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Feedback on writing

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Celebrating 5 years of happy blogging with TE by writing :)

The younger our students are, the more enthusiasm they show for any new task.

I usually define the grades very clearly. In primary school I use the following: Excellent, Good, Again. Sure, I know perfectly well that “Again” means failure, but the pupils do not realize that and happily accept it as a challenge. Add the fact that EL is a subject which stands aside from all the others, and the unorthodox system of grades is perceived as normal. Once we eliminate the fear of failure and/or a bad mark, we acquire a new stimulus for the students to strive and move towards a better one.

Whenever we mention writing in middle and high school we may be greeted with groans, especially if we are teaching teens. Seniors have to perform lots of writing tasks in all subjects, hence the adverse reaction. To make an essay task sound more attractive we may wish to turn a mundane exercise into a contest or challenge.

As a working mother of three kids I worked out my own time saving system for writing correction and grading.

  • Time wise,  I used all the breaks between the lessons, plus all the time I had occasionally while the students performed some tests, composed dialogues, in short, any exercise which did not demand my continuous attention. Naturally I had to learn how to work in what I mentally dubbed “steeple chasing mode”, a technique which allows one to pause whenever interrupted, then return to the activity at hand and continue, even from mid-sentence or mid-word. It takes some training but it is doable. And it saves an enormous amount of time. I never carried heaps of workbooks home and back with me but rather managed to do all the grading, correcting and feedback at work, leaving my job in the classroom.
  • I worked out a simple system for marking mistakes and made sure all my students were familiar with it: Gr (Grammar), Sp (Spelling), WW (Wrong Word), WT (Wrong Tense). 
  • To encourage those who had problems writing I would give different grades for different aspects if possible. For instance: Gr – C, Sp – B.Since this is a writing exercise, whenever the work is readable I would mark Content too. 
  • Correcting and feedback do not mean re-writing. Mark the mistakes in any manner which is convenient for you and understandable to students; make short notes, like “Great paragraph!” NEVER re-write their work. They should do the actual corrections and work at their mistakes independently. If the whole class makes the same mistake(s), set aside some time during the lesson to work at the problem together. If you skip it they will just continue making the same mistake over and over again, and at the end you will be faced with more work.
  • I am against peer correction per se though I believe it may be used occasionally. If we simply suggest that children exchange their workbooks and correct their peer’s mistakes, we may inadvertently give them an opportunity to downgrade someone they envy. We may also double our work because we will have to correct both the original writing and the “corrections”. I would simply ask if pupils wish to exchange their notebooks and read what their classmates wrote, but never make them do it if they are against it.
  • As any other activity, marking errors and deciding which techniques to use largely depend on our students’ age and level. If primary school children manage to compose two or three sentences correctly they deserve all the praise and encouragement we can provide. When teenagers produce the required 200 words in a well-written essay they should also be praised and stimulated for larger tasks. Naturally there are children of any age who find any writing task daunting. It follows that in any one class we may have to use various time-saving techniques , from a simple case of a clear-cut A to a carefully annotated Gr, Sp et cetera.

A special note should perhaps be made about adult writing error correction and feedback. If you are teaching university students the system is the same as at school, though the tasks’ level is much higher. However when you regularly deliver lectures and conduct workshops for your colleagues it takes a lot of tact and maneuverability on your part. Here is peer correction at its hardest. “But I always spelt it like this!” Or, “Our university lecturer used this phrase!” Your audience consists of EL teachers who are used to always being “right”. You may be a lecturer but you are also one of them. Who are you to even find, let alone correct their mistakes? One has to tread softly. Feedback is always appreciated, especially if a teacher is praised. 

With my colleagues I would suggest that we use a dictionary, a grammar book or a web site to double-check any disputable item.

People are human, and all humans make mistakes. There is no shame in consulting a reference book or site if needed. Any person appreciates feedback. No matter how busy and overloaded we are, we should always remember that.