Reflecting on Responding to Student Writing
“Responding to Student Writing” is a chapter in a book titled “Second Language Writing” by Ken Hyland. The teaching approach of this book focuses on theory and practice of teaching writing to students of English as a Foreign or Second Language (EFL/ESL). In this paper, I will reflect on what I have learned from this chapter, and how what I have learned will hopefully help make me a better writing teacher.
Based on my experience teaching academic writing, which includes paragraph and essay writing, I agree that process writing provides more fruitful outcomes to our students’ writing. Many modern textbooks including Effective Academic Writing 1, 2 and 3, and College Writing also adopt this “process writing” approach. Peer feedback/review, teacher written feedback, and teacher-student conferencing are important stages in process writing.
I agree that there are both pros and cons of peer reviewing. However, there seem to be more positive comments on peer editing, according to my survey in my essay writing class. Almost more than two thirds of my students agreed that peer editing helped improve the quality of their writing in terms of improving spelling mistakes and grammar accuracy. Moreover, they could gain a lot of benefits from their friends who had better English language proficiency or background knowledge of the topics being discussed. In other instances, their peer editors may have less knowledge of English language, but they
could help comment on the contents of their superior classmates’ essays. Peer feedback, may also provide opportunities for fast learners to help slower learners if this is done properly.
I also agree with Hyland about potential pros and cons of peer feedback. Two of those points I would like to reflect on are that the possibilities that peer feedback improves critical reading skills and reduces teacher’s workload. Of course, students are motivated to read their classmate’s papers, because they also gain analytical reading skills. They can acquire some new ideas from their friends’ writing to add to their own piece of writing. Likewise, students are motivated to read their peers’ writing, because they read something that they have some background knowledge about. Moreover, peer feedback certainly helps teachers to reduce their workload in terms of correction of grammatical errors, sentence structures, and contents of students’ writing. If students’ papers are proofread by their peers before submitting to their teachers, it is very likely that there would be fewer mistakes in their final draft. It also is very helpful for busy teachers who run out of time to provide written feedback on students’ papers. In addition, teachers who are under the pressure of covering all of many course contents in a relatively short period of time like me, and the ones teaching large classes can also benefit from peer feedback, because they cannot afford several sessions for teacher-student conferencing.
Even though peer feedback provides many advantages for both students and teachers, students need to be well trained to review their classmates’ papers in order to receive rewarding outcome out of it. For instance, students should be trained to use grammar error codes to write on their friends’ papers. One creative idea I have learned from Hyland is the way to students’ self awareness training by allowing students to watch videos of peer discussions taking place in other classes. Teachers should try this technique when the camcorder is available. Alternatively, teachers may Google and download the clip to show to their classes. I have tried it personally, and my students learned a great deal about peer editing from the experience.
Teacher Written Feedback
Students can definitely improve their writing through their teacher’ written feedback. I agree with Hyland that teachers need to appropriately provide their feedback by balancing among praise, criticism and suggestion. Overemphasis on either one of the three may result in negative effects, while absence of either one of those may lower students’ learning motivation. Teachers’ comments on students’ writing also need to be crystal clear to the students, or students may waste a lot of time just trying to understand the teacher feedback. It also helps save time in teacher-student conferencing sessions, because students do not need to go through their teacher written comment on their draft again. Hyland also suggests online teacher written feedback via e-mail. However, it is not really applicable for my context as my students reported they do not check their emails promptly and frequently enough.
It really is a rewarding investment of time and effort for the teachers to arrange teacher-student conferencing during class periods or better yet outside of their teaching schedules. I agree that one to one teacher student conferencing is time consuming, but my students noticeably improved their final drafts, and my colleagues totally agreed with the idea. In our department, we have been applying this approach officially since 2008 and have since received mounts of positive feedback from students through the semesterly student evaluation and teachers’ self-reflection.
To sump up, peer feedback, teacher written feedback, and teacher-student conferencing obviously have overwhelmingly positive impact on students’ writing. It is highly recommended that EFL/ESL teachers keep themselves abreast of the insightful TESOL/TEFL publications like Hyland’s and try out some of the suggested methods in their own classes. Not all teaching approaches work in every class, especially in a unique context like mine. With some tweak and tune-up, however, innovative teaching concepts and methods are worth trying out especially when we are on a hunt for fresh turns in our lessons ourselves.
Hyland, K. (2003). Second Language Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(*Korop Khat has been teaching English as a Foreign Language to undergraduate students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh since 2007. Currently, he is on study leave to pursue his PhD degree at the University of Canberra, Australia. His current project investigates English language curriculum with an emphasis on needs and situation analysis in Cambodian ELT.)