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JOURNAL OF SECOND LANGUAGE WRITING, 7 (3), 255-286 (1998)

The Impact of Teacher Written


Feedback on Individual Writers
FIONA HYLAND
Open University, Hong Kong
This study investigates ESL writers reactions to and uses of written feed-
back. Using a case study approach and a variety of data sources including
observation notes, interview transcripts and written texts, overall findings on
six students use of written feedback throughout a course will be briefly dis-
cussed. The paper then focuses on two student writers who show contrasting
patterns of feedback use and who also both become much less positive about
their writing during the course. The student revisions after receiving teacher
written feedback are analyzed and contextual data is used to gain a deeper
understanding of the students motivations and responses to the feedback.
The data show that use of teacher written feedback varies due to individual
differences in needs and student approaches to writing. It also appears to be
affected by the different experiences students bring with them to the class-
room setting. Some implications for teachers giving feedback are also given.
It is suggested that there needs to be a more open teacher/student dialogue on
feedback, since the data suggest that the feedback situation has great poten-
tial for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Giving effective feedback is a central concern for any teacher of writing and an
important area for both Ll and L2 writing research. However, research into Ll
writing over the past twenty years has questioned the effectiveness of written
teacher feedback for improving student texts. According to Freedman (1987), Ll
writing teachers see written feedback as the least useful type of response that they
give the students on their writing. Research also suggests that much written feed-
back on Ll writing is of poor quality, focuses on the wrong issues, and is often
ignored, misunderstood or misinterpreted by the student writers (Mazano &
Arthur, 1977; Searle & Dillon, 1980; Sommers, 1982). Protocol analysis used to
investigate student response to written comments has revealed frequent misinter-
pretations partially due to the inadequacies of the teacher comments (Hayes &
Daiker, 1984). Wall and Hulls (1989) study of 55 teachers responses to Ll
essays also found many inconsistencies, especially in the teachers feedback on
style and logic, and ambiguities in the labelling of errors.
Investigations of the role of feedback for L2 writers have included studies
which have examined the focus of teacher feedback (Cumming, 1985; Fathman &
Direct all correspondence to: Fiona Hyland, School of Education and Languages, Open University
of Hong Kong, 30 Good Shepherd Street, Homantin, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
255
256 HYLAND
Whalley, 1990; Kepner, 199 1; Master, 1995; Zamel, 1985), and studies of student
preferences and processing of feedback (Cohen & Cavalcanti, 1990; Hedgcock &
Lefkowitz, 1994, 1996; Leki, 1991; Radecki & Swales, 1988). Research has also
examined the effects of varying the source of feedback, comparing different
sources of feedback and looking especially at peer feedback (Caulk, 1994;
Chaudron, 1984; Connor & Asenavage, 1994; Mendonca & Johnson, 1994; Nel-
son & Murphy, 1993; Partridge, 1981; Zhang, 1985, 1995).
However, until recently, surprisingly little of the research on L2 writers has
considered the response of student writers to teacher written feedback, either in
terms of affective factors, or in terms of their writing development. In addition,
although there is general agreement that L2 feedback may need to focus on differ-
ent concerns to Ll feedback (Kelly, 1986; Raimes, 1987), the research findings
on what these might be have not been conclusive. Teachers have been urged to
alter their feedback practices to focus more on meaning issues and the process of
writing (Cumming, 1985; Zamel, 1985). Truscott (1996) suggests that grammar
correction should be abandoned altogether because not only is there little evi-
dence to show that it is helpful, but also some evidence suggests that it may in fact
be harmful. However, it has also been argued that an over focus on the form/con-
tent dichotomy ignores the needs of L2 students for written feedback which con-
siders formal as well as meaning-related issues (Eskey, 1983; Fatham & Whalley,
1990; Master, 1995). Recent research by Ferris, Pezone, Tade, and Tinti (1997)
suggests that the form/meaning division may be unhelpful, since skilled teachers
will vary their feedback according to contextual features, including the target
genre, the ability, and the personality of each individual student.
Researchers have also tried to discover what the L2 students themselves want
from the written teacher feedback. Leki (1991) surveyed ESL students at a univer-
sity to discover their attitudes to error correction and error in their own writing.
She discovered that because having error-free work was a major concern for these
students, they wished to have their errors corrected by their teachers. Leki pointed
out that this might lead to a tension between the students perceived needs and the
teachers beliefs that development of ideas was more important.
Other studies have supported the view that the feedback process for ESL writ-
ers is too complex to be considered in terms of a simple meaning/form dichotomy.
A study by Hedgcock and Lefkowitz (1994) comparing ESL and FL(foreign lan-
guage) writers suggested that for many ESL students writing in English is most
important for expressing ideas and being evaluated in academic settings, while FL
writers often view writing as just a means of practising the language, and this
means they are seeking different types of feedback. However, interviews con-
ducted with these ESL students by Hedgcock and Lefkowitz (1996) revealed that
they did value form-focused feedback and expected to improve their writing and
learn more when their teachers highlighted their grammatical errors. A survey of
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 257
ESL tertiary students by Ferris (1995) also found that students were interested in
receiving comments on both grammar and content.
The situation may be complicated by the stage that the students have reached,
both in terms of their linguistic development and their academic careers. Radecki
and Swales (1988) looked at reactions to feedback by ESL students from a variety
of disciplines enrolled in academic courses at university level. They found that
students generally reacted positively to comments; but as they progressed through
the university, they tended to see the writing instructors role as more limited to
grammar correction and explanation, doubting their ability to comment on ideas
and organization because of their lack of expertise in the subject area.
One finding has been that ESL students greatly value teacher written feedback
and consistently rate it more highly than alternative forms such as peer feedback
and oral feedback in writing conferences. (Saito, 1994; Zhang, 1995). However,
although students themselves are so positive about written feedback and appear to
value comments and corrections on all aspects of their texts, the contribution of
such feedback to students development is still unclear. A recent study by Ferris
(1997) has looked at the effects of teacher written feedback on students drafts
and assessed whether revisions made in response to that feedback led to improve-
ments in the student texts. She noted that most revisions which could be linked to
written teacher feedback resulted in text improvement. Her results also suggested
that notes in the margin, requests for clarification, and comments on grammar led
to the most substantive revision. Her study, however, did not consider the impact
of student differences in terms of personality, culture or ability.
Researchers have stressed the need for more studies which consider the effects
of feedback within the total context of teaching (Ferris, 1997; Ferris et al. 1997;
Prior, 1991). The research described in this study recognizes the importance of
contextual features by examining the effects of written teacher feedback on indi-
vidual ESL students and their texts over the period of a complete course. A longi-
tudinal research design incorporating case study methodology is used to provide
in-depth information about the individual responses of students to teacher feed-
back. Thus it helps us to more fully understand student perspectives on teacher
written feedback and its potential effects on students and their texts.
METHOD
Research Purpose
This research investigated the effects of teacher written feedback on the revi-
sion processes and writing products of ESL writers in an academic context and
was guided by the following research questions:
258 HYLAND
1. What were the student attitudes and expectations about the purpose and
value of feedback and did these change over the period of a course?
2. How did the students interpret and use the written feedback given on their
writing?
3. Were there any individual differences in the way that students responded to
written feedback and, if so, what might have accounted for these?
4. What types of revisions were made to their writing by the students, and
which of these revisions could be linked to a written feedback source?
