Four Suggestions on Implementing Feedback in Writing Teacher Training Courses

In a previous blog, I described three recommendations for writing teacher education programs on how to incorporate some issues of feedback in teacher preparatory courses. In today’s blog, I provide four more ideas related to the same topic. Once again, these recommendations are based on the published research on feedback.

Stressing the Interpersonal Function of Feedback

Similar to many other aspects of teaching, responding to student writing “involves delicate social interactions that can enhance or undermine the effectiveness of the comments and the value of the teaching itself” (Hyland & Hyland, 2001, p. 194). Therefore, preservice courses should emphasize the interpersonal dimension of feedback (Séror, 2009). In other words, teacher-student relationships, the factor that is likely to influence the revision cycle (Lee & Schallert, 2008), should not be disregarded, and beginning instructors should be encouraged to build trusting relationships and mutual respect with their students, so that the students would consider teachers as a credible and competent source of information (Witt & Kerssen-Griep, 2011) and thus would be more likely to attend to their feedback.

Helping Teachers Implement Various Forms of Feedback

Not all feedback, of course, should be given as written comments. A wealth of research describes the importance and benefits of peer review activities (e.g., Hirvela, 1999; Liu & Hansen, 2002; Lundstrom, & Baker, 2009) and teacher-student writing conferences (e.g., Ferris, 2014; Goldstein & Conrad, 1990; Patthey-Chavez & Ferris, 1997). However, research also shows that not all teachers implement these forms of feedback in their own practices (Ferris, Liu, & Rabie, 2011). Because implementing various forms of feedback requires appropriate preparation and careful implementation, some writing instructors may not be willing to invest time and effort in the development of their theoretical and practical knowledge on how to effectively incorporate them into their writing courses.

Novice instructors, in particular, may not feel competent and confident enough to implement peer response and one-on-one conferences. In this regard, teacher educators should provide trainees with suggestions and strategies related to peer feedback and writing conferences. Pedagogically oriented literature may help second language writing teacher educators create helpful activities. For example, Ferris and Hedgcock (2014)  discuss a number of helpful suggestions for structuring peer response activities and writing conferences (pp. 252–262).

Acquainting Teachers With Time-Saving Tools in Responding to Student Writing

Even nowadays many writing teachers use an old-fashioned method to provide feedback—handwritten comments on paper copies of students’ drafts (Ferris et al., 2011). Although I personally have nothing against this method of feedback delivery, it may take a considerable amount of time, which—quite understandably—causes teachers to provide quick, brief, and at times ambiguous comments. Furthermore, students frequently have difficulty deciphering cryptic messages that teachers leave on their papers (Ferris, 1995). It is not surprising, then, that students may simply ignore these comments.

Electronic feedback, on the other hand, is more efficient and time saving, and it allows teachers to more fully respond to the student draft. Training courses should familiarize instructors with simple tools of paperless feedback, such as a course management system, or common Track Changes and Comments functions in Microsoft Word. In addition to electronic feedback, checklists and rubrics can also save teachers’ time. Creating effective rubrics, however, requires some knowledge and experience; therefore, preservice teachers would benefit from learning how to create rubrics and checklists, as well as how to use them appropriately for the purpose of providing feedback.

Emphasizing the Importance of Accountability Mechanisms

Some teachers may erroneously believe that the effectiveness of the revision process entirely depends on the quality of feedback provided by the teacher. Novice instructors are particularly susceptible to this belief because they tend to focus on their own performance and forget about the other side of the teaching-learning process—i.e., students. Revision, however, is a collaborative process, during which students should not be passive receivers of feedback; instead, they should be active participants, who reflect, analyze, ask, and revise. Writing instructors should, therefore, implement reflective tools, or “accountability mechanisms” (Ferris et al., 2011, p. 54), to help students analyze and reflect on teacher comments.

Ferris et al. (2011) found that more than one-third of the 129 composition instructors who participated in their study never implemented such accountability mechanisms. It comes as no surprise, then, that many instructors in this study expressed frustration about students who seemed to ignore feedback, did not do much revision in their subsequent drafts, and, overall, “didn’t maximize the potential of feedback” (p. 54). Therefore, writing teacher training programs should help teachers understand the importance of accountability tools. Ferris (1997; 2003) proposed using grading schemes as well as reflective responses, in which students express their thoughts and attitudes about comments received both from their teacher and peers. Other examples found in the literature on feedback are process notes (Giles, 2010), student-teacher memos (J. Sommers, 1988), writer’s memos (J. Sommers, 1989), Dear Reader letter (N. Sommers, 2013), and Letter to the Reviewer (Shvidko, 2015). All these mechanisms aim at helping students analyze feedback and revision. Preservice training courses should include these and other examples of accountability tools to help novice instructors be familiar with them and understand their usefulness.

References

Ferris, D. R. (1995). Student reactions to teacher response in multiple-draft composition classrooms, TESOL Quarterly, 29, 33–53.

Ferris, D. R. (1997). The influence of teacher commentary on student revision. TESOL Quarterly, 31, 315–339.

Ferris, D. R. (2003). Response to student writing: Implications for second language students. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ferris, D. (2014). Responding to student writing: Teachers’ philosophies and practices. Assessing Writing, 19, 6–23.

Ferris, D. R., & Hedgcock, J. S. (2014). Teaching L2 composition. Purpose, process, and practice (3rd ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ferris, D. R., Liu, H., & Rabie, B. (2011). “The Job of teaching writing”: Teacher views on responding to student writing. Writing and Pedagogy, 3(1), 39–77.

Giles, S. L. (2010). Reflective writing and the revision process: What were you thinking? Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, 1, 191–204.

Goldstein. L., & Conrad, S. (1990). Student input and the negotiation of meaning in ESL writing conferences. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 443–460.

Hirvela, A. (1999). Collaborative writing instruction and communities of readers and writers, TESOL Journal, 8(2), 7–12.

Hyland, F., & Hyland, K. (2001). Sugaring the pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback. Journal of Second Language Writing10(3), 185–212.

Lee, G., & Schallert, D. L. (2008). Constructing trust between teacher and students through feedback and revision cycles in an EFL writing classroom. Written Communication, 25(4), 506–537.

Liu, J., & Hansen, J. G. (2002). Peer response in second language writing classroom. Ann Harbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Lundstrom, K., & Baker, W. (2009). To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer’s own writing. Journal of Second Language Writing18(1), 30–43.

Montgomery, J. L., & Baker, W. (2007). Teacher-written feedback: Student perceptions, teacher self-assessment, and actual teacher performance. Journal of Second Language Writing16(2), 82–99.

Patthey-Chavez, G. G., & Ferris, D. R. (1997). Writing conferences and the weaving of multi-voiced texts in college composition. Research in the Teaching of English, 31, 51–90.

Séror, J. (2009). Institutional forces and L2 writing feedback in higher education. Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes66(2), 203–232.

Shvidko, E. (2015). Beyond “giver-receiver” relationships: Facilitating an interactive revision process. Journal of Response to Writing1(2).

Sommers, J. (1988). Behind the paper: Using the student-teacher memo. College Composition and Communication, 77–80.

Sommers, J. (1989). The writer’s memo: Collaboration, response, and development. In C. Anson (Ed.), Writing and response: Theory, practice, and research (pp. 174-186). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Sommers, N. (2013). Responding to student writers. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Witt, P. L., & Kerssen-Griep, J. (2011). Instructional feedback I: The interaction of facework and immediacy on students’ perceptions of instructor credibility. Communication Education60(1), 75–94.

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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