Feedback on L2 learners’ writing: What effects does it have?

Dr Rachael Ruegg joined us as a Lecturer in Writing in February 2017. Here she gives us a taste of an aspect of her research agenda.

A lot of people have investigated feedback on second language writing, but many of the effects of feedback on developing writers are still unknown. For example, how can a teacher tailor feedback to the needs of each learner in the classroom? How does teacher feedback and peer feedback influence learner confidence? What do learners do with the feedback once they receive it? Many researchers have done short-term experimental studies, but little long-term research has been done on the effects of feedback on L2 writing.

Process writing has been widely adopted around the world and the assessment of writing is a thriving research field, but I had difficulty finding any research at all on the assessment of writing processes. If we are to place importance on the writing process and not only the product, it is essential that we demonstrate this to learners, not only by saying that process is important or asking them to actively engage in the writing process, but also through our assessment methods, which are arguably one of the most powerful messages we send to our learners.

These issues were the starting point of my doctoral research. I conducted a longitudinal multi-method study over one year. The first purpose of the research was to address the issues of the effect of source of feedback on the effect of feedback, use of feedback, and learner confidence. The second purpose was to address the issue of assessment of feedback processes. This was done in two ways: comparing students who were marked on the writing process they went through as well as the essay they produced with others who were marked on only the essay they produced, and comparison of the students’ perceptions of the feedback they had received.

What I found was Japanese learners pay more attention to teacher feedback than to peer feedback, even when receiving feedback from the same source over the long-term. Teacher feedback also helps students in terms of improved grammar in their writing and increased confidence. In terms of assessment of writing, students whose peer feedback was assessed did appear to increase the amount and specificity of the feedback they gave each other. On the other hand, assessment of the use of teacher feedback did not appear to promote learning.

There are still a lot of unknown effects of feedback, but I hope that my doctoral research helped to give some clarity on some of the effects. How much constructive feedback is too much and how much praise is too much are areas that have not been investigated and would be a worthwhile area to investigate. Because our assessment methods send powerful messages to our learners, it is definitely time that our methods of assessment in the writing classroom are taken up with more fervor as an area of investigation.


John Macalister

John Macalister’s research interests include second language reading and writing, issues in language learning and New Zealand English. He teaches courses in language teaching methodology (reading and writing), and curriculum design.

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