Selection of Context
The investigation took place within the context of an English proficiency pro-
gram course running for fourteen weeks at a university in New Zealand. This
English proficiency program (EPP) was selected for a number of reasons. First,
the course had an intensive focus on writing, with three to four hours a week spent
in class on writing activities, usually through a workshop approach. Second, since
the course primarily had an academic focus, it emphasized academic writing
skills. Third, while the proficiency levels of students varied, there were enough
students able to handle the linguistic demands of the interview situation. Fourth,
the situation of these students at the junction between writing as language students
and writing as L2 students in a Ll context was an interesting area for investiga-
tion. Another advantage was that feedback varied according to the individual
teacher and the needs and wants of the class, and teachers were free to construct
their own feedback methods. Thus, the course had the potential to provide some
interesting data in terms of amount, focus and type of feedback offered to the stu-
dents. Finally, the researcher had previously taught a class on the EPP and thus
had an insiders view of the course from a teachers perspective.
Two classes were selected for the research study. The study looked at one class
preparing students for undergraduate studies and one class preparing them for
postgraduate studies since this offered the possibility of some interesting con-
trasts, both in terms of experiences and approaches adopted towards feedback by
students and in terms of those taken by teachers providing the feedback. Thus,
these settings were considered to offer the richest possible data (Lofland &
Lofland, 1995, p. 16).
Participants
Two teachers working on the EPP were approached and asked to participate in
the study. They were chosen because of their experience in teaching at this level
(they had both taught more than three of these courses previously) and because
both had an interest in writing and teaching writing. They had developed their
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 259
TABLE 1
Background Information on Case Study Students
Student
Age
country
Proficiency Writing
Education Level Goals Concerns
Maho (under-
graduate class)
Seng Hee
(undergradu-
ate class)
Keith (under-
graduate class)
Samom (post-
graduate class)
Liang (post-
graduate class)
Zhang Y ue
(postgraduate
class)
19 Japan
20 Korea
High school Low interme- BA in Politics Expression of
diate ideas
High school Intermediate BA in Accuracy
Economics
26 Taiwan High school Intermediate Career in
travel
industry
30+ Thailand BA High interme- Postgrad
diate I diploma in
advanced Business
studies
Writing clearly
Accuracy &
Vocabulary
30+ Taiwan BA High interme- MA in
diate Library
Studies
Accuracy &
clarity
27+ China BA Advanced Postgraduate Accuracy
diploma in
communica-
tion studies
approaches to giving feedback and would not feel challenged or threatened by the
frequent presence of the researcher in their classrooms. These teachers will be
referred to as Joan (teacher A - undergraduate class) and Nadia (teacher B - post-
graduate class).
The research was then explained to the students in the two classes, and their
permission was sought to allow the researcher to photocopy their writing and the
feedback they received. Six students agreed to participate in the case study part of
the research, three from each class. Background information on these students is
summarized in Table 1. To protect their identities, pseudonyms were used.
Data Collection
Multiple data gathering instruments were used, including questionnaires and
interviews, teacher think-aloud protocols, collection of written data and class-
room observations. Data collected included completed questionnaires, tapes of
interviews and protocols, drafts of written assignments, revised versions of those
drafts after feedback, together with teacher and peer written feedback. Copies of
all student tasks relating to the writing program were also collected. All written
260 HYLAND
teacher feedback on the participants written work was carefully documented and
categorized. All the feedback offered was generated by the course; none was
designed specifically for this study, and no interventions were made by the
researcher.
Systematic observations of the classes, especially the writing workshops, pro-
vided information on the context within which feedback was given and the place
of peer feedback and oral teacher feedback in this context. Interviews with teach-
ers and the course co-ordinator provided another perspective on the context, as
well as another source of information on feedback practices. Teachers were also
asked to conduct think-aloud protocols as they gave written feedback to the draft
of one piece of writing for each case study participant. A retrospective interview
was then carried out with the students within a day of their revising of the draft.
This interview (See appendix A.) focused on their revision strategies and their
responses to the written feedback.
Procedures to Enhance Reliability
Measures taken to ensure content reliability and combat researcher bias
included triangulation and respondent validation. Triangulation involved obtain-
ing as many different perspectives on the data as possible. These different per-
spectives came from the different sources of data used: the teachers, the students
and the researcher. There was also triangulation of methods, as data were col-
lected through interviews, questionnaires, collection of texts, observation of
classes, and verbal reporting. Respondent validation or member checking (Lin-
coln & Guba, 1985) involved allowing participants in the research access to data
and seeking their input and their evaluation of its authenticity to correct researcher
bias. All observation notes were given to the two class teachers, so that they could
add information and make comments on any part which they felt was misrepre-
sented. The individual case studies were also read and commented on by the two
teachers involved in the research at a draft stage.
Data Analysis
The written data consisting of student writing (both drafts and final versions)
and related feedback were then coded, categorized, and analyzed. The essays and
drafts written by the case study students were compared, and individual feedback
points and revision operations were identified and analysed. The classification for
written teacher feedback developed from an examination of data, including feed-
back from the teachers, course documents, records of interviews and observation
notes and was also influenced by theories of systemic linguistics. Thus, it was
grounded in data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) but also informed by theory. To help
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 261
ensure reliability of the data analysis, the feedback and revisions for one case
study were also analyzed by another experienced ESL teacher. The two analyses
were then compared, and only a few areas of disagreement were found. These
were discussed, and some amendments were made to the coding. Following this,
another set of revisions was coded by both parties, and an agreement rate of over
90% was reached.
The written feedback was first divided into feedback points. Each written
intervention that focused on a different aspect of the text was considered as a sep-
arate feedback point. Some researchers consider corrections and language-
focused interventions separately from other written feedback (Ferris, 1997). How-
ever, discussions with the students in this study revealed that they considered all
interventions on their texts as feedback and did not differentiate them when using
feedback to revise their essays. The teacher protocols also revealed that teachers
dealt with both meaning and grammar related issues at the same time, when
responding to the student texts. Therefore all feedback given was considered as
feedback points, including symbols and marks in the margins, underlining of
problems, and complete corrections, as well as more detailed comments and sug-
gestions.
Three pieces of writing in both classes involved a feedback/revision cycle, i.e.
they involved the writing of a draft, followed by written feedback and then a
revised version in response to the feedback. Revisions carried out to these drafts
were also identified and categorized. Early classifications focused very much on
level and type of operation and failed to consider important aspects like the rela-
tionship between textual meaning and revision. This problem was addressed by
Faigley and Wittes taxonomy of revisions (1981), which divided revision into
two categories, text-based and surface level changes. This system suggests that
worthwhile revision is that which focuses, like good feedback, on the meaning
aspects of texts, since the more revision focuses on meaning, the greater the
potential for the development of the writer. Surface level operations are seen as
less valuable for the development of the writer and also less likely to result in bet-
ter text. However, Faigley and Wittes taxonomy has its limitations in terms of
what it can tell us about the relationship between feedback and revision and says
nothing about the effects or purpose of revision. It also ignores the importance of
context. The research described here addressed these issues by considering the
extent of use of teacher feedback and by linking revisions to other forms of data
including interviews, teacher protocols, journal entries, and observations notes.
