AND GIVING FEEDBACK TO WRITING
We have all written papers for some courses to be
checked and graded by our instructors. We know very well that a paper that is returned
with red markings and notes all over is quite discouraging for the writer.
Knowing this, while giving feedback we may of course use pink pens and put
smiling faces here and there on the paper but still we see the light in the
students’ eye fading. If our aim is to win the student instead of discouraging
him, we should be looking for ways of giving feedback without losing the
The most important aspect while giving feedback is
adopting a positive attitude to student writing. While marking mechanically we
may not realize that we are showing the student only his mistakes – negative
points. If the student receives only negative feedback, he may easily be
discouraged from trying to form complex structures and using new vocabulary.
However, feedback sessions can be a beneficial experience for the student if
the teacher shows the strong points as well.
Another important point to consider while giving
feedback is the amount of correction on the end product. In academic writing,
the end product is expected to have:
- A wide range of vocabulary
- Correct grammar
- Meaningful punctuation
- Accurate spelling
- Varied sentence structures
- Unity and coherence in ideas
- Well-supported and explained major points.
If the teacher tries to make comments and corrections
on the final version of the student paper, the teacher would be exhausted and
the student would be discouraged. One alternative can be giving feedback through the process of writing. That is,
while the student is planning and organizing his ideas, the teacher can comment
on the unity and coherence of ideas. Or while the student is writing his draft,
the teacher can proofread for word-order, subject-verb agreement, spelling
mistakes. This gradual checking can minimize the exhaustive red marks on the
student paper. Another advantage of such correction is that the student sees
these comments when the writing experience is still fresh in his mind. For more
information, see Process
Another strategy for decreasing teacher writing on a student
paper is to use some kind of “code”. This list of symbols which show typical
mistakes can be found in writing guides such as APA or MLA or the teacher can
come up with one like this:
The strongWF of Hercules amazed the spectators
I knewWT him for years.
For such a code to be useful for the students, they
should be familiar with it beforehand. If you think photocopying would not be enough,
you could post an enlarged version on the wall of the class as well. Seeing the
common mistakes on the wall may also reduce the number of student mistakes.
Providing constructive feedback to the student, using a special code
for proofreading, and editing a student paper through planning and drafting
stages are some suggested ways for correcting and giving feedback to student
Some ideas on error correction in ELT
that interfere with meaning
that are less likely to interfere with meaning
top ten ESL errors
persistent mistake by Turkish learners
persistent mistake by Turkish learners
which verbs take the infinitive
wrong parts of speech: nouns/adverbs/adjectives
subject-verb, pronoun, tense
tense and forms: choosing the proper tense and form
and passive voices
structure: fragments, run-ons, convoluted sentences
absence of punctuation or transfer from the L1
10. Style: only developed with experience in the
ideas on error correction in ELT
between serious and minor errors may be a good guide in choosing what to
should prioritize what you are correcting and grading. Do not focus only
on grammar because students start to think that grammar is the only thing
that counts in writing. Most teachers react primarily to surface errors,
treating the composition as if it is a “series of separate sentences or
even clauses, rather than as a whole unit of discourse” (Zamel, 1985:
- It is a
good idea to distinguish between writers who have tried and who have not.
Presentation, obvious spelling, punctuation, and capitalization mistakes
may be there because the student did not bother to edit and proofread her
own paper. Ask the student to edit it before you check the assignment.
- Lower level
learners particularly will have trouble with finding the appropriate word
and they need more modeling. Provide correct vocabulary choices. Most of
the time word choice is idiomatic or conventionally agreed upon and it is
difficult for the learners to come up with the correct or appropriate word
even if they consult the dictionary.
correcting prepositions, a very common error in the writing of Turkish
learners of English, it is a good idea to provide the correct preposition
if it is introduced the first time. For recurrent errors, indicating wrong
preposition use and expecting the learners to self-correct would be a good
should use consistent and standardized methods to indicate to their
students the type and place of errors. Correction legends, lists of
symbols often prove useful if the teacher first trains her students on
their meaning and what is expected from the students when a certain symbol
comments on content should be consistent. Teachers must use a set of clear
and direct comments and questions, and also should familiarize students
with these comments. These comments must address the strategies required
to improve the essay and not just indicate what the teacher found lacking
or interesting. It has been reported that without training, students just
tend to ignore written comments on their essays.
level learners have been found to benefit from more direct correction
rather than indirect correction in which symbols are used or the place of error
has been indicated. Another thing that has to be kept in mind in teaching
beginning level students is, because the students are struggling with both
linguistic structure and writing conventions, the teacher has to stress
different things at different times. When the learners are making so many
mistakes, it may be futile for the teacher to try to correct every error on
the paper: it will be a waste of both time and effort for the teacher and
very discouraging and unmanageable for the student. Sometimes the teacher
should wait for the students to reach some fluency, then stress
- It has
been found that students who receive feedback and self-correct their
mistakes during revision are more likely to develop their linguistic
competence than those who receive no feedback and those who are not asked
to do re-writes. Therefore, revision in the form of re-writes is a must if
we want any improvement.
- Conferencing is a particularly useful
technique to show the learners the errors in their papers. Students can
directly ask the teacher questions on the issues they have trouble with. At
the same time the teacher may check the students’ meaning and
Zamel, V. (1985). “Responding to student writing”, TESOL
Quarterly, 19, 79-102.
Chandler, Jean. 2003. “The efficacy of various kinds of error
feedback for improvement in the accuracy and fluency of L2 student writing”, Journal
of Second language Writing, vol.12, 3, pp.267-296.
Ferris, Dana. 2001. “Error feedback in L2 writing
classes. How explicit does it need to be?”, Journal
of Second Language Writing, vol.10, 3, pp. 161-184.
Ferris, Dana. 2004. “The grammar correction
debate in L2 writing: Where are we, and where do we go from here? (and what to do in the meantime…?)”, Journal of Second
Language Writing, vol.13, 1. pp. 49-62.
C. 2004. “Examining the effect of feedback in beginning L2 composition”, Foreign
Language Annals, vol. 37, 1, p.71.
Lee, Icy. 1997. “ESL learners’ performance in
error correction in writing: Some implications for teaching”, System,
vol. 25, 4, pp. 465-477.
Myles, J. 2002. “Second language writing and
research: The writing process and error analysis in student texts”, Teaching
English as a Second or Foreign Language, vol. 6, 2.
Written by Zeliha
Gulcat and Oya Ozagac September, 2004