Responding to Students' Written Work: What are the options?

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Event date: 
Sunday, September 5, 2010 - 11:30
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Includes handouts
Responding to Students' Written Work: What are the options? - hancockmcdonald.com/talks/responding-students-written-work-what-are-options

Providing feedback is one of the most commonly conceived functions of a teacher, yet, according to Nunan (1991), the ultimate effect of feedback is often doubtful. How do we tend to respond to students' written work? What messages are we sending to our students as a result? Is the ultimate effect really, as Nunan suggests, doubtful? What are the implications for our teaching?

I have given this workshop in many different educational contexts in Spain. I always started by presenting a composition written by a 12-year old Turkish student and then asked teachers to give it a mark out of ten. It was quite a salutary exercise: teachers in different groups gave it marks ranging from 1.5 – 9! The marks tended to cluster around 6 out of 10, but the diversity of responses always generated really lively discussions among participants in each of the workshops.

We went on to think about what messages we send to students when we respond to (or ‘correct’) students’ written work. We then discussed the advantages and disadvantages of traditional correction codes, which tend to focus on accuracy, before reading some illuminating comments made by university students I was teaching at the time regarding how their written work had been ‘corrected’ when they were at school. Then, turning to theory, we briefly considered Second Language Acquisition Research and the writing skill.

Next, we brainstormed other criteria we might use, and then applied these to some published texts containing misprints and ambiguities. Of course, in the real world, we need to consider our responses to written work in the context of a learner’s level. So, we looked at published sources which provide useful ‘can do’ pointers to help us situate any feedback we might give.

It was always a very interesting workshop and you can follow the session through the attached handout (see below). Perhaps you’d like to have a go at marking the student’s composition, and ask your colleagues to do so too? You could then compare and discuss your marks and assessment criteria, and even perhaps standardise your responses to your student’s written work in your own educational context. I’d be very interested to hear about what happens and if you came to any conclusions about ‘correcting’ students’ compositions.

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