Giving Feedback on Student Writing. Lecture 4 Teaching Writing in EFL/ESL Joy Robbins. Today’s Session. Looks in detail at Hyland & Hyland’s (2001) investigation into how 2 teachers gave feedback to their students on their writing, and how the students responded. The Role of Feedback.
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Giving Feedback on Student Writing Lecture 4 Teaching Writing in EFL/ESL Joy Robbins
Today’s Session • Looks in detail at Hyland & Hyland’s (2001) investigation into how 2 teachers gave feedback to their students on their writing, and how the students responded
The Role of Feedback • Teachers ‘may be fulfilling several different and possibly conflicting roles as they give feedback: sometimes acting as teacher, proofreader, facilitator, gatekeeper, evaluator, and reader at the same time.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 187) What do Hyland & Hyland mean by this? How can a teacher act as teacher, proofreader, facilitator, gatekeeper, evaluator, and reader when giving feedback? Are there any other roles which you think feedback fulfils?
Feedback & the Student – Teacher Relationship • ‘In addition, [the teacher’s] personal knowledge of the writer is usually greater than it would be between [for example] a book reviewer and an author, and they probably have more interest in creating and maintaining a good face-to-face relationship with the student.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 187)
Hyland’s Informants & Data • 6 international students (3 undergrad, 3 postgrad) on pre-sessional courses at a New Zealand university • Students from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, & Thailand • 2 teachers (1 for undergrad class, 1 for postgrad class), both experienced writing instructors • Hyland analyzed teachers’ comments written at the end of each piece of writing for (1) praise; (2) criticism; and (3) suggestion
Praise • Praise is defined as ‘an act which attributes credit to another for some characteristic, attribute, skill, etc., which is positively valued by the person giving feedback.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 186) • Example of teacher comment offering praise: Vocabulary is good
Criticism • Criticism is defined as ‘an expression of dissatisfaction or negative comment on a text’. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 186) • Example of teacher comment offering criticism: Poor spelling
Suggestion • Suggestion is defined as ‘coming from the more positive end of a continuum. Suggestions differ from criticisms in containing an explicit recommendation for remediation, a relatively clear and accomplishable action for improvement, which is sometimes referred to as “constructive criticism”. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 186) • Example of teacher comment offering suggestion: You need a more general statement to introduce the topic
Drafts vs. Final Essays (1) • Do you/Should you give students different kinds of feedback on their writing, depending on whether they’re writing a first draft or the final version of their essay? Why (not)?
Drafts vs. Final Essays (2) • ‘Feedback offered at a draft stage will often be different from feedback on a final product, intended to perform a different function. Many teachers view feedback on drafts as more developmental and so offer more critical comments on specific aspects of the text, while feedback on a final product is likely to give a holistic assessment of the writing, praising and criticising more general features.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 188)
Drafts vs. Final Essays (3) • ‘…nearly three quarters of all praise was reserved for final drafts. Interviews with the two teachers revealed that Nadia felt happier offering critical comments on drafts where there was potential to improve them, and Joan was uncomfortable making critical comments on drafts without appending a positive comment. In final versions, it seems that praise was extensively used to motivate the students in their next writing. … [A]lthough the type of feedback the students received most often overall was praise, the feedback they received most on first drafts was criticism.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 194) Do you agree with Nadia and Joan’s comments?
Sugaring the Pill: Mitigation in Feedback • ‘…baldly negative comments such as “Poor spelling” or “Referencing is inadequate” were rare. In fact, 76% of all criticism and 64% of suggestions were mitigated in some way. Praise was presented baldly 75% of the time but was itself widely used to tone down the negative effect of comments.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 194)
Sugaring the Pill: Strategies What different ways can you think of to sugar the pill when giving (negative) feedback? In other words, how can you make students feel a little better about themselves?
