Saturday, May 03, 2014

What's the Best Way to Provide Feedback on a Paper?

So, my last post has generated some really great conversation in the comments. No easy answers, but lots to think about. As a result of one of those comments, I thought it might be good to solicit ideas from you guys on some of the ways you provide feedback for students on written work (in this case, thinking about the typical English paper, but it doesn't have to be). (Turnitin apparently does a nice job of facilitating that feedback and I don't have any angst over that part of the service :-).

Again, same caveat as on the last post, I'm not a Language Arts teacher and I do not claim to have any special pedagogical insight into providing feedback on papers. Let's also agree to stipulate that one-on-one conferences with each student to go over their writing is better than anything we're going to submit here.

But, given that it's next to impossible in most schools to have the time to do those one-to-one conferences with every student with every piece of writing, there is a need to provide some kind of feedback that's asynchronous. That's what I'd love to have you address in the comments: what strategies, tools and techniques have you used to best accomplish this?

So, from my non-Language-Arts-teacher perspective, my initial thought of the best way to provide feedback would look like this. The teacher reviews the student's writing on an iPad or similar tablet. This allows them to directly annotate on the written work just like they previously have on a written/printed document. But as they read through and annotate, they record a screencast that allows them to also record their verbal feedback, explaining the annotations and giving them more depth.

To me, that seems like it provides all the functionality of annotations (on either a written/printed piece or an electronic piece submitted somewhere like Turnitin) while also providing some (not all) of the benefits of a writing conference with the student. It also wouldn't take any more time than the traditional grading/annotating of a paper. (Okay, it would take a bit more time to encode and then upload the video for the student to review, but I don't see that as a huge time commitment. I could be wrong.)

So, Language Arts folks, what ways have you found to do this well? What about my proposed solution above doesn't work for you (or how would you improve it)? Would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. from a good math blog recently:

  2. Karl, thanks again for the posts, and for the opportunity to discuss issues of this sort with colleagues and other education professionals. I am glad to have your opinion on turnitin, and am thinking I will send it to the rest of my staff. I am glad we use it, but I am also glad to have questions like yours to help us approach it more conscientiously. Thank you.

    As for my opinion on what you write, well, it's late, and brevity is the soul of wit, and I am afraid I may be repeating some of the points already raised, but here goes nothing:

    1. At Heritage, we have been using turnitin for the last few years, though I use it sparingly, and, anyway, a student brought up yet another issue with it that I appreciate as much as your first two points: it's a permanent record, as are all our many on-line interactions. Her family is adamant in their opposition to its use because it might jeopardize her future as a politician, or something like that--well, at least, that's what she seemed to be saying. But adamant, and it's something to consider--I don't mean to make a joke of it. No take-backs on line.

    2. Your third point is meant as a solution, but really it spells out part of the problem--a big part: the quick, left-brain do-it, get-it-out-of-the-way, dopamine-dispensing mentality of our adapted and much diminished 21st century communication modes--that tied to the endemic of our impatience with anything other than immediate gratification. This is a large part of the reason plagiarism is becoming a greater, more-pervasive problem, I feel certain. I'm not sure turnitin offers anything but an ironic solution (--the reason I still use it sparingly, somewhat skeptically), but I suspect your LA teachers will greatly appreciate it nevertheless...

    3. I don't think you ask the right questions. Whether or not we still write "big" papers is beside the point (--I still do, if anyone is counting--I still make sure I can). The question is whether or not it is good that we did once write them--that we could--that we could (and can) sustain the discipline and focus, etc., and with so much enjoyment. Is that not why we're English teachers--and at least part of the reason we are qualified to teach these so called Language Arts? We don't read poems, for instance; we experience them--we react to them like they're roller coaster--poring over them again and again as so many thrilling turns and drops and exhilarating climbs. We know how to--the skill sets we have acquired and developed by way of all the work that still, and hopefully always will earn our degrees allows us to do that...

    ...Ooo, and one last point (--brevity was never my strong suit--and whatever claim I have had to wit was purely accidental, I know--especially since this comment really belongs on your original turnitin post): none of your disclaimers about not being an English teacher speaks so loudly as your list of reasons the "traditional" papers are basically already obsolete. That they may become obsolete, and with them the skills and modes they require, is something every English teacher must learn to defend against--or so it is this English teacher's humble opinion...

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to as my "third point." Could you clarify that?

      Also, I'm curious, do you have any data to support your contention that plagiarism is more pervasive? I'm not saying it's not, I'm just saying folks shouldn't state that if they can't back it up.

      I'm afraid you lost me on the last two paragraphs. Your argument (at least as stated here) seems to be that we should continue to do these things (whatever these "things" are) because you like them, and because you're good at doing them. I'm sure that's not your argument, but I'd love to hear what your argument actually is.

  3. I am glad you brought up this question. I am currently digging into the issue of providing feedback on the writing of second language writers and there hardly seem to be one size fits all solutions.
    When it comes to grammar errors, a promising strategy seems to be to indicate the location but not the type of error, in an attempt to initiate self-correction. For written feedback to be acknowledged by the learner, combining it with conferencing seems effective also.
    But: do teachers really have the time to offer 1:1 conferencing to all their students? Do these kinds of conferences require teacher presence, or would peer conferencing help as well?

    I think students should also be allowed to get a feeling for writing as a process rather than just a product. Shifting attention towards that process would require several occasions for re-writing. I guess teachers should introduce students to the types of feedback and comments they are likely to get on their writing (perhaps teachers should operate with a standard set of comments on both form and content of student writing) and students should be shown how to use the feedback provided to improve their writing.

    Two years ago, there was an article by Thompson & Lee in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy titled "Talking with Students through Screencasting: Experimentations with Video Feedback to Improve Student Learning" which I found quite thought-provoking. The fact that screencasting allows students to see teachers interact with their texts might really add to the experience, plus it fosters a shift from the production to the reception perspective...