The two sets of data from the student texts and the teacher response were com-
pared and cross referenced to investigate how teacher written feedback triggered
revision and at what level. One feature considered in this study was the extent to
which the feedback offered on drafts was used by the six students in their revi-
sions. In order to assess this, all teacher written feedback on drafts was first exam-
ined to see if it could be classified as usable feedback in terms of its potential for
262 HYLAND
revision of a draft. Not all the feedback on drafts could be used by students to
revise their texts since some feedback points were evaluations, or offered positive
reinforcement, or a reader response. Only the feedback which could actually be
used in some way by the students in their revisions was classified as usable. For
example, Joans comment to Samorn Good organization offered positive rein-
forcement, but could not be used in revisions whereas an underlining in the text of
an agreement problem with the symbol Agr in the margin was a usable feedback
point.
All revisions made by the students in their drafts were also identified. The
usable feedback points were then cross-linked to the revisions to see the extent to
which they were used by the students, and the percentage of usable feedback
points utilized by the students in their revisions was calculated. Further informa-
tion about each writers development and the role of written teacher feedback in
that development was obtained through a longitudinal examination of their writ-
ten products and the written feedback they received over the complete course.
FINDINGS
This section will consider the relationship between the teacher written feedback
and the student revisions, looking first at the extent to which feedback was used
by all six students, and then more closely at how this feedback was incorporated
in the students revisions. The paper will then focus in more detail on two stu-
dents who show contrasting patterns of feedback use and who both became less
positive about writing over the period of the course. These cases also illustrate
some of the problems that may occur when feedback is given and received.
Extent of Use of Feedback
With the exception of one student, Maho, who used just under half the feed-
back she was offered, the students tried to use most of the usable feedback when
revising their drafts (see Table 2). Mahos case will be discussed in more detail
below and contextual data will be used to explain her different approach. For the
other students, unused feedback accounted for only 6% to 14% of the total usable
feedback offered. Thus the students not only said they valued feedback, but dem-
onstrated this through their actions in response to it. Table 2 also shows that the
amount of usable feedback offered to the students in terms of individual feedback
points varied considerably. For example, Samom received 206 usable feedback
points compared with only 44 for Zhang Yue although they wrote assignments of
similar lengths. This difference may have been a result of both variations in the
accuracy of the student texts and other contextual factors. Zhang, for example,
was a higher level student than the others and meticulously checked his writing
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 263
TABLE 2
Extent of Use of Written Teacher Feedback for All Case Studies
Case Study Subject
Usuable Points Total Points
Offered Not Acted On
Percent Not
Acted On
Maho (IA) 51 29 51
Seng Hee (2A) 69 8 11
Keith (3A) 184 11 6
Samom (1B) 206 18 9
Liang (2B) 91 9 10
Zhang Yue (3b) 44 6 14
before submitting drafts therefore there were fewer errors on his papers to correct.
As we shall see later in this paper, Samom specifically requested her teacher to
give her grammatical feedback and show her all her errors, and this may account
for the high number of feedback points that she received.
The Relationship between Feedback and Revision
The relationship between the written feedback offered and the revisions made
was examined in more detail. The data suggested that students revisions could be
related to the feedback in three different ways. Firstly, revisions often closely fol-
lowed the corrections or suggestions made by the feedback. An example is from
Samoms first piece of theme writing. The original sentence and related feedback
are shown below:
The buyers will buy goods that is the most attractive to them.
The revised sentence read:
The buyers will buy goods that are the most attractive to them.
The retrospective interview added support for the idea that this was a revision
stimulated by the feedback: She want me to-Goods is plural, so I have to use
are. At times such revision was carried out with no real understanding as to why
it was necessary. For example, in the same assignment Samom revised the sen-
tence: The suppliers will decide what to produce and how to produce by observ-
ing buying behaviour of buyers to A supplier will decide what to produce and
how to produce by observing the buying behaviour from buyers. This was after
she had received written feedback suggesting that an article was needed before
the word buying.
264 HYLAND
However, her retrospective interview revealed that she did not know why she
added an article, but had simply followed the teachers feedback closely:
Yeah, this one 1 dont quite understand because Im going to speak about buying
behaviour of a common buyer, not particular buyers and I think that we dont need
to have article here, but when I get comments from my teacher I try to put one arti-
cle.
Second, feedback could act as an initial stimulus. This means it could trigger
a number of revisions which went beyond the issues addressed by the initial feed-
back. The teachers focus on one problematic item sometimes stimulated revi-
sions which spanned a whole sentence or a number of sentences and involved
different aspects of the text. This phenomenon of revision episodes was first
noted by Mohanan, who described them as chain reactions originally initiated by
one cue (1984, p. 291). In such cases, although a relationship could be traced, it
was not a simple linear one. Many of Zhang Yues (case study 3B) revisions to his
first major assignment can be used to illustrate this. At the end of his first draft he
was told to: Watch your tone and keep it,formal fnr an academic Qpe essny and
change the actual speech to reported. Eight revision operations can be traced to
this feedback. Some were adjustments to the tone through the use of the passive
rather than the active voice or the deletion of the first person, with no change to
the overall text meaning. The following changes illustrate this type of revision:
It seem,s to me that a good teacher should not only be a good English speaker, but
also be good at teaching.
> It has been universally believed that a good teacher of English should be good at
using the language, that is to say he must be a very good English speaker and he
should be good at teaching as well.
Finally and most importantly, I think the teacher should give the students accurate
and prompt feedback.
> Finally and most importantly, thr students should be given accurate and prompt
feedback.
When I say enough pressure I, I mean that the pressure should be a little bit beyond
the students ability
> The pressure should be a little bit beyond the students ability.
Other revisions were more major and involved text-based meaning changes. One
of these is illustrated by the following example:
When I MYZS in middle ,sclzool, my teacher organised English corners every weekend.
Students were required to gather together in the English corners to talk in English
with students from other classes and sometimes from other schools. l,found it very
helpful and all the students liked the activities.
> In China many English corners are organised at university campuses every week-
end when students are required to go there to talk to each other in English, and that
has benefited thousands of university students.
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 265
As well as distancing himself from the experience, by adopting a less personal
tone, Zhang Yue made a meaning-based revision, changing the venue of the
English comers to the university. A third response to feedback was to avoid the
issues raised in the feedback by deleting the problematic feature without substi-
tuting anything else. An example is from Samoms theme writing. The original
sentence and related feedback are shown below:
rephrase
Now its time that [the doctrine of consumers sovereignty be used]
In the revised essay this sentence was completely omitted with no substitution
relating to the topic. The revision was considered to result in little improvement
in the text, since the problematic features no longer existed, but neither was the
original idea conveyed. From the students point of view, however, avoidance
was a way of improving the quality of the text. Samom explained that she put in
the sentence:
. . ..to try out my new words, doctrine and sovereignty. And the first time I wrote this
sentence I am not happy with it, so I think that I will cut it out completely, or it will
be my weak point again. (Retrospective interview)
In addition to the three categories outlined above, some revisions appeared to be
not related to the written feedback at all. The impetus for such revisions might
have come from the students themselves, or they may have been influenced by
other forms of feedback, such as oral teacher feedback. Both these classes had
two hours a week of writing workshops where they were encouraged to consult
the teacher or other students in the class for feedback on their writing. In addi-
tion, for three of the students in this study, interviews revealed that external
sources of feedback such as spouses were very important feedback sources.
