How Does Formative, Written Feedback Help Students Improve Their Geographical Writing, pp. 2 of 17

For example, the generic descriptors for essay questions in the GCE ‘A’ Level paper include statements requiring answers to be “perceptive, logical and [have] strong evaluative elements” (MOE and UCLES, 2015). Furthermore, answers need to have “strong evidence of synoptic thinking where knowledge from different topics is synthesized purposefully” (ibid). Clearly, the linguistic facility needed for students to argue logically, evaluate issues perceptively, and to synthesize disparate knowledge is considerable, since all the stated cognitive tasks are, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, “higher-order” and require a certain degree of intellectual capacity for expression and comprehension. Also, these higher-order cognitive operations typically engage with concepts of space, place and interconnections within systems in the discipline of Geography, for which spatiality and variation is fundamental to the discipline.

The concern of the Geography teacher in such an educational context, would thus not merely be for his/her charges to successfully achieve learning objectives such as conceptual understanding and critical thinking ability, but also for the development and honing of their writing skills. It is no surprise that most checks for understanding and learning in the Singapore classroom are traditionally writing assignments. This is particularly pertinent in the ‘A’ Level humanities classroom, which prepares students to show critical thinking and conceptual mastery through extended discourse in the form of structured essays. Yet is the act of assigning essay questions for students to attempt, and then marking their responses and giving a grade, all there is to guiding them to success in writing? Or are there intervening pedagogies that must complement and substantiate the simple performance task of writing an essay?

In addressing the issue of improving writing, Leydon et al. (2014) point out that the use of clear instruction, effective feedback, and opportunities for revision are key to written assignments as a means of formative assessment for the improvement of writing, and this is also affirmed by the literature on geographical writing in a variety of cultural contexts and levels (Kennedy-Kalafatis and Carleton 1996; Manzo, 2002; Heyman, 2004).

The compelling emphasis on writing as a fundamental skill, and as a pedagogical tool, in the teaching and learning of geography demonstrated in the literature is the basis for the direction of our action research. In essence, our action research investigates this research question:

“How does formative, written feedback help students improve their geographical writing?”

The investigation is primarily centred on analysing the nature and effectiveness of a possible pedagogical intervention for developing writing through formative feedback, and then reflecting on the broader implications of the findings on our understanding of formative feedback.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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