaching, I have given little weight to written feedback due to the concerns raised in this post. Dealing with lower level learners makes it very difficult to provide meaningful written feedback in a way that they can apply it in the future. I find that oral feedback has been much more successful. I am lucky enough to have a computer class with my students a few times a week. During that time, I have the opportunity to sit with students and go over assignments if need be. Currently, I am teaching a foundation literacy class. Written feedback, I find, is entirely useless because they don’t understand it all. I do use visual symbol to indicate what I thought of their work (like a happy face if they did well) but it doesn’t given them much to work with in terms improving future work. Real time, oral feedback works best at this level. Any thoughts on how to provide meaningful, written feedback to low literacy learners?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is an excellent question, Courtney. I would love to hear what the Yerim, the author of this post, has to say about it, and I will ask her about it. I suppose it would be best to introduce it slowly and scaffold into more elaborate written feedback as learners’ proficiency increases. After starting with happy faces, perhaps the next step would be to assign faces or symbols to different categories, such as grammar and content (or ideas). From there, you could separate grammar into components they have studied (present tense verbs, etc) using the same system. These are just thoughts. I think that at an earlier stage, explaining to students what you’re doing, what it means, and how they can use it would be crucial.


    2. Yerim Lee

      Thanks for this intriguing question!

      As you said, with low level learners, it might be very difficult to provide effective written feedback as a teacher.
      Oral feedback, in fact, might be more meaningful for those learners as they could understand it better. However, if written feedback is needed for these students, before you provide written feedback, I think you might teach them your own “signs” which will be used in your written feedback. For example, you can explain that an oval will be used for a misspelled vocabulary and a triangle will be used for a incorrect verb. Then, try to use 2-3 signs on each written feedback repeatedly so that the students can understand their errors and revise them after.

      Using these signs, however, has to be explicitly explained to students before they receive the feedback. Also, teachers might need to be careful not to use too many signs but to focus on specific signs for important grammatical errors which the students need to learn.

      I hope this could answer your question, and if you have any thoughts on this, please share it with us!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Giving Corrective Feedback on Spoken Language Production – Ramblings of a Linguaphile

  4. Kaia

    Providing corrective feedback on written assignments in a timely fashion is an issue I struggle with. When juggling classes and wading through piles of marking it can be tough to provide written comments while an assignment is still fresh in the mind of my students. If given a long time after the assignment was completed, written corrective feedback loses its effectiveness and can even become almost useless in some instances. I have found that an ideal time to provide corrective feedback is during the time a student is creating a text. I happen to work in an environment where we get a lot of one-on-one time with our students, so this idea of providing feedback immediately as a text is being written is a technique I would like to develop within my department. By using a medium such as a Google document (something a colleague of mine does on a regular basis), both a teacher and student can be present as the student is writing. Not only can the teacher draw attention to errors in form, but s/he can also encourage discussion on how an error in form can actually affect the overall meaning of what the student is trying to convey. I have seen a lot of my students experience lightbulb moments during times when I have been present and offered feedback at the time they were creating a text. While not a practical/feasible method for a classroom, I think it holds a lot of potential for one-on-one interaction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this sounds like an excellent strategy, Kaia. I have also found that going over written feedback orally with students has been helpful at times, especially to help them identify their own errors. I often simply circle or underline mistakes and leave general comments that they need to watch for verb tense, number agreement, articles, etc. If I go over it with students, it pushes them to take the time to evaluate what specific error was made in places I have circled or underlined rather than glossing over the feedback. Of course, doing this in a timely fashion is still a challenge, and it can be time consuming.


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