The analysis of the student texts suggested that despite the importance of these
alternative sources, teacher feedback was an important influence on student revi-
sion. However, the extent of that role varied from student to student. Table 3
TABLE 3
Utilization of Feedback as Shown in Revision in Percentages
Student
Closely Avoidance by
Followed Initial Stimulus Deletion Not Related Total %
Maho 8 14 5 73 100
Kyung Mee 38 18 2 42 100
Keith 66 13 0 21 100
Samom 72 10 1 17 100
Liang 38 19 1 42 100
Zhang Yue 37 25 0 38 100
266 HYLAND
shows the utilisation patterns of all six students. Two of the students, Maho from
the undergraduate class, and Samom from the postgraduate class show quite con-
trasting patterns of use of their teachers feedback. A closer look at these two stu-
dents may help us to understand the individual nature of student response to
feedback. It will also highlight the potential that written teacher feedback has for
miscommunication.
Different Uses of Feedback: Samorn and Maho
Through interviews and observation, detailed profiles of Maho and Samom
were obtained. Maho was a Japanese student in the undergraduate class, who
planned to study for a BA in Politics in New Zealand. Her score on a placement
test administered at the beginning of the course suggested that she was a low to
mid intermediate student. She had spent 4 months at a New Zealand high school
before enrolling for the proficiency course and communicated effectively when
speaking, but her written English was weak. Maho was friendly and polite, while
somewhat individualistic and temperamental. During a workshop, she was
observed stamping her foot in rage over her writing. Occasionally her frustration
came through in her journal with remarks like I hate English!
Maho explained that she had been learning English properly for seven years,
but first became interested in English when she was three and went to an English
speaking kindergarten. She described this experience as very enjoyable in one of
her essays, commenting: We were just playing with English. It was fun, not
study. By contrast, later at school, she disliked English because of the impor-
tance placed on passing entrance examinations for high school and university.
However, a home stay visit to New Zealand while at high school rekindled her
interest in the language and made her decide to study in English. This is an impor-
tant factor in understanding Mahos use of feedback. She was interested in
English as a means of real communication and not just as a subject to be learned.
Mahos attitudes to writing changed during this course. In her first interview,
she said that she liked writing in English very much, although she felt that she was
not very good at it. But by the end of the course, she was much less positive about
writing. She said that she had enjoyed personal writing tasks like keeping a diary,
but did not enjoy academic writing, which she said she found too hard, because
she had little experience in it. She had been very much frustrated by her inabil-
ity to express her ideas in correct English. She explained that when she wrote, she
often left out some ideas because they were hard to explain in English, although
she would have put them in if she were writing in her own language. At the begin-
ning of the course she rated her academic writing ability as 1 on a scale of 6 (1
being the lowest possible score). At the end of the course she indicated that she
believed she was at about the same level.
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 267
Despite her negative feelings about writing and her own writing ability, like all
the students in her class, Maho was very positive about receiving written feed-
back. For her, comments responding to the content of her ideas were most valu-
able. She felt that if the teacher gave comments like I agree with you, or I dont
think so which showed interest in her ideas, this would make doing her next writ-
ing assignment more enjoyable. She described how as she wrote, she thought
about the teacher reading and responding to her writing, and this made writing a
more enjoyable experience for her. As well as this reader response, Maho was
also seeking directive comments to help her improve her texts. This came out in
one of her interviews:
Just give me correct comment What do you think about it? and also give me the
advice. Youd better to do that way or you have to do that, you must do that. Give
me the class; You must and you have to and youd better or perhaps you should or
something. (Retrospective interview)
Positive feedback was also very important to her as these comments from her
journal and her post-course interview show:
If teacher give me positive comments it means I succeed, just only two sentence but
I succeeded with these sentences, so I feel satisfied with this. (Post course interview)
However, Im very happy this moment because I have got a B+ mark! from last Fri-
days test writing. B+! How glad! I always dislike my writing, but better mark is
wonderful. (Journal entry)
In fact, the students in this class did not receive evaluative feedback of this kind
except on their test writing. Joan did not give grades or marks for any of their
written work, since she felt that such feedback could discourage rather than
encourage students. However, Mahos comments indicate that evaluation can
sometimes be a motivating factor and should not be regarded as having only neg-
ative effects.
Samom presented quite a contrast to Maho. She was a Thai student in the post-
graduate class. She had an economics degree from Thailand and planned to study
for a postgraduate diploma in Business Studies. She had been learning English for
about fifteen years. Her score on the placement test placed her at an upper inter-
mediate level. Samom was considered by her teacher and the course co-ordinator
to be an impressive student, with a lively mind and interesting ideas. She was
confident and self assured and willing to express her opinions freely. She saw her
future as a business woman and thought that writing would be important for her,
as it would be one of the initial ways she would make contact with potential cli-
ents. She was less interested in academic writing, but recognized that good aca-
demic writing skills were necessary to satisfactorily complete her business
diploma.
268 HYLAND
At the beginning of the course, Samorn said she enjoyed writing in English,
because she believed that she could do it better than the other skills. She was
not so afraid of it, as she had good grammar skills and was confident when she
wrote. However by the end of the course, Samom felt very negative about writing
and had lost confidence in her ability to write and especially in her grammar
skills.
Throughout the course grammar was a major writing concern for Samom, who
suggested in her final interview that the things that helped her to write better were
gaining a good knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Samom saw writing as a
burden, taking a long time because she had to think of grammatical factors such
as which prepositions to use. She was aware that this ran counter to her teachers
concerns: It is not correct way for me to do this way, but I can not change it. I
have to think a lot about grammar, about everything. Even in journal writing she
needed to think carefully about grammar before she wrote, otherwise she felt that
the teacher would not understand what she had written, because she would be
thinking in Thai: The language what I write will come from my brain in my lan-
guage.
This concern with grammar and vocabulary affected her attitude to written
feedback. In her interviews she expressed her dissatisfaction with the written
feedback that her teacher gave on journal writing. Although she was well aware
that the purpose of this writing was to improve fluency, not accuracy, Samom
believed that most of the students would have liked the teacher to correct all the
mistakes in the journal. She couldnt see how her writing would improve without
this feedback: Next week you have the same knowledge because nobody tell you
the last time, this is correct, this is fault. Nothing improve, I think. For her, such
feedback was essential.
Positive feedback was also important to Samom whose attitude to writing was
affected by what she interpreted as negative reactions to her writing:
Any time that I have my feedback from my teacher, if its good I feel that Oh 1 a bit
like it, but anytime if feedback is not so good, I mean that teacher criticise many
mistake 1 have, then I feel- Oh 1 dont like writing. (Post-course interview)
Negative comments made her delay reading and responding to the feedback:
I am very interested in teachers comments every time. I like to read it and when I
read it and if it says Its good but your problem is grammatical problem, then I will
turn back to see how many mistakes I have. But if the comment is very bad and
maybe not good enough, maybe 111 stop for a while and keep it and take it out and
look at again later. (Post-course interview)
The discussion above suggests that these two students presented a contrast in
terms of their experiences, levels, attitudes to writing, and the type of written
feedback they valued. The common factor was that they both started the course
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 269
with positive feelings towards writing and ended it feeling very demotivated and
lacking in confidence. In conjunction with the contextual data, both the feedback
they were offered and their use of it were examined to see if any explanation for
this change in attitude could be found.
Writing Completed and Feedback Offered
Over the period of the course, Maho received feedback on 10 pieces of writing.