4 Ways Hyland’s Informants Sugared the Pill • Hyland identifies 4 ways the 2 teachers in her study sugared the pill: (1) Paired act patterns (2) Hedges (3) Personal attribution (4) Interrogative syntax Let’s look at them in turn…
(1) Paired Act Patterns • This is when critical feedback is combined with praise, suggestion, or both praise and suggestion. • Criticism was combined with praise in 20% of the teachers’ remarks, with suggestion in 15 % of remarks, and with a combination of praise and suggestion in 9% of remarks.
Criticism & Praise: Example Comments • Vocabulary is good but grammar is not accurate and often makes your ideas difficult to understand. • The idea is OK, but the problem with this essay is the difficulty of finding the main idea. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 195)
Criticism & Suggestion: Example Comments • This conclusion is all a bit vague. I think it would be better to clearly state your conclusions with the brief reasons for them. • This is a very sudden start. You need a more general statement to introduce the topic. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 195) What do you think of using paired act patterns when you give feedback?
(2) Hedges • Examples of hedges include perhaps, slightly, and a little, and are used ‘to tone down criticisms and reflect a positive, sympathetic relationship with student-writers’. • They’re NOT used here to lessen possibility, but to ‘mitigate the interpersonal damage of critical comments’. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 196-7)
Hedges: Examples Where are the hedges in the comments below? • Some of the material seemed a little long-winded and I wonder if it could have been compressed a little. • Tomoko wrote well on this, you might ask to read hers. • It might also be good to change the order of your paragraphs/ideas. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 197)
(3) Personal Attribution • ‘judging another’s work is always an inherently unequal interaction because the power to evaluate is nonreciprocal and lies exclusively with the teacher. By expressing their commentary as a personal response, however, teachers can make a subtle adjustment to the interactional context and perhaps foreground a different persona. It allows them to relinquish some of their authority and adopt a less threatening voice. In other words, personal attribution allows teachers to react as ordinary readers, rather than as experts, and to slightly reposition themselves and their relationship to the student-writer. …The personal expression of criticism, then, reminds the reader that the comment carries only the view of one individual, thereby conveying the limitation of the criticism.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 198)
Personal Attribution: Examples • I’m sorry, but when reading the essay, I couldn’t see any evidence of this really. Perhaps you should have given me your outline to look at with the essay. (Contrast the impersonal construction:it was hard to see any evidence of this) • I find it hard to know what the main point of each paragraph is. (Contrast the impersonal construction:it is hard to know what the main point is)
(4) Interrogative Syntax • ‘Questions are a means of highlighting knowledge limitations and can be used to weaken the force of a statement by making it relative to a writer’s state of knowledge. While they generally seek to engage and elicit a response from the reader, questions also express the writer’s ignorance or doubt and, therefore, can mitigate the imposition of a suggestion or a criticism…’. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 198-9)
Interrogative Syntax: Examples • The first two paragraphs—do they need joining? In addition, questions are also useful when one wishes to protect oneself or one’s reader from the full effects of what might be considered serious allegations. […]: • You only mention Ward once in the essay. Are all the other ideas your own? You need to make it clear which are yours and which are hers. • Did you get some help with the editing? (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 198-9) What ‘serious allegation’ do Hyland & Hyland have in mind here?
Sugaring the Pill: Your Views • Do you use mitigating strategies when you correct students’ work? • If so, do you use the same strategies as the teachers in Hyland & Hyland’s study? If you use alternative strategies, what are they? Why do you use them? • Do mitigating strategies work? (In other words, do they make students feel a little better?) How do you know whether they work or not? How could you find out? • What would make you change the way you give feedback to students on their writing?
