5 Ways to Make Feedback on Writing a Positive Experience

Online teaching is not always done in real time. Some of my private instruction is now given through written assignments. Students submit drafts and I provide feedback. We don’t schedule live lessons, so that mainly leaves us with written communication: email, comments, and track changes on documents. You may wonder how effective this instruction can be and if either the student or I feel restricted by the experience.

An academic session at TESOL 2015 got me thinking about recording oral feedback. (Click to read some of Nathan Hall’s suggestions.) Another presentation at TESOL 2016 reinforced my belief that such feedback has multiple benefits. (Click to read about Effectiveness of Audio Feedback for EFL Students in Online Courses.) I decided to make screencasts for my writing students as another way of giving corrections and modeling the writing process. I also realize I’m giving additional listening practice and strengthening the student-teacher connection.

Like so many other skills, from lesson planning to test design, the more you do it, the better you get. I’ve compiled a list of good practices when recording oral feedback, be it video or audio. It’s partly to keep myself in check because I need to use my recording time more effectively and deliver a set of comments that’s concise and well-balanced.

1. Guide the learner through multiple revisions. I know I shouldn’t give too much correction in a single draft. Doing so can overwhelm a student. I often have to remind myself to focus on different aspects in each revision. First, I address format and overall structure. Then I might call attention to use of transitions within a paragraph as well as vocabulary and grammar. A later revision can tackle wordiness and the need to reduce repetition.

2. Balance teacher correction and self-correction. Even after all these years, there’s a temptation to go about editing a text from beginning to end. But if there’s a mistake repeated multiple times, the student will likely retain the correction if he does it himself. Also, having too many corrections on a page doesn’t create a positive impression, so I sometimes I correct a type of grammar mistake, like articles in generic references, once or twice and then highlight other instances. Then it’s up to the student to fix the remaining mistakes.

3. Sprinkle in some praise at the right times. Too much cheering from the sidelines won’t seem genuine, but feedback can’t be all about fixing mistakes and addressing weaknesses. I love to see a student apply feedback from a previous assignment to the current one. That’s certainly worth complimenting.

4. Take advantage of teachable moments. The focus may be on writing skills, but there are times when pausing or digressing is worth it. Instead of suggesting a replacement for a poor word choice, I might list the original choice along with a new one, giving both definitions. Then the student must consider the difference and choose. I’ve also searched for online explanations and writing models to supplement my own. When I find a particularly good resource, I note the link for the student. I want students to be aware of resources they can use long after our lessons run their course.

5. Keep all forms of feedback at your disposal. Even in my screencasts I use track changes and insert text comments. I probably do this to a lesser degree when I’m giving oral feedback, but I like combining the two forms. For example, I may make a track change but talk aloud as I’m considering how best to structure a sentence. Then the student can see how I experiment and arrive at the newly worded idea. I also still provide only written feedback on some drafts.

It can be challenging to make an online learning experience meaningful. Based on my experience, video – live or recorded – can help.

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