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Effects of Feedback on Students' Writing

By luckysyam Aug 06, 2013 3595 Words

Writing, being a complicated and complex process is fairly neglected in the conventional classrooms. Most of the writing in the schools and colleges is completion of running notes or unfinished notes dictated by the teacher. In the present Indian classrooms focus is mostly on evaluation of writing as finished end products and not as a complex process of composing, editing and rewriting. This is the reason why most students have an inhibitive approach to writing. It is more especially so in the present circumstances where computers have reigned the arena. Since the focus in schools and colleges is on completing the ‘so-called syllabus’, writing has become a neglected aspect in the curriculum. Quite a few schools do focus emphasis on developing writing skills of the students, calling for creativity to overrule.

Actually, when the student submits his writing task it is only a first draft that he submits. This text requires constant constructive feedback so as to enable the student to reach to the final shape of the text. Throughout the course of writing, students do not or rarely receive any comments on their writing because writing is considered as a final end product. This kind of product approach does not allow the students to polish their writing skills. It is paradoxical to note that the students have not been taught to make their ideas flow on paper during the course of their study. When they encounter with a writing task, they don’t know how to write, feel stupid when they can’t find right words, fear criticism and want to avoid emotional turmoil.

In such circumstances, teacher has to become a facilitator, helping the learners to create the text rather than becoming just a reader. Correcting the writing task as a final product does not help the learner understand how to handle the errors. It does not evolve them into effective writers. The teacher should facilitate multi-drafting enabling the students to evolve themselves as writers of multi-drafts, reformulating the text again and again in order to write better than before.

This calls for a change in the perspective of teaching and learning writing. Teacher has to constantly focus on enabling the students to write more and more effectively and meaningfully. In the beginning the students should be encouraged to talk over their ideas and exchange opinions and impressions without any inhibition. That means to say that the teacher must provide feedback to the students, guiding them to use the feedback positively and enhance their writing skills. This is possible only when the feedback is given during the writing of a text rather than at the end of it. If the students are aware of the importance of feedback they feel enthused to use the tool appropriately during the process of writing and evolve themselves into effective and perfect writers. Such a feedback would provide him with guidelines to revise his text. The goal of feedback is to teach skills that help students improve their writing proficiency to the point where they are cognizant of what is expected of them as writers and are able to produce it with minimal errors and maximum clarity. (Jason Gordon Williams. ‘Providing Feedback on ESL Students' Written Assignments’, The Internet TESL Journal Volume IX, No. 10. October 2003) For the present purpose, the researcher aims to evaluate the real two-way communication choosing the comments written by the teacher on the writing tasks submitted by the students. The study examines the dialogue that takes place between the teacher and an individual or group of students, through the written feedback to their writing and their responses to it. It also examines how effective is the feedback to students in developing their ability to write better than before.

In addition it aims to analyze, categorize and evaluate the type of teachers’ comments that students receive on their writing tasks, i.e., i) evaluative or ii) instructive. The former focuses on the feedback of general nature and the latter focuses on specific language structures. Besides locating and correcting what is wrong in the learners’ writing, the teacher has to write constructive and meaningful ‘comments’ that suggest to the learner his/her learning style, level of performance and limitations along with tips to overcome these limitations.

There is a dire necessity to incorporate teaching of process approach to writing as a part of curriculum. Though many schools incorporate this aspect, it is unfortunate that most of the colleges (at intermediate or degree level) do not emphasize it as an ongoing process. What they test in terms of weekly tests, monthly tests, and end-of-term examinations is the evaluation of first draft as a final end product required to be submitted at the end of the stipulated time limit. In order to reach to this desired goal, i.e., finished end product, the students actually need to know that writing requires constant thinking- writing, revising and re-writing. They need to articulate their ideas, write them down, reflect back on their writing, reformulate where necessary/ where they are not satisfied. They need to be aware of the fact that writing is a recursive process. It is not a linear progression from one point to the other.

