TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Enhancing Writing Feedback through Digital Technologies

Feedback is an essential part of any writing class. We learn not only from writing itself and the explicit instruction we might receive, but also (or perhaps mainly?) from using the feedback we get from both our peers and our instructors. I believe that we need to try different approaches to improve the kind of feedback we give to our students in order to make it more effective.

Often we complain about students not making changes or reading our comments, so what can we do about it? A starting point is to think about our challenges and look for alternatives and different ways to approach the feedback process. We need to put ourselves in our students’ shoes and give feedback that is clear and meaningful to students. Of course, most teachers also face time limitations, so how can this be done?

The following link is copy of a presentation I gave on this topic at the WAESOL conference at Highline Comunity College on October 25, 2014. Below you’ll also find three links to short tutorials I’ve made on how to use some of the digital tools mentioned. Please feel free to share some of your strategies, questions, and comments. This is a topic I am passionate about and I would love to continue the conversation online!

Click to hear an 18-min version of my presentation:

Narrated Presentation

Link to tutorials:

Kaizena

Google Drive

Quizlet

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4 thoughts on “Enhancing Writing Feedback through Digital Technologies

  1. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for sharing your presentation. I was pleased to see our answers on Twitter the other day helped! I like using screencasts for feedback in my online writing course, although before watching your presentation I wouldn’t have placed them so categorically in the “no interaction enabled” category. It is true, however, that any interaction would have to be carried on outside the screencast itself.
    I was wondering how much interaction occurs over feedback in your classes? I tend to think that undergraduates (whom I teach) are pretty unlikely to engage in interaction over feedback – though that may at least in part be culturally determined – so I wasn’t too concerned about the relative lack of response to the feedback in my classes. In any case, your talk also reminded me that I’d been wanting to try out Kaizena, so I think I’m going to do that the very next time I give feedback. It definitely sounds very useful!

  2. Hi Vedrana,

    Thanks for the comment and sorry it too me so long to get back to you. Yes, your answers were definitely helpful. It’s also encouraging to me to learn that many of us, regarding of our location, face similar issues when it comes to feedback and teaching in general. I like it because it means many of us can work together in finding solutions to common teaching dilemmas.

    You are so right in pointing out that there can be interaction using screencasts. When I gave the presentation, I mentioned that one advantage of giving digital feedback was that you could have a copy of the feedback given to students, so if they contact you with questions, you could see what it is you told them. Hard to do if you handed back handwritten comments. Screencasts were not checked on that slide because they don’t have a built in mechanism for Ts and Ss to interact, unlike Google Docs, Kaizena, and Word. However, you could always email and reference the shared screencast.

    In my experience, unless students are asked to comment on feedback given (and it becomes a task of sorts) then not that many will take the time to ask questions or go over their drafts with you. I had built in tutorial time with students last year, but when I don’t have that luxury -which is most of the time- I will try to schedule an activity at a computer lab to have Ss work independently on something else and get the chance to go over feedback with them individually.

    Let me know how Kaizena works and if I can help out with anything 🙂

    Laura.

  3. HI Laura! As you may remember, I watched this presentation in January, and I wanted to report back to you on how it influenced me this term.

    I took 3 things from your presentation especially to heart while giving feedback on my students’ writing this term.

    First, I made an effort to always respond to what my students wrote as well as how they wrote it. I can’t think of a great example at the moment (I’ve just finished a marathon of grades/meetings/etc.), but I felt that these comments opened up conversations between my students and me that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. More than once, I had a student email me or talk to me after class about my feedback, and they wanted to talk about the content rather than the score or accuracy. And that was really cool!

    The second change I made was the volume of feedback that I gave on each assignment. Instead of correcting everything on every draft, I tried to focus on one area or aspect such as verb tense or comma splices, or transitions. In addition, while I had big goals for the whole class throughout the term, I also approached each students’ essay individually. So if an essay had lots and lots of different kinds of problems, I would ask myself “what one or two changes would have the biggest positive effect on the second draft?” I definitely saw better second drafts this term, with more attention paid to my corrections and feedback. This also had a very real effect on the amount of time I spend marking essays (less).

    Lastly, I tried to focus my feedback on what the students did well and how they could improve on the next draft or assignment. Instead of leaving feedback like “you don’t have a good thesis statement”, I would try something more like “Look at the patterns we studied in class to make a stronger thesis for your second draft!” I can’t say that I saw a direct effect from this, but I sure felt better about using that tone in my feedback, and I felt that my students were more comfortable connecting with me for help improving on their second draft.

    I didn’t use any new channels of communication, mostly, I think, because my first drafts were hand-written in class. Perhaps I’ll try to incorporate some new methods next term.

    • Thanks for sharing what you’ve done this quarter, Sam. Reading about your experience giving feedback and meeting with students made me miss teaching more advanced levels. Like you, I also felt better about giving feedback with a suggestion instead of telling them what didn’t work (thesis statement example). I find it very telling that in the process of making feedback better for students, we can also make the experience much more positive for ourselves. Anyhow, hope we get to chat before/after the graduation ceremony today.

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