Three of these involved feedback/ revision cycles, where revision was made in
TABLE 4
Mahos Written Work and Feedback Sources in Chronological Order
Week Title/topic Purpose
Essay type
Length Feedback
1 University library Initial writing
2
3
4
Theme writ-
ing 1 (draft)
Theme writ-
ing 1 (final)
Theme
writing 2
4
Describe yourself as
a language learner
Describe yourself as
a language learner
Compare a free mar-
ket and a planned
economy
Festivals: the meaning Major aasign-
ment 1 (draft)
6 Festivals: the meaning
9
10
11
12
Describe the problems
of aid agencies help-
ing developing coun-
tries
Major assign-
ment 1 (final)
Theme writ-
ing 3
Development issues
are more serious for
developed than devel-
oping countries
A letter to a friend on
what to expect when
studying in New
Zealand
Development issues
are more serious for
developed than devel-
oping countries
Major assign-
ment 2 (draft)
Theme writ-
ing 4
Major assign-
ment 2 (final)
expository
expository
expository
comparison
300 words
600 words
500 words
250 words
argument 600 words
argument 600 words
expository 250 words
argument
letter 250 words
argument 1000 words Teacher
1000 words
Teacher
written
Teacher
written/oral
Teacher
written
Teacher
written/oral
Teacher
written/oral
Peer written/
oral
Teacher
written
Teacher
written/oral
Teacher
written/oral
Teacher
written/oral
270 HYLAND
response to teacher written feedback. These pieces of written work are summa-
rized chronologically in Table 4 with feedback sources indicated. She also
received feedback on 6 pieces of test writing. (Timed tests were carried out once
a week during the course and often included a writing task.) On all this writing she
received a total of 425 teacher-written feedback points. These feedback points
included comments at the end of writing, separate comments on a cover sheet and
corrections and symbols in the margin, drawing the students attention to prob-
lems. In the same period Samorn received feedback on seven pieces of class and
assignment writing, two major assignments (with drafts and a final version), two
pieces of theme writing (one of which also involved a draft and final piece of writ-
ing), and 6 pieces of test writing (see Table 5). An overall total of 333 teacher
written feedback points were given to her.
TABLE 5
Samorns Written Work and Feedback Sources in Chronological Order
Week Title/topic Purpose Essay type Length Feedback
4
5
6
6
7
10
12
Compare a free
market and a
planned econ-
omy.
Compare a free
market and a
planned econ-
omy.
Cultural differ-
ences between
Thais and New
Zealanders
The marriage
of Chinese peo-
ple in Thailand
The marriage
of Chinese peo-
ple in Thailand
How stress
developed in
children
How stress
developed in
children
Theme (draft) comparison 400 words
Theme writing
1 (final)
Theme writing
2
Major assign-
ment 1 (draft)
Major assign-
ment 1 (final)
Major assign-
ment 2 (draft)
Major assign-
ment 2 (final)
comparison
expository
expository
expository
expository
expository
450 words
350 words
X50 words
850 words
1600 words
1700
words
Teacher written/
oral
Peer written
Self evaluation
Teacher written
Teacher written/
oral peer written
Teacher written/
oral
Peer written/
oral
Teacher written
Teacher written
Peer oral/
written
Self evaluation
Teacher written
271
Revisions Made by Mabo and Samorn
Use of Feedback
Table 2 has already shown a striking difference in the amount of usable feed-
back offered to the two students. Although Maho received more overall feedback
points than Samom, she received significantly fewer usable ones (57 compared
with 206 for Samom). There are two reasons for this. First, Mahos teacher, Joan,
in her interview suggested that she gave more feedback, especially on language
issues, to all students on final writing than she did on drafts. Much of her feedback
on language issues was therefore not directly usable in terms of revisions to drafts.
In contrast, the other teacher, Nadia, gave much more feedback, especially lan-
guage-based feedback, on drafts. On final versions of writing her comments were
more like a summary of strengths and weaknesses.
Another important factor was the teachers awareness of how the students were
likely to respond to the feedback. The protocols suggested that teachers gave
feedback to individual students, not texts, and brought with them an awareness of
the students likely reactions to the feedback. Mahos preference for feedback on
her ideas had been communicated to Joan, and Samoms desire for grammar cor-
rection was also noted by her teacher. As she responded to Mahos writing, Joan
characterized her as having a serious approach, and as being a student for whom
it was worthwhile to give detailed feedback on her ideas. As Nadia responded to
Samoms writing, she reminded herself of Samoms stated preference for gram-
mar-based feedback. Goldstein and Conrad (1990) suggest that teachers may sub-
consciously change their behavior in oral conferences according to their
expectations of individual students. This may also be true of teachers written
feedback.
An examination of the students drafts and revised essays in conjunction with
their retrospective interviews suggested that there were two main reasons why
students did not use the written feedback. Either an earlier change made the feed-
back irrelevant, because the problematic sentence word, phrase, or clause had
been deleted, or the original feedback had been ignored or misunderstood (see
Table 6).
TABLE 6
Reasons for Not Using Teacher Written Feedback
Student
Total Points Reason: Reason:
Not Used Deleted Relevant Text Ignored Or Misunderstood
Maho 29 20 9
Samom 18 11 7
212 HYLAND
The category ignored/misunderstood could not be further broken down, since
misunderstandings were only revealed by the retrospective interviews, and such
interviews were carried out on only one draft. Two examples of this category are
illustrated by the following extract from Mahos retrospective interview. Maho
misunderstands one piece of feedback and ignores another. The teacher had com-
mented positively on her thesis statement and then noted a problem and under-
lined the word think in the next sentence: I would like to think about how
related to between culture and festivals, to signal that it was, as she verbalised in
her protocol, not appropriate.
Interviewer:
Maho:
Interviewer:
Maho:
Interviewer:
Maho:
Why do you think shes underlined think?
I think this comment think relate to that (points to feedback -800d promise
to the reader). I thought that , but Im not quite clear about that.
So you didnt change anything from that?
No
And here shes written Very general. Maybe it should be earlier in the intro-
duction. What did you do about that?
1 didnt change it because I really liked the beginning. I dont want to put
those sentences at first.
The extent to which the revisions made by Maho and Samorn utilized teacher-
written feedback is shown in Table 7. The analysis shows that far fewer of
Mahos revisions could be related to teacher written feedback. In fact, 73% of her
revisions could not be related to written feedback, while only 8% were a result of
closely following the feedback and 14% used the feedback as an initial stimulus
for extended revisions. On the other hand, 82% of Samoms revisions were either
the result of a close following of the written feedback or were more extensive
revisions using the feedback as an initial stimulus.
It seems plausible that more proficient students would be prepared to take
more responsibility for their own texts and more risks with their language and
therefore make more of their own revisions. However, Maho was a weak student
in terms of language proficiency, whilst Samoms language skills were good. In
the case of these two students, the contextual data suggests that Mahos enthusi-
asm for self expression, her desire to communicate a message, and less priority for
grammatical accuracy may have caused her to try to extensively revise her texts
TABLE 7
Utilization of Feedback as Shown in Revision (Numbers and Percentages)
Student
Closely Initial
Followed Stimulus
Avoidance by
Deletion
Not
Related
Total
Revisions
Maho 9( 8%) 17 (14%) 6 (-5%) X6 (73%) l18(100%)
Samorn 163 (72%) 22 (10%) 2(1%) 40 (17%) 227 (100%)
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 273
on her own. Of course, she also received less usable feedback, but in any case
these extensive revisions to her texts also made many of the usable feedback
points on her drafts obsolete. Another factor was her preference for oral feedback
over written feedback. In her interviews she said that she appreciated the opportu-
nity that the workshop sessions gave her to ask questions, and she believed that
she was able to find answers more directly than through written feedback. Class-
room observations supported this, as Maho was observed frequently consulting
with Joan.
