“Different ways to skin a cat” or “how to make feedback on ‘writing’ more effective”

There are different reasons why we teach writing and there should be different methods how we mark them to address those different reasons; but in the general sense of dealing with writing tasks in and outside the classroom, there is a lot of controversy regarding our attitude towards feedback and correction. Let’s start by having a quick look at what normally happens in a writing session.

This is what usually happens:

  1. The teacher selects the topic and gives it to the learners.
  2. The learners spend some time either in the classroom or at home to write about the topic.
  3. The learners give their ‘final product’ to the teacher for ‘final marking’.

But this doesn’t look right, does it? The main purpose of teaching is to facilitate learning but I don’t see any ‘learning to write’ points, as Christopher Tribble (Tribble 1996) mentions in his writing book, in any of the above steps and a lot seems to be missing between stages 1 and 2. Raimes (1983) gives the following stages to make the writing process more productive:

  1. Teacher or students select the topic.
  2. Pre-writing activities e.g. note taking, brainstorming, creating spider-grams, etc.
  3. Teacher comments on the notes and makes suggestions.
  4. Student writes draft 1.
  5. Teacher and students read drafts and comment on the content.
  6. Student writes draft 2.
  7. Student reads draft 2 with guidelines and makes changes.
  8. Teacher reads draft 2 and indicates good points and areas for improvement.
  9. Student writes draft 3.
  10. Student edits and proofreads.
  11. Teacher evaluates progress.
  12. Teacher assigns follow-up tasks to help in weak areas.

In what usually happens in the classroom, the focus is more on the end product, so the learners focus on creating something and giving it to the teacher and the moment they hand their end product in, they feel they have no responsibility towards their writing any longer and it’s the teacher’s job now to work on it. In fact, even when the teacher spends a lot of time correcting and commenting, not all learners go back and learn from those valuable notes and comments. On the contrary, the second 12-step process focuses on the ‘path’ rather than the ‘destination’ and the students will learn during the writing process and by the time they produce the final version, they will have learnt a lot. Completing all these steps might not be possible but incorporating some editing stages before the learners hand in the final version can help create this productive writing atmosphere in the classroom.

There are different ways to edit, comment and provide feedback and just like any other form of correction, these can be done in forms of ‘self-‘, ‘peer-‘ or ‘teacher-‘ correction and editing codes can be taught at the beginning of the course to create ground rules to stick to till the end. Tricia Hedge, in her book ‘Writing’ (Hedge, 2005: 140) mentions the following most common codes language teachers can use to mark writing tasks:

editing codes

Much has been said about editing codes and the way we can teach them in writing lessons and I am not going to spend time on this now but I am going to write about ‘techie’ methods to incorporate editing stages to writing lessons.

The following platforms are the ones I have tried and tested several times. They make editing and commenting easy, fun, tech-based, green and more productive.

Audacity– the audio feedback platform

audacity

Audio feedback can actually help learners improve their listening skills as well and a lot of research has been conducted to prove their higher rate of productivity in comparison with ordinary written feedback. Audacity is a free open-source software which gives you the ability to create audio files and edit them easily. There is a straightforward tutorial on how to create audio podcasts using Audacity here. Teachers can ask their learners to send their first and second drafts to them to receive quick audio feedback before they start writing the final version. While audio feedback can be a productive way to help our learners, there are a couple of tips we should keep in mind:

  • Remain positive and keep a motivating tone.
  • Sequence your feedback and signpost the feedback stages.
  • Be clear and speak with a clear voice.
  • Limit your comments and prioritise errors (just as you would do in written feedback).
  • Begin with positive feedback, be specific and descriptive while giving constructive (negative) feedback and end with positive overall feedback. (sandwich the negative points).

Audio feedback can be given in many different ways. You can even record your voice with Windows voice recorder and send it to your students, too.

If you really hate all these applications and want something hassle-free and entirely web-based, then try Online Voice Recorder or Vocaroo.

Jing– the video feedback platform

Jing

Jing is a free TechSmith product which can help you create screencasts and share them easily on the internet. Your casts will also be available on your screencast.com profile. TechSmith gives you 2GB free storage on Screencast and you can go Pro if this is not enough for your purposes. After you install Jing, the software’s toolbar appears on top of your desktop and can be accessed right from there while you are doing anything in any other softwares. So you can open a word document, start editing it and video the whole process for the learner to watch at a later time.

Screenr– the video feedback platform

Screenr

If you don’t want to install anything on your computer but still enjoy the screen recording feedback and can finish the feedback in less than 5 minutes, then this is the right choice. Just create an account and click on ‘launch screen recorder’! (service retired in 2015- you can still download your videos from their platform.)