Teachers’ Reasons for Sugaring the Pill (1) • Hyland & Hyland show how interviews with the teachers revealed the reasons for mitigating criticism: ‘[Joan] mentioned an experience on a previous course which had affected the way she gave feedback, making her less willing to be directly critical: ‘I had a Korean student who was kind of a fossilisation problem, I guess. And her writing was just full of errors and like you didn’t even have paragraphs and it was very short. On the very first test, I think I made some criticism…and she wrote in her journal that she found this very devastating and “please try and encourage me” and so after that I modified my feedback to try and be more positive.’ .’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 199-200)
Teachers’ Reasons for Sugaring the Pill (2): Plagiarism • ‘Another possible reason for mitigating the force of comments was to minimise the possible threat which criticism carries for the “face” or public self-image of students. This was particularly evident in cases where teachers dealt with plagiarism, a very sensitive issue for feedback and something teachers are often unwilling to address directly.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 200-1)
Plagiarism (contd.) • The teachers’ sensitivity towards this issue is revealed by think-aloud data. The teachers speak into a tape recorder while writing their feedback: ‘It doesn’t sound like her words—I hate accusing people of plagiarism, but when you think it is, what do you do?’ ‘Joan wrote as her feedback—Where did you get this information? Have you used quotations?—and considered the interrogative form “a subtle way of doing it”. Unfortunately, the student’s retrospective interview revealed that she failed to identify these as rhetorical questions and to detect the underlying criticism and the implicit suggestion. The offending text remained in her final draft.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 201)
Students’ Reactions to Praise • How do students react to praise/positive feedback? • Does this vary from culture to culture? What other factors might affect how students respond (e.g. age, gender, etc.)? • As a language learner, were you ever asked what kind of feedback you wanted on your writing? If so, what happened? • If you’re a teacher, have you ever asked your students what kind of feedback they wanted? If so, what did they say?
Student Reactions to Praise: Hyland & Hyland • Students’ reactions varied: ‘Some thought such feedback served no useful function. A student in Nadia’s class, Zhang, for example, believed positive remarks were “useless” unless they were backed up by “serious” comments that he could act on…. This view of positive comments was reinforced by another student in Nadia’s class, Mei Ling, who said she discounted positive comments because “I want to know my weaknesses most”.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 201-2)
Students’ Reactions (2) • Mei Ling explained what she meant in her interview: She spoke against positive feedback as a waste of time; what she wanted was what she termed “negative” feedback highlighting her problems. For her, positive comments were insincere and, therefore, worthless: ‘Sometimes maybe the teacher doesn’t mean it, but they just try to encourage you. … Because there is always “but” after the positive. Sometimes the teacher just tries to find something good in my essay and then may be that strength is not the main point’. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 202)
Students’ Reactions (3) • However, other students enjoyed receiving praise. Another student said: ‘If teacher give me positive comments it means I succeed’. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 202)
Responding to Student Reactions • Here’s one reaction by a teacher to Hyland & Hyland’s student informants’ comments: ‘It’s clear they don’t know what kind of feedback they want and what kind of feedback they need. I wouldn’t change a thing. The students can’t make up their minds’. What’s your response to these comments? • What light do these students’ comments throw on the best way of giving feedback? • If the students in your class had said the things Hyland & Hyland’s student informants did about feedback, how would you conduct feedback in future? What changes would you make from what you do now (if any)?
Lesson: different students like different types of feedback • Hyland & Hyland’s (2001) study demonstrates that different students want different types of feedback, confirming earlier studies by Enginarlar (1993) and Radecki & Swales (1988) • Hence Goldstein (2005) argues persuasively that it’s important for us as teachers to find out exactly what type of feedback different students in our classes want, otherwise dissatisfaction can be the result…
Finding out what feedback students want • Here are some of Goldstein’s (2005) ideas for finding out what students’ feedback preferences are: ‘First, we can ask students to write autobiographies, detailing their past experiences as writers, including as complete a description as possible of the types of feedback they have received from previous teachers, what they did and did not like about this feedback, and what they did after they received this feedback. If they have saved any of their work that has teacher commentary on it, students can be encouraged to attach this work…. We can also devise questionnaires in which we ask students about their preferences.’ (pp.50-1) Goldstein (2005) recommends that teachers also discuss with students all the different ways feedback can be done, so they realize they don’t necessarily have to like the way they’ve been given feedback in the past…
