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Are you one of those students who, when your teacher gives you back a writing homework corrected takes a quick glance and shoves it into the back of their exercise book straight away, never to take it out of there afterwards to consider the teacher’s comments? If so, you might want to consider changing this habit. Here are a few ideas as to how to exploit written feedback to develop your writing skills in English.

Different learning contexts allow for varying depth to your teacher’s comments on your work. If you are studying in a large group (in a public school for example), and/or if writing is a neglected part of the curriculum (–which it often is), you might not receive regular, thorough feedback from your teacher on your written work, except for perhaps your mistakes being underlined. While these might already prompt you to consider what might be wrong with certain sections in your writing, typically you benefit more from the following, more detailed types of written feedback.

1, Correction codes

Your teacher might use a set of error correction symbols or abbreviations in your writing (e.g ‘SP’ for spelling, ‘GR’ for grammar, ‘V’ for vocabulary, ‘P’ for punctuation, ‘WO’ for word order, ‘L’ for linking word error or missing conjunction, etc).

The advantages of this type of feedback are that it forces you to think carefully about the parts marked in your writing to discover what went wrong in the sentence and doing so tends to make learners more conscious of (their) mistake types. This increased level of awareness then creates a positive backwash effect in the sense that next time when you write, you might remember to pay extra attention to avoiding the same types of mistakes.

The disadvantages, however, are that in some cases you might simply not know what went wrong. This is because normally we can only ‘notice’ a mistake if it was only a ‘slip’, that is to say if we already know that language (piece of grammar, vocabulary, etc) that was incorrectly used. If the mistake is due to a bigger, ‘systemic’ error in our language knowledge, we tend to need more help in understanding what went wrong than just a code.

Example:

Correction codes

From: Tricia, Hedge. 2000. Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press

2, Error correction

In some cases your teacher might choose not to play such ‘hide and seek’ but just correct the wrong words/phrases/sentences in your writing outright.

The advantages of this type of feedback are that there will be no ambiguity as to what was wrong and what would have been the corrected version of your word, phrase, or sentence.

The disadvantages, however, include your consciousness not being raised to your typical errors, as well as the fact that in some cases there is no one correct version to what you were trying to say, and the teacher might, unknowingly, distort your message by changing it to their liking.

Example:

Error correction

3, Criteria correction

Depending on which language exam you are preparing for, your teacher might choose to point out issues in your writing in light of its criteria.

The advantages of it are similar to those of using a correction code in that it makes you more conscious not only of your recurring errors but which criterion in the exam you are preparing for they affect negatively and therefore why they should be avoided.

The possible disadvantages of this type of feedback again have to do with the fact that it requires a high level of metacognitive awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as previous criteria training.

Example:

Criteria correction

4, Comments

The teacher might choose to ‘talk’ to you in the form of full sentences giving you tips and reminders.

The advantages of receiving such feedback are that it feels as if your teacher was right by your side, talking to you. This personalized teaching might make you feel more engaged with the learning process as it is not so ‘dry’.

The disadvantages of it are that despite these comments trying to elicit the correction, you might still not be sure as to what was wrong exactly, how it could be corrected and how it relates to the criteria of the exam you are preparing for, partly because of a lack of metalanguage (i.e words describing grammar phenomena, e.g ‘predicate’).

Example:

Comments

5, Assessment

In some cases you might only receive the assessment of your piece of writing, ideally referring to the criteria of the exam you are preparing for.

The advantage of receiving such feedback is that it makes it crystal clear to you where you stand in terms of your chances of passing the exam and which criteria you should try to work on until the date of it.

The disadvantage of only getting an overall assessment like this is that a huge learning opportunity is wasted by not exploiting the individual mistakes in the piece of writing you submitted.

Example:

Assessment

6, Global comments

Having read your piece of writing, your teacher usually has an overview of a few salient, global strengths and weaknesses in it.

The advantage of receiving such a summary is that you will not have to wonder how to prioritize your learning thereafter, as your main strengths and weaknesses are pointed out for you.

The disadvantages include not always being able to relate the teacher’s general analysis of your errors to some concrete examples of it in the piece of writing, therefore not being able to make the most of the feedback for your learning.

Example:

ESSAY TASK 1

“Some people believe marrying in one’s twenties will help assimilate to the new lifestyle and the partner better, while others think marriages that are made over the age of thirty stand a bigger chance of lasting long. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of marrying young as opposed to later in life”

“Getting married young should be a well-thought decision done by the couple, being in your 20s mean your are still studying your major or in your first job, you haven`t figured things out yet, your personal finance isn’t secure and the list go on, however, if you get married young you will fulfill your dreams and life expectations with your partner all along together, in consequence, you will have a strongest bond.

People tend to believe that being married young is a synonym of dropping your professional career and giving away your dreams, but nowadays you could still doing all those things you had planned and it’s going to be even better if you are doing them with your beloved one aside, it also gives you more emotional security, human beings aren’t design to be alone. Moreover, it gives you more time with your couple before kids arrive, you could travel the world together and both will deal with all the new problems you will face in your new adult life. Who is going to be better to share all those memories with if it isn’t your life partner?

On the other hand, not everything in the garden is rosy, there’s a good chance that you had chosen your partner wrong, when you grow up the things you are looking for in life change, if you had chosen your partner while you were young maybe you weren’t aware of their full personality or defects because you were more worried in other things. On the top of that, you could struggle with your finance, both are going to be early graduates which means not well-paid wages.

To sum up, there’s always advantages and disadvantages, it’s all about perspective and we need to ask us what we want for our life. Being married young could be a great experience to live with our couple and gives us a closest bond with them but it’s full of problems such as the economical issue, as well as, the uncertainty if we have chosen well.”

Comments:

“1, The task required a for and against essay, which you identified correctly and fulfilled, well done! 🙂
2, Your tone, however, is not always appropriate. In a formal piece of writing (e.g an essay) please avoid using too informal vocabulary (e.g ‘haven`t figured things out’), rhetorical questions (e.g ‘Who is going to be better to share all those memories with if it isn’t your life partner?’) or contractions (e.g ‘there’s’). 🙁
3, Your wordcount is a major issue. You wrote 340 (!) words instead of the required 250. Please plan your piece of writing (essay, letter, etc) more consciously at the drafting stage in terms of its word count as well (–see the learned Word Count Skeleton method) not only ideas and vocabulary; and then stick to it from paragraph to paragraph. 🙁
4, Punctuation is another problem. You write as if you were speaking, hardly ever ending a sentence where it would be needed and using commas instead of full stops. Please consider writing shorter, better separated sentences. :(”

What type of written feedback do you normally receive on your writing from your teacher? Do you feel you learn enough from it? (If you are a teacher, what type of written feedback do you provide your learners with and why?)

Happy studying,

I am IELTS