Students of present educational system write not for a concerned and responsive reader, but for an assessor and an evaluator, i.e., the teacher/examiner. Writing in such cases involves reproduction of memorized chunks from the textbooks. Most of the writing in textbooks is unclear, complex and pedantic. Hence, the teacher should be aware of the procedures and practices that help the learners to write better. Though it is difficult to deviate from the routine “syllabus completion”, at least once in a while, the teacher should see to it that writing moves away from concentration on written product in order to emphasize the process of writing. The teachers should encourage the students become involved with the new language, get a chance to be more adventurous and realize the close relationship between writing and thinking. When students get time to try out their ideas and get useful feedback from teachers and peers on what they have written, they can then experience the pleasure of writing as a process of discovery. Since these are the issues that the researcher considers to be essential for the study, they become central to the following research questions for this study: 1. What kind of feedback should be given on students’ writing? 2. What kind of feedback, if any, do students consider most useful for learning? 3. To what extent will the feedback, as intended by the teacher, will be comprehensible to the receiver? 4. What will be the attitude of the student toward the feedback and the feedback giver? 5. How does the feedback help students in reformulating their drafts?

Assumptions or Hypotheses:

Underlying the above questions are the following assumptions that the researcher visualizes:

* The learners will improve their writing ability through multi-drafting with the help of the feedback that the teacher offers.

* The learners will concentrate more on the process of writing than on the product if the comments they receive aim to focus on the content than on form.

* The learners’ morale will be boosted if the comments are constructive, personal and affective.

* The learners will become self-directed if the teachers’ comments give them scope and freedom to reflect upon and react accordingly. * The researcher will probe into the teachers and the learners about the issues of mutual understandings and misunderstandings, their judgments, emotions, attitudes and behaviors and their use of opportunities for teaching and learning through feedback.

* Since peer feedback is found to be as effective in improving students’ writing as teacher feedback (Chaudron 1985), the researcher shall also probe into the role of peer feedback.

In accordance with the above assumptions and hypotheses, the present study aims at fulfilling the following objectives: * To understand the role of a teacher as a facilitator in providing feedback on students’ writing to make them self-directed. * To categorize and evaluate the type of teachers’ feedback as evaluative or instructive. * To interact with the students to help them understand the value of feedback provided by the teachers. * To evolve a method of facilitating multi-drafting in students’ writing through effective feedback. * To facilitate peer feedback component to enable the students to understand the distinction between the teacher-oriented feedback and peer-oriented feedback.

In order to achieve the above objectives, the researcher will collect samples of teachers’ feedback to analyze their comments as evaluative or instructive.

Interviews will be conducted to find out distinction between the teachers’ feedback and peer feedback. It will ensure that the teachers administer constructive feedback to the students so as to nurture them to develop as effective writers. The researcher will interact with the teachers and the taught separately to have a better understanding on the importance of giving feedback on the part of teachers and receiving feedback on the part of learners.

If possible the researcher will conduct some training programme to the teachers in providing constructive feedback on students’ writing to boost their morale and help them in becoming effective writers.

Classroom observation will be conducted by the researcher to understand the role of the teacher as a facilitator in providing feedback to the students’ writing.

The researcher shall adopt Case study in understanding the effects of feedback on students’ writing tasks, as this is a qualitative study which is more desirable than quantitative study.

Structured questionnaires will be administered to elicit information on the effects of feedback on students’ writing tasks. The questionnaires help those students who are unable to articulate in interview and interactions. Literature:

Given below is a brief survey of research work already done in the “feedback on writing”: In “The message of Marking: Teacher Written Responses to Students Writing at Intermediate Grade Levels” by Dennis Searle and David Dillon, we find that written responses made by the Intermediate level teachers to their students were categorized initially as form-focusing and content-focusing responses which were in turn classified into evaluation, assessment, instruction, audience response or moving outside the writing etc. Findings show that there was overwhelming focus on form than on content. It was also found that the specific responses are of two kinds – evaluation and instruction. Vivian Zamel’s “Responding to Student Writing”, in TESOL Quarterly, Vol.19/1, March 1985, it is revealed in L1 writing research that teachers respond to most writing as if it were a final draft, thus reinforcing an extremely constricted notion of composing. Their comments are usually confusing, arbitrary and inaccessible. She also proposes that the teachers need to develop more appropriate responses for commenting in student writing understanding that writing involves producing a text that evolves time. Similarly, teachers’ responses to student in L2 settings also reveal the fact that the teachers are still by and large concerned with the accuracy and correctness of surface-level features of writing. Cynthia Low Pik Ching, of Seventh Day Adventist School, Singapore, in her article “Giving feedback on Written Work”, in Guidelines, Vol. 13/2, Dec.1991, sought to answer two questions based on the process approach to the teaching of writing in providing feedback to the learner-writers during the writing process. They are –