On the other hand, Samom may have had very different reasons for relying on
written feedback when revising her texts. She was most concerned to get gram-
matical feedback and was very interested in improving this aspect of her texts.
However, during the course she lost a lot of confidence in her grammatical com-
petence, and this may have resulted in a greater reliance on her teachers feed-
back, and demotivated her so that she was less willing to consider her own
revisions, preferring the easier option of relying on her teacher. In addition, oral
feedback may have played a less important role for Samom than it did for Maho.
Classroom observations showed that she rarely consulted her teacher.
Focus of Revisions
The specific focus of the revisions (including both revisions which were
related to feedback and those which were from other sources) was analysed. As
this was a course preparing ESL students for academic study, two important areas
of focus were considered for the analysis. The students were preparing for an aca-
demic future, and both the students and the teachers were very conscious of this.
Many revisions therefore focused on academic issues, such as genre require-
ments, and other conventions like referencing and level of formality. For exam-
ple, when Maho wrote: I would like to explain a Roman festival, Joan gave the
following feedback: Too personal. It might be better to write An example of this
connection is the Roman festival of the 22 of February (more academic and a
better link). Maho responded by replacing her sentence with Joans suggestion
and this was classified as a revision with an academic focus.
The other area of focus was concerned with the situation of the student as a sec-
ond language writer trying to effectively and clearly express ideas. Thus, this area
covered both meaning and formal changes. Revision that attempted to make
meaning clearer or focused on the development of ideas or the logical relation-
ships between these ideas, was classified as meaning-based revision. Other revi-
sions were carried out for the purpose of tidying up the text and making it into
a more acceptable final product in terms of its surface features. Such changes
were classified as revisions which focused on form.
274 HYLAND
The revisions could involve substantial changes or additional material, or
might be short amendments and additions. When Seng Hee revised her essay on
pollution in Korea, she amended the following sentence: In addition many other
non-governmental groups are strongly against pollution to the following In
addition, many other non-governmental agencies such as the academic commu-
nity, professors of biology and ecology as well as other social groups publicised
our situation. This was classified as a meaning focused revision. On the other
hand, when Seng Hee changed slave to solve in the following sentence: A rapidly
changing nation like Korea is trying to solve its problems, the focus was purely
on formal issues.
Both the feedback and the revisions of the students were analysed according to
this system. Table 8 shows the proportions of revision which had an academic
focus. There were some differences in the patterns displayed. For example, very
few of Samoms revisions had an academic focus while Mahos were much more
evenly divided, and her revisions with an academic focus were almost all stimu-
lated by written teacher feedback. This is not surprising since Maho was a novice
in the academic field while Samom had already completed her first degree. Maho
was well aware of this weakness and often requested feedback to make her writ-
ing more academic. At the end of the course she compared herself unfavorably
with other members of her class, who she felt had more experience in this field.
For Samom, as we have already seen, grammatical feedback was more crucial.
Table 9 shows the percentages of revision in the situational context dealing
with meaning or formal issues. Figures in parenthesis are percentages for revi-
sions not linked to teacher written feedback.
Again, we can see a very great contrast in the revision patterns of these two stu-
dents. Maho was far more likely to use her teachers feedback to address meaning
issues whilst Samom was more likely to use it to address formal issues, such as
language accuracy problems. Mahos and Samoms use of feedback makes us
TABLE 8
Focus of Revisions (Figures for Revisions not Related to Feedback in Parenthesis)
Student Academic Focus % Situational Focus % Totals
Maho
44 (2)
56 (98) lOO(lO0)
Samorn
1 (2)
99 (98) lOO(100)
TABLE 9
Percentages of Revisions Dealing with Meaning and Formal Issues
Student Meaning-related issues % Form-related issues % Totals
Maho
Samom
89 (60) 1 I (40) 100 (100)
18 (62) 82 (38) lOO(lOO)
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 275
consider what constitutes good revision and the role of teacher intervention in
the writing process. It may be the case that good revision and good feedback
can only really be defined with reference to the individual writers, their problems,
and their reasons for writing.
Textual changes of the types carried out by Maho are often cited as character-
istic of the expert Ll writer. Sommers (1980) concluded that less skilled writers
revised in a limited way and rarely modified their ideas, while more skilled writ-
ers were able to change whole chunks of discourse and focused on meaning.
Mahos primary concern was with the message she was trying to convey, rather
than with formal correctness (Perl, 1979). The feedback she received related to
grammar was largely unused, due to her many changes to her texts. She did not
seem to experience text appropriation (Brannon & Knoblauch 1982; Onore, 1989;
Reid, 1994; Sommers, 1982; Sperling & Freedman, 1987) since she revised her
work following her own agenda, as well as referring to her teachers feedback,
and felt confident enough to reject her teachers advice when she disagreed with
it. An analysis of her texts revealed that she revised in chunks, and interviews
revealed that she used drafts as a means of discovering what she wanted to say.
The fact that such techniques failed for Maho is a reason to consider carefully
whether the concept of writing expertise can be transferred wholesale to the L2
writing context.
Mahos planning strategies may have compounded some of her problems when
writing. For example, the longitudinal examination revealed that the lack of
coherence was an early and persistent problem in her writing. (Extracts from
Mahos writing are reproduced in appendix B.) Both Maho and her teacher, Joan,
linked this problem to Mahos inability to plan an essay before writing. Maho
identified planning as a problem in her retrospective interview and linked this to
her approach to writing drafts:
I think I knew that was quite unskilful because just write, write, write, not planning
and not organised, just write. Yes, I knew thats unskilful. Just I know about that I
also not clear the main idea in Japanese writing. My ideas always keep skipping. Not
very tidy.
In her journal Maho also discussed the difficulties she had with planning:
I know that my writing is quite bad. Even I write in Japanese it still does not make
sence sometime. I think because I dont make a plan. When I try to make a plan, my
ideas disappier. (Journal entry)
Maho believed this to be a writing problem and not a second language problem,
one that she had in her first as well as her second language, and related to the
generation of ideas rather than the structure of academic discourse. Her teacher,
Joan, identified this as one of Mahos most serious problems early in the course
276 HYLAND
and urged her to write outlines, but Maho felt that she had no ability to do this
and found it impossible to do. She felt the need to write her way into a topic:
Maho: Just I cant. [make an outline] I can do that as free writing. Just I decide like
brainstorm, not really but like.
Interviewer: You do that before you start writing?
Maho: Yes, just write, write, write, and I pick up my idea and use it and make essay
Interviewer: But you dont make an outline?
Maho: No.
Interviewer: When you read that comment [make an outline] what did you do after you
read it?
Maho: Tried to make outline, but I havent succeeded.
(Retrospective interview)
In one of the writing workshops, Maho was observed explaining her way of get-
ting started:
Joan asks Maho what her topic is and she says she is writing on festivals. She then
specifies her topic more fully and shows her writing to Joan, who asks if it is a first
draft and is told no its just writing to get started. Joan suggests that before she
begins writing she needs to write down her topic exactly. Maho says she prefers to
write first and then decide on the topic. Joan tells her that is not what happens at uni-
versity. You have a specified topic and have to write about that. Maho insists that
this is not the case with this assignment. If she was writing on a set topic, that would
be fine, but here she has to find her own topic. She thinks its pretty hard to choose
your topic by yourself, and therefore she wants to do some writing first before she
decides. (Observation 3A)
For Maho a first draft was in effect an extended brainstorm rather than a semi-
finished product. This episode is interesting as it shows Maho persisting in using
a technique for planning and drafting her writing in the face of Joans reserva-
tions and in spite of feedback which suggested that this was not an effective writ-
ing strategy. It also demonstrates an independence of spirit which was a
characteristic feature of this student and her writing. Joan expressed her frustra-
tion to me about the difficulty that Maho had doing an outline and writing a well-
organized draft, even with teacher help. The problem here may have been that
Maho and Joan had different concepts of what function a draft could serve. For
Maho it was part of the process, writing to get started, while for Joan it was a
semi-finished and shaped product. Thus Joans intervention was coming too
early to help Mahos writing.
