Professional Development

Correct less, teach more – Some advice for providing written corrective feedback

Jeanne Lambert

Final Draft series editor Jeanne Lambert shares advice for teachers on making sure your students understand the feedback you’re providing.

How often do you receive your students’ second drafts and wonder if they read or understood your written corrective feedback (WCF)? If your answer is anything close to what my colleagues and I report, it is a resounding “very often.” Students want and expect feedback, but we are often left wondering if they understand or review it. Given the time-consuming nature of WCF and our experience with students’ revised papers, we need to carefully consider how we provide WCF and how much we provide. We can and should focus our efforts by correcting less and teaching more. Below are three suggestions to do this:

1. Present your WCF thinking process in class.

Consider this — you do a lot of thinking about errors and how to repair them when you grade papers at home or the office. The only audience for that thinking is you, and as a result, the one improving their editing skills is also you. Instead, review your WCF thinking process with your class.

To do this, I correct a few excerpts of student writing that are applicable to the entire class (this is done when I am familiar with my students’ writing). Then I project the corrected excerpts and walk the class through my choices. Doing this allows my students to hear my WCF thinking and ask questions. This flips the traditional WCF process where students take feedback home and try to understand a large number of corrections.

After this review session, I ask students to revise for the issues we covered. In addition to focusing my feedback on a handful of issues that my students struggle with, I save time by only correcting sections that I plan to go over in class. Students receive my WCF on the next draft.

2. Have students review WCF during in-class revision sessions.

I conduct revision sessions in class where students review my WCF and start revising. In these sessions, I hand back corrected papers with indirect feedback (e.g., underlining problem areas without giving correct forms) and comments for my students to review in class. As they review my feedback and begin to revise, I walk around the room and check in with students.

This approach promotes active editing (rather than direct feedback which provides students with the correct form) as students have to identify and repair errors themselves. However, any frustration that comes with that is mitigated by their ability to meet with me on the spot and ask questions. With this method, I can ensure three things: students actually review my feedback, students take an active role, and students have an in-class guide. Students finish revising at home, and on second drafts, I often provide a different form of WCF.

3. Use corpus research to target students’ common grammar errors.

This is a novel way to target accuracy. Many teachers already use the Academic Word List or General Service List to inform vocabulary lessons, but corpus research can also help us with grammar instruction. Corpus research can identify the most common mistakes ESL students make with a given grammar point at a given proficiency level.

Once we know the common mistakes, we can design lessons to target them. For example, if you are working with countable and non-countable nouns with intermediate learners, corpus research can tell us the top three common mistakes they make with that grammar point. We can then have students study those common errors and work on targeted editing activities where they edit for those errors.

The above suggestions emphasize in-class practice and teaching. This is not a call to give up WCF. It is a pragmatic approach given the current set of conditions, and the realization that WCF will not provide everything students need. If we devote more attention to WCF than writing instruction, we may miss an opportunity to engage our students in new and effective ways.

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