1. What is feedback?
2. What kinds of feedback are most appropriate for adult learners? In “Teaching ESL /EFL students to write better”(I TESL J, 1999), Yesim Cimcoz has proposed the teachers to write exactly do learners mean when they say ‘boring’, when faced with the task of ‘writing’ and think about various ways they can help the learners travel from insecurity to success, gaining confidence in writing. This issue is discussed at length in this article. “Comparing Teacher and Student Responses in Written Work”, by Nat Caulk, published under Brief Reports and Summaries in TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 28/1, Spring 1994, the author examined the functions that teachers’ and students’ comments served in the classroom. In “Internal revision: A process of discovery. In C. Cooper and L. Odell (Eds.), Research on composing. Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English, 1978” &. “Writing as process: How writing finds its own meaning. In T. R. Donovan and B. W. McClelland (Eds.), Eight approaches to teaching composition. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1980”, Donald Murray argues that our profession’s traditional, longstanding emphasis of product over process in writing has created serious misconceptions about how writing is produced. He suggests that the act of writing, upon examination, turns out to be a complex process wherein writers use language as a tool to discover and clarify meaning in experience in order to say exactly what they want.

A study by Perl (1979) of the composing processes of five unskilled college writers provides empirical evidence to support these observations. Perl discovered, for example, that frequently her subjects “began writing without any secure sense of where they were heading, acknowledging only that they would ‘figure it out’ as they went along” (Perl 1979:330-331). She concluded that by seeing their ideas on paper her subjects were able to reflect upon, change, and develop their ideas further. By accumulating discrete bits and then reworking them, Perl’s subjects were able to express more fully what they wanted to say.

In Barry P. Taylor’s “Content and Written Form: A Two-Way Street”, TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 15, No. 1 March 1981 Teaching students to outline their essays before they actually write them is a common practice which presumes that writing is a uni-directional process of recording pre-sorted, pre-digested ideas. While it is certainly true that much of an essay can be planned in advance, one must also recognize that the very act of writing can itself serve to facilitate thought and shape ideas. Essay writing is thus viewed as a bi-directional movement between content and written form. In the ESL classroom this model translates into an approach, which places composition revision in a central position. Students are taught how to write and rewrite, refine and recast rough ideas and sketchy drafts into a polished essay. This approach more closely reflects what we actually do when we write. There is a fairly common practice in language teaching wherein students are taught to outline their essays before they actually write. Writing taught as a process of discovery implies that revision becomes the main focus of the course and that the teacher, who traditionally provides feedback after the fact, intervenes to guide students through the process. Teacher-student conferences need to be regularly held between drafts so that students learn, while they are creating, what areas need to be worked on.

In Grami Mohammad A. Grami’s “The Effect Of Teachers’ Written Feedback On Esl Students’ Perception: A Study In A Saudi ESL University-Level Context”, Annual Review of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Volume 2, 2005, writing is amongst the most prominent skills that language learners need to learn as an essential component of their academic practice and later on in their professional life, which partially explains why teaching writing has prompted a good deal of research that covers various aspects of its broad instructional contexts. However, writing does not only reside in the classroom, the need for well-organised, successful writing can be seen almost everywhere, writing a formal letter to your supervisor, a casual letter to a friend, a poem or a novella, even a short memorandum are all examples of writing, i.e., the need for acceptable writing is found in about all everyday life practices; a fact that has contributed to the development of the genre approach in writing. Another fact is that teaching/learning how to write successfully gets even more complicated and challenging for both language teachers and students when it comes to ESL/EFL environments compared with teaching L1 writing. In the former case, learners have to focus on multiple interactive processes that go well beyond basic writing rules usually meant for native student writers. In conjunction with this intricacy, little research concerning teachers’ feedback on L2 writing situations has been carried out. These combined factors then may well justify the choice of this research topic and also gives a genuine reason why researching this issue could be interesting. The effect of feedback whether positive or negative is therefore a subject of great importance. (Lee, 1997, Truscott, 1996)

