What is feedback?

Facilitation workshops

What is feedback?

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

You need a singular verb! Check your spelling! These are some common examples of feedback in a language classroom. Such comments can be categorised as corrective feedback because their main goal is to address a particular error. From my experience, frequent corrective feedback (depending on learners and whether it is tactfully presented) may discourage learners and lead to learner anxiety.

While peer-feedback is not an uncommon practice, some teachers and learners are sceptical about it. One of the reasons given is that learners do not have sufficient expert knowledge to comment on their friends’ work. Although this appears to be a valid reason, it depends on the purpose of peer-feedback activities.

A holistic view

Fundamentally, feedback is a response. It can be from teachers, fellow students, learners themselves or automated computer programmes. Feedback can and should focus on both learners’ strengths and weaknesses. It can also have an affective orientation. Teachers’ feedback can also promote critical thinking skills by challenging learners’ ideas, for example.

Peer-feedback is an effective way to promote self-awareness and self-directed learning. In my opinion, feedback benefits the givers as much as the recipients. In the effort of promoting independent learning, learners should be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses. As it is not an easy task to critically evaluate one’s own work, giving feedback to others’ work is a good start.

Theory and practice

While it is common to reflect on the types and characteristics of the feedback that teachers give, there is a tendency to neglect learners in the big picture. This is probably why there is an ongoing debate on the effectiveness of grammar correction (e.g., Ferris, 1999; Truscott, 1999).

Teachers should consider teacher-learner relationships, and the total amount of feedback they provide, to avoid learners being overwhelmed by the sheer number of errors they have made.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend teachers use the following questions to guide their feedback:
1.   Have I acknowledged learners’ strengths?
2.   Have I identified learners’ key weaknesses?
3.   Have I encouraged the learners (affective orientation)?
4.   Have I provided or pointed learners to possible solutions?
5.   Have I promoted critical thinking?

References

Ferris, D.R. (1999). The case for grammar correction in L2 writing classes. A response to Truscott (1996). Journal of Second Language Writing, 8(1), 1–10.

Truscott, J. (1999). The case for “the case for grammar correction in L2 writing classes”: A response to Ferris. Journal of Second Language Writing, 8(2), 111–122.


Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based independent researcher and an education consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/Monkey Business Images

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