Mitigated Feedback & Miscommunication • ‘…it soon became clear during the student interviews that they were often unable to understand the teachers’ mitigated comments. [E]ach case study provided several examples where students failed to understand, or only partly understood, such mitigated comments.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 202-3)
Miscommunication: Example 1 • ‘Our first example comes from Nadia’s response to Zhang’s assignment where she wanted him to define a term which he used throughout the essay. She drew his attention to this with a bald criticism followed by an interrogative suggestion: ‘My concern in this essay is that you introduce several terms in the introduction but do not provide a definition for any. I should like to know more about ‘macroscopic’—is this what you are talking about in your conclusion?’ However, in his final draft of the essay, the term was still being used without a definition, and Nadia commented that this aspect “still hasn’t changed” in this version. Zhang was surprised and somewhat put out to read this comment and said that he “didn’t understand what she wanted”.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 202-3)
Miscommunication: Example 2 • ‘…Joan felt that Keith was repeating himself and tried indirectly to alert him to the fact that certain information was superfluous with a hedged criticism’ Joan’s tape-recorded comments when writing her feedback show how she tries to mitigate her criticism: ‘It seems funny to have this repeated—oh so this second part is like a summary—this just seems like a summary—it’s not necessary. I might just write—The second section seemed like a summary of the previous information.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 204)
Miscommunication: Example 2 (contd.) But when the student was interviewed about Joan’s comments, it was clear he had misunderstood what she wanted: R Why did you change this part? K Because here—Your second section seemed like a summary. Because in my proposal, this includes two parts, so I think this is very necessary. At the end of part one I make, like Joan says, a summary. So also I have put in another summary in here. R Right so now you have two summaries at the end of each part? KYes. (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 204)
Miscommunication: Conclusions • ‘…while teachers often have laudable interpersonal and pedagogic reasons for mitigating their feedback, tentative comments have the very real potential to cloud issues and create confusion. …it seems that mitigated criticism was most opaque to students and a source of particular confusion, especially when it was phrased interrogatively and not coupled with an explicit suggestion for revision. Indirectness frequently seems to be counter-productive to the aim of clearly conveying the point the teacher wishes to make and is often reinterpreted by students according to their own writing concerns and agendas. In other cases, failure to understand implied criticisms or toned down praise leads the student to revise aspects of the text which are not problematic.’ (Hyland & Hyland 2001: 206)
Miscommunication: Solutions • In the light of Hyland & Hyland’s finding that sugaring the pill often leaves students confused or uncertain what they need to do to improve their writing, is it best not to mitigate criticism at all? • Has Hyland & Hyland’s study changed your attitude to feedback? Why (not)? • Should you sugar the pill less or more when dealing with lower level learners? Why? • How should you deal with plagiarism? Is it necessary to be more direct? (‘This is not your own work. This is cheating.’)
Helpful examples of feedback The following chapter by Ferris features several helpful examples of comments on student texts, and models and suggestions you could use: Ferris, D.R. (2008) Feedback: issues and options. In P. Friedrich (ed.), Teaching Academic Writing. London: Continuum, pp.93-124.
Task • One thing we haven’t done yet on this course is look at a range of ELT textbooks, to determine the approach they use to teach writing… • I’d like you to begin looking at a selection of ELT textbook writing activities, speculating whether the materials writer favours product, process, post-process…or a combination, or even none of these approaches! Finish looking at the material before next week. • Next time we’ll discuss the materials together…
References Enginarlar H (1993) Student response to teacher feedback in EFL writing. System 21: 193-204. Goldstein LM (2005) Teacher Written Commentary in Second Language Writing Classrooms. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Hyland F & Hyland K (2001) Sugaring the pill: praise and criticism in written feedback. Journal of Second Language Writing 10: 185-202. Radecki P & Swales J (1988) ESL student reaction to written comments on their written work. System 16: 355-365. This week’s reading Casanave CP (2003) Looking ahead to more sociopolitically-oriented case study research in L2 writing scholarship (But should it be called “post-process”?) Journal of Second Language Writing 12: 85-102. Ferris, D.R. (2008) Feedback: issues and options. In P. Friedrich (ed.), Teaching Academic Writing. London: Continuum, pp.93-124.