This week one of my students was quite inspired – something one rarely comes across these days- that I felt inclined to ask him to write a 300-word essay about a weekend trip. He said he would. And he did. I’m quite used to students who would rather have their fingernails pulled than write a short paragraph, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Once he handed in the text I had to consider how to give him constructive feedback and the amount of correction to provide.
When checking ideas on how to correct his essay I came across the following:
“In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:
- A wide range of vocabulary
- Correct grammar
- Meaningful punctuation
- Accurate spelling
- Varied sentence structures
- Unity and coherence in ideas
- Well-supported and explained major points.”
- Source: CORRECTING AND GIVING FEEDBACK TO WRITING (bit.ly
We all have written papers for some courses to be checked and graded by
our instructors. We know very well that a paper that is returned with red
markings and notes all over is quite discouraging for the writer. Knowing
this, while giving feedback we may, of course, use green pens and put
smiling faces here and there on the paper but still we see the light in the
students’ eye fading.
If our aim is to win the student over instead of discouraging him, we should be looking for ways of giving feedback without losing the student. Otherwise they might think our “pen is pooping blood”.
The most important aspect while giving feedback is adopting a positive
attitude to student writing. While marking mechanically we may not
realize that we are showing the student only their mistakes and negative
points. If the student receives only negative feedback, they may easily be
discouraged from trying to form complex structures and using new
These are a few examples of error codes from the more “sophisticated” writing rules to basic Tense, Spelling and Word Order.
The trick is to find a balance between correcting “every single mistake” and “keeping the thought flow and meaning”, without discouraging the student.
A starting point is emphasizing the importance of spacing of lines, choice of font (if typing). If you feel that red ink is too shocking choose a softer color such as green or blue. Write the code next to the error but make sure the student has the code keys – any comments the teacher writes should be brief and clear aiming to provide positive feedback.
Not all students will write for a living or even for work. Many will use an instant messaging system such as WhatsApp or the odd email. However, feedback sessions can be a beneficial experience for the student IF the teacher shows the learner’s strong points as well as the importance of clarity and accuracy.