Do We Need More Studies on Teacher Feedback?

An impressive amount of research has been done on teacher response to L2 student writing. It seems like feedback scholars have taken nearly all possible directions trying to understand this “controversial yet ubiquitous pedagogical issue” (Ferris, 2004, p. 49). However, a deeper look at the literature on response to student writing reveals that despite the “rapid growth in interest in different areas of research into feedback on writing” (Hyland, 2010, p. 172), the understanding of how writing teachers develop their feedback practices in a particular teaching environment over time is fundamentally lacking.

In other words, previous research seems to overlook the issue of feedback as a developmental pedagogical phenomenon. How do novice composition instructors develop their expertise in feedback practices? How do their beliefs and practices change over time and what influences this change? Does their feedback to student writing become more sophisticated over time and does it reflect teachers’ growing understanding of the pedagogical and social value of feedback? Surprisingly, the answers to these questions are fundamentally missing in the existing literature.

However, because teachers are “the deliverers of feedback and agents of change in the classroom” (Lee, 2009a, p. 2), future L2 writing research needs to thoroughly examine the development of teachers’ abilities to provide feedback. For example, situated ethnographic study could be conducted to look at the development of feedback practices of novice L2 writing instructors. Ethnographic research methods—observations, interviews, textual analysis, field notes, reflections—will be able to provide “a fuller, more textured, humanized, and grounded” (Duff, 2007, p. 983) account of writing teachers’ experiences with feedback over time.

Previous research shows that teachers’ written feedback is “socially and politically situated” (Lee, 2008, p. 81). Personal beliefs that teachers have about feedback are inevitably mediated by the institutional and cultural climate in which teachers work (Hyland & Hyland, 2006). Naturally, oftentimes teachers’ philosophies and beliefs are in disagreement with local contextual factors; therefore, their actual practices are formed by “unequal power relations and complex interactions among stakeholders” (Lee, 2008, p. 81). Lee’s (2008; 2009a; 2009b) studies are an excellent case in point. Based on the data collected from secondary school teachers in Hong Kong, she came to a powerful yet quite pessimistic conclusion: “Although some teachers in the study had their own beliefs about feedback, like selective marking of errors and multiple drafting […], they were frustrated and hamstrung by a socio-political climate that did not allow them the autonomy to practice what they believed” (Lee. 2008, p. 81).

Therefore, it would be interesting to examine how novice instructors negotiate their beliefs about feedback and the knowledge received from graduate programs and teacher preparatory courses in the contexts whose expectations are in disagreement with their beliefs. Will teachers insist on “good feedback practices” (Lee, 2008, p. 81), thereby alienating themselves from the local institutional requirements? Or will they align with these sociopolitical powers by giving up the principles they believe to be true, yet feeling “powerless to mark student writing in their preferred ways” just like Lee’s participants did (2008, p. 82)? A longitudinal ethnographic study would allow for answering these questions.

By the same token, an ethnographic study on teacher feedback would also allow for observing what resources novice instructors utilize while learning about feedback practices. Are they relying on more experienced teachers, so-called “old-timers”? In Lee’s (2008) study, for example, one of the participants stated, “I think I actually learnt most from my colleagues” (p. 81). This is true for many beginning teachers. At the same time, a safe assumption can be made that experienced teachers, particularly those who are considered “veterans” to a specific teaching context, are most likely to adhere to the local institutional culture themselves, and more so, they are likely to be the ones who shape, to a certain extent, the pedagogical climate and the policies in that institution, including views on feedback practices, which may or may not align with new-coming teachers’ beliefs. How this situation will play out for a novice teacher is another interesting question that deserves further research.

Finally, an ethnographic study would be able to target the individual teacher. Hyland (2003) noticed that research on individual students is able to “build a picture of the various ways that students incorporate feedback in their language learning process” (p. 229). Similarly, studies on individual teachers will enhance our understanding of the complexity of feedback practices in a particular teaching context. As Storch (2010) asserted, in feedback research, the “pendulum had swung too far towards experimental studies” (p. 29). I also believe that in the field of second language writing, the pendulum has swung too far toward survey-based studies. If we need to fully understand how feedback plays out for an individual teacher in institutional, instructional, and classroom settings, we need more “meaningful and ecological valid research” (Storch, 2010, p. 29).


References

Duff, P. (2007). Qualitative approaches to classroom research with English language learners. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.), International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 973–986). New York, NY: Springer.

Ferris, D. R. (2004). The “grammar correction” debate in L2 writing: Where are we, and where do we go from here? (and what do we do in the meantime…?). Journal of Second Language Writing13(1), 49–62.

Hyland, F. (2003). Focusing on form: Student engagement with teacher feedback. System31(2), 217–230.

Hyland, F. (2010). Future directions in feedback on second language writing: Overview and research agenda. International Journal of English Studies, 10(2), 171–182.

Hyland K., & Hyland, F. (Eds.). (2006) Feedback in second language writing: Contexts and issues. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, I. (2008). Understanding teachers’ written feedback practices in Hong Kong secondary classrooms. Journal of Second Language Writing17(2), 69–85.

Lee, I. (2009a). Feedback revolution: What gets in the way? ELT Journal65(1), 1–12.

Lee, I. (2009b). Ten mismatches between teachers’ beliefs and written feedback practice. ELT Journal63(1), 13–22.

Storch, N. (2010). Critical feedback on written corrective feedback research. International Journal of English Studies10(2), 29–46.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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