Dan Li discusses a Rapid Response Funded pilot project increasing student engagement and promoting reflective learning in the process of feedback
Project aims and rationale
Corrective feedback (CF) is formal or informal information given to learners on their performance on various tasks. It has been regarded as a controversial topic in second language (L2) teaching (Ferris, 2010). On the one hand, L2 teachers have voiced concerns that students are not sufficiently using CF in their writing; on the other hand, students have expressed feelings of frustration or confusion once they receive feedback (Lee, 2011). This tension prompted me to think about how to increase student engagement and enhance the effectiveness of feedback. Chinese is a tonal language, which means that a pitch affects the meaning of a sound; Chinese characters, unlike an alphabet, are a system of symbols. In this respect, progress in Chinese for European students is slower than for a new European language. It is essential that students develop learning skills while they acquire linguistic knowledge. The ability to take charge of one’s own learning is not inborn but must be acquired either by natural means or by formal learning (Holec 1981).
Taking this into consideration, I decided to integrate reflective learning into my teaching design. Recent empirical studies have suggested that noticing is an important cognitive process in L2 writing (Qi and Lapkin 2001, Mackey 2006). Findings showed positive effects of noticing in the composing stage and the reformulation stage, where ESL (English as a second language) learners compared their writing with a revised version. I linked the findings with teaching L2 Chinese and considered noticing as a self-reflective skill; students were encouraged to notice the gaps in their linguistic knowledge in the composing process and monitor their progress. I created the ‘Feedback Loop’, a feedback method with an interactional dimension, which recognises the value of involving students and promotes independent learning. The project aims are three-fold:
- to help students use CF more effectively through increased engagement in the process of feedback;
- to facilitate the development of self-reflective skills, in particular, noticing of L2 form;
- to help teachers give more effective CF based on individual differences.
The pilot project
This pilot project took place within the context of Chinese Level 3 Course running for nineteen weeks in 2014-2015 at LFA. The group consisted of five students who have studied Chinese for at least three years, are able to write expository essays in 200-300 characters. In the academic year, some writing tasks were treated as summative tests and others as formative. Students were asked to write two or three drafts with time lags. They were asked to underline three grammatical areas in their draft that they found problematic before handing in. I provided written and oral feedback in class with a focus on the underlined areas. The students had time to think about and process the corrections before their second draft. They were encouraged to reflect upon their L2 writing proactively and keep their drafts in a portfolio. By doing so, the students were learning to take more control of their language study. I was able to direct my attention to individuals’ underlined areas and track language developmental patterns. Oral feedback was prioritised in class regarding pervasive errors in order to help the students look at problematic areas. An interactional dimension was added to the Feedback Loop and this repeated as feasible (see Figure 1). At the end of Summer Term, the students were invited to a retrospective interview to talk about their experiences.
As stated earlier, the Feedback Loop started with students identifying problematic areas before handing in. In draft 1, they found particular difficulty using Chinese-specific structures ba (used to express passive voice), shi…de (used to emphasize) and verbal complement (used to express a result of an action or a situation). Pervasive errors were related to these structures. In draft 2/3, more accurate uses of these structures were identified. Results showed a positive relationship between noticing, CF and L2 written product. In the interview, students expressed that “ba is very hard to figure out… even looking up in the Google translator is not reliable… [Underlining the part] just to say this is where I need help most.” They became more aware of the benefits of noticing and valued the interactional dimension in feedback process.
Moreover, non-underlined common errors were identified in draft 1 with particular reference to location words and changes were tracked in draft 2/3. In draft 1, the errors were not noticed, which may result from the gap in grammatical knowledge and the superficial similarity between L1 (first language) and L2. I provided oral CF and organised training activities for awareness-raising in class. Improvement in draft2/3 showed that the students became aware of the problematic areas and were able to reconstruct sentences in Chinese. In the interview, a student recalled that the interaction dimension in the process of feedback was helpful: “[If] a sentence was not marked, I wouldn’t read it. If a sentence was marked, I read the comment, couldn’t really remember. I hear the comments again face to face (in class), which motivates me more… okay, I’m wrong. This is how we use it”.
From a teacher’s perspective, the use of the Feedback Loop method did not increase marking time; on the other hand, the interactional dimension helped me to respond to my students’ needs in a more timely fashion. More time was spent on coding and analysing the L2 data. Personally, I found this method appealing because it helped me gain a deeper understanding of students as individuals in relation to language learning styles and developmental patterns; furthermore, the analysis of the L2 data deepened my understanding of aspects of Chinese grammar, which had an impact on my teaching approaches, particularly on how to teach problematic structures for L1 English students and design different task types respectively.
Although the cases of this pilot project represent highly individual responses to the feedback practice, they provide evidence of progress in relation to students’ self-reflective skills, interaction and teacher CF. Further work is needed to examine the relationship between student engagement and the effectiveness of CF, the role of noticing in classroom settings. As Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) point out, a number of principles of good feedback include the facilitation of reflection and self-assessment, which is considered vital to development of independent learners. In this respect, teacher-student and teacher-researcher dialogues are encouraged in order to gain a broader understanding of and generate knowledge of different feedback methods and learner differences. The Feedback Loop method could be adapted by teachers in a wider range of languages and of other disciplines in order to exploit its potential and unpack pedagogical benefits and challenges.
This project received Rapid Response Funding.
Ferris, D. (2010). Second language writing research and written corrective feedback in SLA intersections and practical applications. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32, 181-201.
Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. First published in 1979, Strasburg: Council of Europe.
Lee, I. (2011). Working smarter, not working harder: revisiting teacher feedback in the L2 writing classroom. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 67(3), 377-399.
Mackey, A. (2006). Feedback, noticing and instructed second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 27(3), 405-430.
Nicol, D. J. & D, Macfarlane-Dick. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.
Qi, D. S. & S, Lapkin. (2001). Exploring the role of noticing in a three-stage second language writing task. Journal of Second Language Writing, 10, 277-303.
Dan Li is the Programme Coordinator for Chinese language course. She joined LFA, the Department of Language & Linguistic Science in January 2013. She is interested in second language development, with a particular interest in feedback on writing and corrective feedback.