Giving feedback on writing (#ELTchat summary, 13/06/12)

by @sandymillin for #eltpics

Last night’s ELT Chat was attended by TEFLers from all over the world – the UK, Canada, Greece, Israel, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, and many more.

Most of the chat ended up being given over to how to correct students’ writing, with not that much discussion of giving feedback more generally, though some interesting points did come up about focusing on the ‘big picture’ versus the ‘nitty gritty’, for example.

And so, without further ado, here’s a digested version of the main issues discussed…

1. General feedback on/response to students’ writing

Many chatters agreed that errors are not the only thing to give feedback on in students’ writing – we also need to recognise what our students are doing well (e.g. good vocab use, good grammar, etc.), and how communicative and genuinely engaging their writing is.

 
The most important thing for @antoniaclare is to focus on the big picture (i.e. how well has the student conveyed the message, am I engaged as a reader, can I respond to it personally?), and feedback on content, before micro errors – @Marisa_C, @shaunwilden and @theteacherjames agreed!


Many chatters also agreed that class time, as well as homework time, should be dedicated to different stages in the process of writing – writing itself, reviewing, correcting, editing, re-drafting, and so on.

2. …and more detailed feedback

@lauraahaha said that when she is the student, she likes all the time and effort she put into the writing to be recognised by the teacher in terms of detailed feedback (not just on the ‘big picture).  @leoselivan agreed, noting that students also like feedback on the nitty gritty of their writing too, though, so this shouldn’t be neglected. But he also noted that since becoming an IELTS examiner, he’s focused more and more on the ‘big picture’ when marking students’ writing.

3. Agreeing with students how their work will be marked

@lauraahaha suggested that the teacher should agree with students before the work is marked, or perhaps even written, what he/she is going to correct (e.g. only 5 mistakes, or only verb tenses). Similarly, @purple_steph suggested it’s important to communicate the marking standards you’ll be using to students. @louisealix68 also suggested that students could give each other feedback and re-draft their writing before the teacher sees it. And @theteacherjames said he gets students to create their own feedback criteria before writing a draft so they know what is expected, with @Marisa_C noting how surprisingly strict students can be with each other if they do this!

@Marisa_C mentioned Wilga Rivers’ “percentages” for marking writing, e.g. 20% vocab, 20% grammar, 20% ideas, etc. (as in, you cannot deduct more than 20% or 30% of the total mark for bad grammar)

4. Using correction codes

@Marisa_C shared an amusing correction code

@leoselivan observed that it’s difficult to use a marking code where you highlight every error AND focus on the big picture at same time. Using a marking code effectively encourages teachers to be a bit more ‘petty’, focusing on small details, he says.

@theteacherjames said one of his most useful projects in the past has been co-creating a school-wide correction code for all teachers to use. @lauraahaha didn’t have such a good experience (one ‘senior’ teacher created a code which was then enforced on everybody) and suggested that the concept of “CO-creating” was important if this was to be successful. @purple_steph has also had trouble implementing this in her college.

Several chatters noted that consistency of code use between teachers does help if students are to work and progress long-term in their writing. @theteacherjames later said that he’d stopped using a correction code – students seem to get on fine without it. If they’re just pointed towards an error, they can often work out what it is.

5. Using coloured pens to mark work

@David__Boughton asked how people felt about using red pen for correction. @Marisa_C said it doesn’t have to be that scary, but conceded that most books argue against it. @leoselivan and @antoniaclare agreed that red pen isn’t necessarily that harsh – and @shaunwilden observed that it’s more the amount of colour on the page than what colour is used which might frighten students!

@stiiiv suggested teachers could use two colours – one for marking the good bits in students’ writing, and another for marking the not-so-good (though @purple_steph and @esolcourses advised against red and green for this purpose, in case students are colour blind!). He also mentioned a colleague who uses different colours for different errors (e.g. green for grammar, red for vocab) to help students see patterns. @Marisa_C said she does this in Word – using different colour highlighting for different purposes.