Maho may also have needed to consider her revision strategies more carefully.
For her the draft served as a stimulus to express ideas, but when she detected or
was shown problems with the ideas or language of her texts, she often then aban-
doned some of the text and rewrote rather than revised her writing. As Flower,
Hayes, Carey, Schriver, and Stratman (1986) have pointed out, the technique of
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 277
rewriting is valuable when writing to discover ideas and meaning. However, it can
also be a relatively blind leap into ill-defined problems (Flower et al. 1986, p.
47), since it bypasses an important step in the revision process: diagnosing the
nature of the problems in the original text. An overuse of the rewrite strategy may
have contributed to Mahos writing problems. Because she also placed more
value on expressing her ideas than on accuracy, she therefore ignored some of the
grammar-focused feedback while the major changes she made to her writing
made other feedback irrelevant.
Samoms case was quite different. She could communicate well, and her lan-
guage abilities were much higher than Mahos. Samoms strength (both self iden-
tified and identified through feedback) was in the organization of ideas. She saw
grammar as the problematic area that she needed to concentrate her revisions on,
and she expected her teacher to help her improve in this area. Although this may
seem like a limited view of what revision is about and marks Samom down as an
unskilled writer, some research has suggested that this is not necessarily true. For
second language writers, a focus on language when revising may be a very realis-
tic and effective strategy (Cardelle & Como, 1981; Eskey 1983; Fathman &
Whalley, 1990).
The interaction between Samom and her teacher on language accuracy was
considered in more detail because the feedback given to her on grammar appeared
to be counterproductive, in affective terms, even though it had a positive effect on
her texts. Through the interviews with Samom, a picture of a problem emerged.
Her experiences in the past had led her to expect positive feedback on her gram-
mar. Her teachers in Thailand had always praised her grammar, and her fellow
Thai students had admired her grammatical structures. She specifically requested
feedback on her grammar on her writing cover sheets, and Nadia noted this and
provided her with many corrections and comments on her weaknesses. However
as these extracts from her retrospective interview showed, Samom was also
expecting praise for her grammar:
At the first time I think that my writing is good because friends always say that its
good. But my teacher say that I have to have a lot of writing because its not so good
and at the first time I feel confident of my writing because I think that my gram-
mar-my tense and my plural and verb use with plural, with singular is OK. But
when the feedback come out, teacher doesnt look enough in that grammar. The
grammar is not the most important thing for her, so she check in the coherence, in
introduction, in something else. And I havent got good marks so I think that I am
poor in everything of writing. [....I I lost my confidence about grammar. I think that
my grammar is OK, but she didnt look enough of it. [....I I think that my grammar
is good but I didnt get any comments that oh your grammar is good, but you still
have to, you still have to correct about something like this But all the comments
come that my writing is not so good, so I feel that everything is poor. [....I I think that
278 HYLAND
at least she should admire me some points. [... ] From that time I discouraged a lot
and I feel dont like writing.
It was certainly true that no positive comments on grammar were made by
Nadia. Instead she tended to show Samom her problems by underlining and indi-
cating the area in which the problem lay. On Samoms first draft of her first theme
writing, for example, (this is the piece which appeared to discourage her and make
her not like writing), Nadia underlined or corrected 5 article problems, 3 agree-
ment problems, 2 tense problems, and 2 preposition problems. In her end com-
ments on this writing she commented positively on the clarity - Good clear
statements - and then suggested some improvements to the introduction and con-
clusion. Grammar was not mentioned at all in the end comments. On Samorns
next piece of work, her draft for the first assignment, Nadia indicated 3 sentence
fragment problems, 2 agreement problems, 10 article problems, 3 preposition
problems, and 3 verb tense problems, as well as 11 vocabulary problems. She also
commented on the vocabulary and sentence fragment problems in her end com-
ments. The final version of this first assignment had few grammatical mistakes,
and this was positively commented on by Nadia: YCJU have made a lot of changes
(grammatical etc.) to thefirst druft and this has made it a wellflowing piece. Well
done. I enjoyed reading it .
In Samorns second major assignment, (extracts of which are reproduced in
Appendix B) we find Nadia still highlighting grammatical problems. Eleven
vocabulary, 14 preposition, 10 article, 12 verb problems, and four sentence frag-
ments were shown by the feedback. The end comments focused on organization
and ideas in a very positive manner: Good strong essay. Well organised. Good
cleur introduction and conclusion. I especially like the way you use your own
examples to back claims. The only negative note referred to the language accu-
racy: Most of the problems here are grammatical. The feedback on the final ver-
sion of this assignment is again very positive: Very good indeed. Good clear
writing and well organised. You have made a lot of progress in your writing. The
only negative note mentions grammar: Still some grammatical problems, but
nothing very serious.
However, in her final interview, Samorn focused on only the negative aspects
of her writing. She said that she had changed her opinion about her writing ability.
Before she believed that she could write, quite well, but now its absolutely
wrong.... I feel that I have to learn a lot about writing well and I have to learn a lot
about grammar. A lack of positive feedback on what she had previously consid-
ered to be a strong point, her grammar, contributed to Samom becoming demoti-
vated and taking steps to avoid writing by changing her future course from the
business one involving writing to a more orally focused tourism one. The fact that
positive reinforcement on grammar had been given to her previously had created
an expectation for Samorn. After Nadia failed to fulfill this expectation, Samom
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 279
felt cheated and appeared to lose confidence in her ability to function as a writer
in an academic environment.
Both Maho and Samom started their courses with positive expectations of
feedback and with high motivation to improve their writing. Unfortunately, nei-
ther student was a success story. Samom steadfastly stuck to her plan to do a tour-
ism course, even though on the writing section of the English proficiency test
taken at the end of the course she achieved a band four, considered as adequate for
university entry. She said that her lack of confidence in her writing ability would
cause her to try to avoid writing at all costs in the future. Maho failed to get the
grades she needed to take up a place on the BA course at the university and scored
a low mark on her writing in the proficiency test (a band two). Even after complet-
ing a second English course, she scored the same low mark.
PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS AND
AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Writing is an intensely personal activity, and students motivation and confi-
dence in themselves as writers may be adversely affected by the feedback they
receive. As Daiker (1989) points out, adverse response of any kind may encour-
age high writing apprehension and lock a student into a cycle of failure, lack of
motivation and further failure. He suggests that positive reinforcement can
reduce writing apprehension, but Nadia was giving Samom positive comments
and encouragement. The problem here may have been that the positive was not
focused on the aspects of the text that this student felt insecure about while the
negative feedback was.
