TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

The Challenge of Written Feedback

Sample of student feedback

Sample of student feedback

When I was a student, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind how much work giving written feedback would be. I just gladly took it and read every word my teachers would add to my work. This term I’ve begun teaching an English 101 class, and I have to read approximately 60 essays several times during the semester. Whereas previously I used to spend 10-15 minutes giving feedback on a students’ essay, I am now spending anywhere between 30-35 minutes on each essay. Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily complaining about the amount of work (this is what I signed up for and I do see the value in doing it!), but giving so much feedback has inevitably led me to question how I give feedback and how I can help students make the most out of it.

Perhaps because of the length and level of the essays I read now has increased, or maybe because I will meet students one-on-one to discuss their essay for 20 minutes after they get feedback on the first draft, I have become extremely self-conscious of every word I add when I begin writing comments to my students’ work.

This is how I am going about giving written feedback nowadays:

– I started giving electronic feedback this term just so I could actually edit my comments as I write, and so I would have more room to write.

– I am combining both shorthand writing comments, e.g., SV, Punct, #, VT, Run-on, Frag, along with longer comments in which I imagine I am talking to the student. It would be great if I could just record my comments, and while I vaguely remember someone mentioning there is software to do this, I have not used it before.

While the formats we use to give feedback matter, clearly what we say and how we say matter the most. This is actually what I’ve spent most of my time wondering lately. Am I doing is the best for my students? What could I be doing better to make my written feedback more useful for those who receive it and less time consuming for me to produce?

As I write comments on my students’ papers, I often wonder:

-Will they understand what I mean or just skip it and ignore it because it is not clear? I cannot just write a question mark or a very technical explanation of an error and expect the student to get it. But sometimes it is hard to put comments in words without writing too much! The picture I chose for this blog post is a good example of too much feedback.

-Am I sounding too harsh? I certainly don’t want to discourage students, but I also don’t want to sugar coat errors when something the student wrote is not working and needs to be revised. I have to say I do not like the way comments appear on Word –all the red lines and boxes are too much; however, I have not found a good substitute.

-Am I writing too little? Sometimes, especially when I read a paper that has more errors than the average essay, I feel like I need to just get to the most important errors and skip others. I do not want to overwhelm the student with too much feedback. But what if the student then thinks everything else he or she wrote is fine? What if they think I simply did not take the time to give feedback on everything else or did not read it? I suppose I need to continue to remind my students that I will not comment on every error on their work, just the most important ones.

As I get ready for a second round of first draft papers to come from my students, I am thinking of how I want to go about giving feedback (the language I use, the length of my comments, even where I add them). Last time, I asked students to come to tutorials prepared with questions about their feedback and essay writing. I believe this was effective for students who came prepared, as they were in charge of the discussion we had during tutorials, not me. In other words, my feedback had become theirs to adapt and question. My challenge now is making the process of giving feedback more sustainable for me while still being thorough and clear in my comments. I would love to hear tips or personal experiences from any teachers of ESOL reading this blog.

Let’s see how this next round goes. This time, I’ve got a great new playlist and some fun tea for those long nights grading essays. I’m ready!

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