In his article from the ‘The Internet TESL Journal Volume IX, No. 10. October 2003’ ‘Providing Feedback on ESL Students' Written Assignments’, Jason Gordon Williams point out that the written feedback is an essential aspect of any English language writing course. This is especially true now with the predominance of the process approach to writing that requires some kind of second party feedback, usually the instructor, on student drafts. The goal of feedback is to teach skills that help students improve their writing proficiency to the point where they are cognizant of what is expected of them as writers and are able to produce it with minimal errors and maximum clarity. Teachers have to come up with an effective method of feedback that takes into account the shortcomings of common methods of feedback, the positive aspects of them and the desires of students. The goals of a particular writing course are one of the main factors that need to be considered when determining how to provide feedback. Feedback that is a mismatch with assignment or course goals may be one of the factors contributing to students not knowing how to properly respond to it. Among these are consideration of course and assignment goals, the stage of the writing process and the form of the feedback. Most of the frequently used and relied on methods of teacher feedback on written assignments are ineffective when it comes to developing and promoting students' English writing skills. Methods such as outright correction of surface errors, inconsistently marking errors, unclear and vague responses on content have all been found to have little positive and some negative impact on student writing skills. They can lead to feelings of confusion and frustration as well as passive action and indifference on behalf of the students. Teachers need to develop more systemized and consistent forms of feedback that take advantage of the process approach and make it clear to students what the feedback means and what they are to do with it. Moreover, teachers need to familiarize and train students in how to effectively use the feedback in order to make gains in their proficiency and competence as English writers. Proposed chapters of Thesis:

The study will consist of the following chapters:


Alwright J.1988. ‘Don’t correct, reformulate’ in P.C.Robinson (ed). Academic Writing:Process and Product. ELT Documents.129:109-16.London:the British Council. Barry P.Taylor. ‘ Content and Written Form: A Two-way Street’. TESOL Quarterly.15/1.1981, 5-13. Chandrasegaran, A. 1986. ‘An Exploratory Study of two EFL students’ revision and self-coorection skills’ RELC Journal17/2: 26-40. Chaudron,C. 1984, ‘The Effects of Feedback on Students’ Composition revisions’. RELC Journal 15/2: 1-14 Chenoweth, N.A. 1987.‘The need to teach rewriting’. ELT Journal 41/1:25-29. Cohen, Andrew D. 1983 a. Reformulating Compositions.TESOL. Newsletter XVII:6. 1,4-5. Cohen, Andrew D.1983 b. Reformulating Second Language Composition a potential source of learner input. Paper presented at the VIIth Annual TESOL Convention, Torento, March 18. Cohen, A. and M.C. Cavalcanti, 1990. ‘Feedback on compositions:Teacher and Student verbal reports’ in Kroll (ed):178-190. Cynthia Low Pik, Ching, 1991. ‘Giving Feedback on Written Work”. Guidelines, Vol.13/2. Dec.1991. Dennis Searle & David, Dillon, 1989’.The Message of Marking Responses to Student Writing at Intermediate Grade Level, Research in the Teaching of English, Vol.14/3, 233-242. Fathman, A and E.Whalley.1990. ‘Teacher Response to Student Writing: focus on form versus content’ in B.Kroll (ed):178-190. Flower, L. and J.R.Hayes.1981. ‘A Cognitive process theory of writing’. College Composition and Communication. 32/4:365-387. Hedge, T. 1988. Writing. Oxford University Press.

Jason Gordon Williams. ‘Providing Feedback on ESL Students' Written Assignments’, The Internet TESL Journal Volume IX, No. 10. October 2003 Keh, C. 1990. Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom. Cambridge. Leki, I.1990. ‘Coaching from the margins: issues in written response’ in B.Kroll (ed.):57-68. LEE, I. 1997. ESL Learners’ Performance in Error Correction in Writing, System, 25/4, pp 465-477. Nat, Caulk.1994. ‘Comparing Teacher and Student Responses to Written Work’. TESOL Quarterly. Vol.28/1, Spring 1994, 181-187. Perl, S. 1980. ‘Understanding Composing’. College Composition and Communication. 34/4. Shih, M. 1986. ‘Content-based approaches to teaching academic writing’ TESOL Quarterly 20/4:617-648. TRUSCOTT, J. 1996. ‘The Case against Grammar Correction in L2 Writing Classes’, Language Learning, 46/2, pp 327, 369. White, R. and V.Arndt.1991. Process Writing. Longman.

Yesim Cimcoz. Teaching ESL/EFL Students to write better. I-TESL-J. Vol. V. No. 10 Oct.1999, 1-3. Zamel, V. 1985. ‘Responding to Student Writing’. TESOL Quarterly19/1: 79-97. Zamel, V. 1985, ‘Recent Research on Writing Pedagogy’ ESOL Quarterly 21. 697-715.

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