A teacher in this situation faces a dilemma. Samom claimed that she wanted
grammatical correction; in fact, she stated that this was the feedback that she
loved the most. However, she also wanted praise for her grammar. When faced
with a large number of grammatical corrections and no positive comments on her
grammatical ability, her confidence in her writing ability suffered, together with
her motivation to write. Her teacher knew nothing about Samoms unhappiness
and commented in Samoms final report that she had made good progress in her
writing. A fuller dialogue between this teacher and student on feedback issues
was needed.
However it can be difficult for teachers to provide feedback that will cater for
all students expectations. Individual students may have very different percep-
tions of what constitutes useful feedback. Another student in Nadias class, Mei,
spoke against positive comments on her paper as a waste of time. When she was
asked to explain why, she said that she wanted negative feedback which
280 HYLAND
showed her weaknesses. In her interviews she complained about the insincerity of
many positive comments:
Sometimes maybe the teacher doesnt mean it, but they just try to encourage you.
[...I Because there is always but after the positive. Sometimes the teacher just tries
to find something good in my essay and then may be that strength is not the main
point. (Pre course interview)
I think Ive already got enough confidence so I dont need any more good com-
ments. The problem, urn, I want development, so I want to know the weaknesses
most. (Retrospective interview)
Students may distrust praise if it is not frequently given in their own culture.
They may be disillusioned to find that their marks are low in tests after they have
received positive feedback on their writing and become cynical about other posi-
tive feedback. Samom and Mahos examples support the case for the conscious
use of positive feedback. However, Meis perspective demonstrates that what
teachers see as positive reinforcement to reduce writing apprehension may be
viewed by some students as insincere, unhelpful and even condescending. This
illustrates the individual nature of student response to teacher feedback and also
suggests that future research needs to look more closely at affective factors in
feedback situations and especially at student reactions to positive feedback and
evaluation in L2 contexts.
To help prevent miscommunication, teachers and students should talk together
in detail about their aims and expectations with regard to feedback. Teachers need
to allocate some time for face-to-face discussion with the individual student on
feedback issues, to gain an awareness of the students perspective and an under-
standing of what each individual student brings with them to the course in terms
of past experiences and expectations. It is also possible for discussion on the var-
ious types of feedback to take place in small peer groups, so that students can
make comparisons with their classmates. This may be particularly helpful in
classes like the ones in this study where students come from a number of different
cultures, and contrasts in terms of both past experiences and feedback wants may
exist. Such contrasts allow students to see that there are many different ways of
using feedback and may encourage them to try new strategies and to abandon
ones which have not been effective for them.
Researchers could investigate the effect of teacher attitudes to individual stu-
dents on the feedback given. The data show that the amount of feedback given to
different students varied considerably. The protocols of the teachers also sug-
gested that they were aware of the individual students when they gave feedback
and tailored their feedback according to their prediction of the students possible
response to that feedback. Future studies could make a closer examination of the
relationship between the teachers personal conception of the student and the
amount and type of feedback offered.
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 281
Finally, there is a need for more longitudinal research on the problems faced by
L2 writers functioning in the Ll context to help establish what constitutes an
expert L2 writer. It has been suggested that writing, whether in ones first or sec-
ond language, is a process in which meaning must be given priority. All six stu-
dents in this study were concerned that they were unable to write in their second
language in the way in which they would write in their first. They expressed frus-
tration at their inability to adequately convey their ideas and suggested that they
often failed to develop ideas and themes in their writing because they knew that
they did not have the linguistic resources to do so. More research is needed to
establish what problems these limitations can cause the L2 writer in the Ll con-
text and what writing strategies work best for them so that feedback can be tar-
geted in these areas.
The cases of Maho and Samom represent highly individual responses to feed-
back, but they raise some interesting issues and highlight some of the possible
problems inherent in the feedback situation. Written feedback from teachers can
play a significant, if complex, role in students writing development. A better
understanding of both the positive and negative aspects of teacher written feed-
back is necessary if writing teachers are to exploit its potential most effectively.
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284 HYLAND
APPENDIX A
Retrospective Interview Prompts
General Overview of the Revisions Carried Out
1. How long did you spend revising this draft?
2. Could you describe what you did as you revised? For example, did you read
the feedback first or did you refer to the feedback as you revised?
3. What were the main changes you made to the draft?
4. What do you think was the most important change you made to the draft?
General Overview of Feedback Use
1. What was the most useful feedback your teacher gave you on this draft?
2. Did you get feedback from any other source?
3. What use did you make of your peers comments?
On Global Comments and Changes
1. Why do you think your teacher has made this comment?
2. What changes did you make to the writing after you read this comment?
3. Do you feel more satisfied with your writing now? Why (not)?
On Localized Comments and Changes
1. What do you think this comment is asking you to do?
2. What change did you make to your writing because of this comment?
3. Do you think your change has improved the writing?
4. How has it improved your writing?
On Comments and Corrections Ignored
1. Why do you think your teacher has made this comment?
2. Why didnt you make any changes to the writing?
3. Do you think there is still a problem with the writing?
Student Evaluation of Their Success in Revising
1. When you look at your 1st and 2nd drafts, do you feel satisfied with your
revisions ?
TEACHER WRITTEN FEEDBACK 285
2. Do you feel that the essay has improved? How?
3. Is there anything about writing that you learnt from writing this essay that
you will remember and use in the future?
APPENDIX B
Extracts from Mahos and Samorns Writing
Extracts from Mahos Second Assignment (draft and revised versions)
Development issues are more serious for developed countries than developing
countries.
Draft
Developed countries can be seen that those countries dont have a problem of liv-
ing. And the development also appears that the life is garanteed by the stable
society. However, it is clear that it is not truth. Needless to say, developed coun-
tries have many probrems or issues as well as developed countries. The dieffer-
ences are who is suffering and what affect the development issue has. We have
an inclination to take development issues as only developing countriess prov-
ince. We have to think about both developing and developed countries issues to
take responsiblity of the past and futuer as a member of world society.
Revised Version
Development issues, the words are becaming common, because there are many
problems of development all over the world. Development always make pro-
brems and the probrems stimulate the development ironically. In other word, no
civilization will be able to develop without any probrem. Development and the
issues are always go together. However, the meaning of development issues not
very clear what it is, the reason why it has too broad and many meanings. For
instance, both developing and developed countries have economic, political and
such. We, developed countrys people, tend to take development issue regard to
just less technical skills or industrialized that is we normally think development
issues are for developing countries, however, developed countries often have
more serious issues than developing countries as stated.
Extracts from Samorns Second Assignment (draft and revised ver-
sions)
How stress developed in children since they were born
HYLAND
Draft
Stress is an interesting word. One of its meanings, which will be using here,
taken from the Oxford Dictionary is a state of worry resulting from pressure
caused by problems of living, too much work, too little money, too much home-
work and so on. Most people have no difficulty saying when they are under stress
and easily attributing all kinds of problem to stress. Most people think that stress
has been limited only to adults. But the fact is that all of us, adults and children,
are victims of stress of different kinds of condition. This essay will focus on
stress in children particularly in how stress has been developed in children since
they are born and how adults can cope with it.
Revised Version
Stress is an interesting word. One of its meanings, which will be used here, taken
from the Oxford Dictionary is a state of worry resulting from pressure caused by
problems of living, too much work, too little money, too much homework and so
on. Most people have no difficulty saying when they are under stress and easily
attributing all kinds of problem to stress. Most people think that stress has been
limited only to adults. But the fact is that all of us, adults and children, are vic-
tims of stress of different kinds. This essay will focus on stress in children, par-
ticularly in how stress has been developed in children since they were born and
how adults can cope with it.