QuickTime Player– the video feedback platform

QuickTime

Several other similar programmes exist which have less or more the same features as Jing, e.g. Camtasia, Wink, Sganit, AutoScreenRecorder, etc. and there are other web-based programmes similar to Screenr like MailVu and Screencast-O-matic which have free and pro editions; but Apple’s QuickTime Player which is also available on PC as well has some new and unique features which have made life easy for Mac users. Just launch QuickTime, double-finger tap the icon in the dock and click on ‘new screen recording’ (you can slo create ordinary voice or video recordings using your Mac camera.) and the application starts recording your screen. You can also talk on the recording at the same time to create a high-resolution video feedback. When you are done, click on ‘stop screen recording’ and choose the quality you need and the file is ready!

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 23.36.45 Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 23.36.59

If you don’t like QuickTime but need the same features, I recommend you add the Screencastify extension to your Chrome and enjoy the same features right from your browser.

Knovio– the video feedback platform

Knovio

If you have some time and want to create something really impressive, this is where you should look for it. Create a presentation of the feedback, play the presentation and use a camera to add your own video to the feedback. So your learners have the chance to see the online edition of their work being corrected while they can watch their teacher talking about it at the same time. Knovio has an iPad app which gives you the same functions there as well. It is primarily an application to help you add your video to your presentations which is a very useful tool for flipped classes but can also be used to provide extraordinary feedback video files!

Kaizena– the ultimate feedback platform

Kaizena

Kaizen means ‘good change’ in Japanese and is some sort of philosophy towards continuous improvement. This innovative online tool works seamlessly with Google Drive and Google Docs. If your learners send you first drafts through Google Drive, then this is the tool you shouldn’t miss. You can work on the documents on their website or you can add their add-on to your Google Drive and work on documents right within Google Docs. In Kaizena you can highlight parts of the document and record your voice in small segments. Kaizena has even taken a step forward and creates unique teacher URLs and this means the learners can request feedback on a specific part of their document and an e-mail is sent to the teacher to come back to the file and give the feedback the student needs. This is a two-way platform which means the students can listen to the audio feedback and record their own voice and reply to the teacher’s comment.

Google Drive has already given us a lot of features to help with teacher’s feedback. You can now edit Word documents directly from your mailbox without having to convert anything.

google docs

But tracking, rating, adding audio and marking at the same time with Kaizena is actually a lot more interesting!

Not interested in any of the above? Let’s go Microsoft Office!

Microsoft Office Word feedback features

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 00.11.47

The Word’s ‘track changes’ and ‘compare documents’ features are fantastic tools for language teachers when it comes to error correction and feedback. ‘Track changes’ has several customisable features including colour-coding. Click on the ‘review’ tab in a Word document and you will see this in the middle. ‘Compare documents’ gives the learners the opportunity to compare the text they have written with a model text in a writing lesson or to compare their answers to an activity with the answer key. This feature can also be found in the ‘review’ tab in a Word document. The usual ‘comment’ feature can also help add notes to the text just like what we do on a piece of paper. Don’t forget that the whole process in a Word document can be recorded using any of the methods we have talked about here.

Capture

All teachers agree that effective feedback is time-consuming but no one can deny their value to our learners. We are very lucky to have all these ‘tech’ tools which make effective feedback easier than it used to be in the past (but most probably still more difficult than in the future!). So why not take the risk and leave our comfort paper zone and help save the planet while improving our feedback effectiveness in writing lessons?

What other writing feedback tools have you applied to your writing sessions? Do you think they have been effective?


  • Hedge, T. (2005) ‘Writing’ Second Edition, Oxford University Press
  • Raimes, A. (1983) ‘Techniques in Teaching Writing’, Oxford University Press
  • Thornbury, S. (2006) ‘An A-Z of ELT’, Macmillan Books for Teachers, Macmillan
  • Tribble, C. (1996) ‘Writing’, Oxford University Press
Advertisements

5 thoughts on ““Different ways to skin a cat” or “how to make feedback on ‘writing’ more effective”

  1. Excellent post, Amin. Thanks for all the great advice! I am a member of CET, and found this web link on LinkedIn. I do use screencasts and make audio recordings for personal use, but I will endevour to try out some of your ideas for class-related feedback sessions.

    Like

  2. Excellent post, Amin. Thank you! I’m a member of CET, and saw this web link on LinkedIn. I do use screencasts for personal use, but will definitely try out different tech options for future class-related feedback sessions.

    Like

  3. We have just added a writing module to our online course that saves teachers the hassle of correcting – we do it for them. Sure it misses many of the point mentioned in this blog, but we do ensure that students get writing practice every few weeks and that get very prompt feedback.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s