Saturday, January 24, 2009

Technology & Feedback in Large ESL Writing Classes.

Week 4 of Tips & Tricks Workshop, EVO 2009 – Writing

Topic areas

writing; review; feedback; revision; evaluation/marking

"Topics" cover a variety of subtopics, no time in a single week to to cover all adqequately: writing situations and strategies; guiding students to write reflective about their own writing process; to become self aware writers and eventually their own editors; writing groups; feedback strategies; AWE software applications as feedback tools; collaborative writing; document sharing; peer review and editing; revision strategies; the distinction between correction and revision; rubrics; holistic evaluation; comments, function and efficient management.

  1. The best and most effective way to improve is to write more – and get meaningful feedback, especially addressing global concerns (content, clarity, readability, effective communication) over micro ones (grammar and mechanics). The more students write, the better they will write. Writing more is more important than drilling grammar, sending writing through software programs or even marking by humans.
  2. Managing writing for large classes means providing more writing opportunities.
    1. Not all writing needs to be extensively marked or corrected.
    2. Read informal writing for content and ideas, responding briefly and as a reader not a grammarian.
    3. Students can read and comment on one another’s writing following Peter Elbow’s recommendations for student writing groups in Writing Without Teachers. Remember that working in writing groups takes time and practice. First attempts will seem clumsy.
    4. When mistakes interfere with meaning and create information gaps, readers, whether instructor or classmates, can draw general attention to the problem without making corrections.
    5. Some informal writing can be totally private.
  3. Personal feedback is the most time consuming and labor intensive instructor responsibility.
    1. A combination of writing groups, peer, technology and evaluation and checking software can provide less time consuming but still usable feedback.
    2. Multiple drafts: establishing procedures for students to get feedback on their writing before revising the draft they will turn in for instructor review.
    3. Record comments using voice to text software (i.e. Dragon Speaking Naturally or other)
    4. Pre-instructor feedback can include automated writing evaluation (AWE) software, checkers and peer review.
    5. Not only will students write more, they will, through peer review, become comfortable with reviewing writing – first the writing of their classmates and then their own writing.
  4. Train students – no throwing them in the deep end to figure out evaluation procedures on their own.
    1. Use handouts, modeling, presentations, video clips and so on to demonstrate processes.
    2. Introduce rubrics in peer review groups. Training students to interpret and use them in writing group will help students get more out of the ones you return with papers.
    3. Demonstrate and explain limitations of automated feedback.
    4. Model your own writing process and share your writing with class.
    5. Show them samples of your own writing that you have marked up – mercilessly. Set an example by letting them see how much you revise.
    6. Use sample papers – names blacked out – from another class or select representative papers at random or from volunteers.
    7. Present to classroom or online with whiteboard software / projected screenshots of document file or, for a low tech classroom, transparency and projector. Specific method depends on available technology and class configuration.
    8. Invite students to participate in demonstrations by evaluating writing and making revision suggestions.
  5. Structure feedback in stages leading up to instructor feedback
    1. Software such Spell and Grammar Checkers, Rater, text analysis (
    2. Peer review – directed writing groups or writing buddies
    3. Instructor review using preferred strategies, including but not limited to tech tools, holistic marking, rubrics and reflective writing, e.g. keeping a writing journal.
    4. Encourage students to use reflective writing about writing not just to reflect on their own writing but also as a “reading response” to peer reviews, rubrics and, yes, even instructor comments as well.

Specific order can be flexible and will no doubt vary according to instructor preference and class needs. Although I listed self-evaluation before peer review, that could follow as part of the revision process – or both, with students performing two sets of self-evaluation. Personally, I would schedule the instructor demo of paper marking and comment process BEFORE students revise papers to turn into instructor, although post-marking follow might be in order as well.

Sections of Presentation

  1. Writing
    1. Short writing assignments
    2. Collaborative writing
    3. Low stakes writing assignments – freewriting, journals, forum discussion, comments on blog and Wiki posts, reflection papers, admit and exit slips (WAC), cubing, etc
    4. Projects for grading – done in stages
  2. Feedback
    1. Self-evaluation
    2. Automated Writing Assessment, word processing tools and other checking software
    3. Peer evaluation and review
  3. Revision
    1. After self review and automated assessment
    2. After peer review
  4. Reflection on writing - process, drafting, evaluations, revisions (can be in form of writing journals or cover letters with assignment submitted for grading)
  5. Teacher’s turn to review, comment, evaluate, grade, etc.

Briefly: students write more; teacher may review but does not mark all writing. Writing includes private informal, public informal and formal writing. Students develop evaluation / editing strategies and reviewing skills in peer review that they will also apply to their own writing. Requiring students make at least two revisions based on self-editing, software checking, peer feedback before submitting work (with previous drafts and peer review forms attached) significantly reduce the amount of time teachers spend on writing feedback and marking.

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