6. Other tools and techniques for writing feedback

@singernick, @shaunwilden and @lauraahaha all talked about using screencasts as a means of giving students feedback. @lauraahaha shared a link to her blog post featuring an example of this. Several chatters mentioned how well students receive this – @Marisa_C says it adds the teacher’s ‘personal touch’. @antoniaclare shared a collection of links and thoughts about giving video feedback on written work here (by Russell Stannard).

@Noreen_Lam suggested teachers might highlight errors on the whiteboard without identifying which students’ writing they came from, then let students peer correct. @stiiiv noted how this brings students together around the board – they work together with a real focus. @shaunwilden added that this could include putting things on the whiteboard that were GOOD, so students could learn from each other’s strengths as well as their weaknesses.

@stiiiv mentioned a way of raising learners’ awareness of common error patterns (possibly caused by L1) – get them to translate a short text into their L1, then translate it back without referring to the original, then explore the ‘why’ of the differences.

@harrisonmike mentioned a technique in which the teacher asks students to tell them something, then writes what they say verbatim on the whiteboard, and then learners edit this together. @samshep confirmed this is a “Language Experience Approach” taken from literacy teaching.

@Marisa_C suggested the converse of this activity (CLL-style) – the teacher asks students to read out what they’ve written, then repeats it back to them, correcting their errors.

7. Long-term learning from writing feedback

@Noreen_Lam mentioned a writing record sheet she uses on which students can record good language and frequent errors, for later reference. @lauraahaha also argued that it’s important for students to keep a record of good language use and their common errors somewhere other than on one piece of written work itself, so they can refer back to it for later writing (something like keeping a vocabulary notebook for later study/reference).

@stiiiv similarly suggested getting learners to share the feedback they got on GOOD language use, pooling it all together into one class log for future use/reference.

8. What about working on writing with 1-2-1 students?

@marcosgazzana
asked about getting 1-2-1 students to write (despite their not often wanting this, but preferring speaking practice) and how to give feedback, or coach them on this

@leoselivan suggested it’s not worth forcing them if they don’t want/need it, and @Noreen_Lam suggested if they do want/need it, it just becomes more collaborative between teacher and students, working through a piece of writing together and letting the student choose the final version.
@antoniaclare also suggested keeping pace and variety helps – doing lots of little writing activities with them throughout lessons.

9. What difference does teachers’ feedback actually make? How else can students develop their writing?

@Marisa_C asked the $64,000,000 question(s): do students actually benefit from correction, and how much can they really assimilate? @lauraahaha said they only benefit from it insofar as they engage with it (not just read then ignore it, or blindly follow teachers’ corrections), like with anything else; and @antoniaclarementioned some SLA research that suggests students don’t actually get as much as they feel they do from teachers’ corrections!

@David__Boughton said that, regardless of what research may say, he sees that it helps his students. @lauraahaha countered that this is exactly why objective research is done, however – because we can’t always trust our intuitions as teachers. @leoselivan suggested we google someone called Truscott, who’s an active voice against error correction.

On a slight tangent – @antoniaclare noted that intuition is such an important part of a good teacher’s toolkit. @lauraahaha mentioned a good book she’s been reading recently about intuitive practice.

@marcosgazzana feels that students at lower levels can’t necessarily spot errors, even if they’re pointed in the right direction, but @theteacherjames and @shaunwilden countered that this is where the teacher comes in – to help them, guide them and train them to spot errors. @David__Boughton also noted that multilingual classes can surprise you with how many things they can spot.

@Marisa_C and @antoniaclare noted that exposure to written language is key in developing students’ writing skills – students who go through intensive AND extensive reading programmes end up being better writers.

10. So, what can we conclude from all this?

@Marisa_C concluded from the chat that we need to experiment with different ways of giving feedback on students’ writing, and potentially do some action research, including asking students themselves what they feel works for them.

11. Summary of links that were shared

 

And… that’s about it for this week’s #ELTchat! See you at the next one…

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

One comment

  1. Thanks – I was sorry not to be able to stay for this chat.As far as correcting grammar goes, I just love it since my students have all been doing their work on their own wiki – I do a copy/paste of all the useful errors, and we work on it in class. Since it's basically a monolingual class everyone tends to make the same type of errors, and although the sheet of language points to work on is anonymous, everyone recognises their own writing.Note to self: make a sheet of good points too.Thanks againElizabethA

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