How Does Formative, Written Feedback Help Students Improve Their Geographical Writing, pp. 10 of 17

Such questions assume a few things: that the recipient is motivated to reflect as directed to arrive at his/her own conclusions, and that the recipient has sufficient prior knowledge to comprehend the question and move forward independently. The success of such questions depends a lot on the effectiveness of supporting learning experiences, such as prior writing workshops on writing introductions, for example.

It is interesting to note though, that most of the comments about the lack of detail came from group 2, the students who scored B4 and below, while students from group 1 tended to give more elaboration as to how the written feedback helped them. For instance, student WR appreciated how the feedback helped him improve his introduction and the evaluation in his essay:

“the feedback and comments were actually quite useful...the feedback there were comments about the way I should write the introduction, so I actually used that...the feedback did tell me to include an opposing view” – Student WR (Group 1)

Regarding the need to show examples and samples, it is also interesting to note the plethora of ways in which students might use them to improve.

“The sample essay will give us a template or a format. Like for English essays we have the PEEL structure, we would know what to write if given a template.” – Student A (Group 2)

“I will look at the structure of the essay - how the evidence is elaborated on, how the link back to the question is made, and how geographical concepts are used in the essay.” – Student F (Group 2)

“I will follow the structure of the sample. But if everyone does it like me, wouldn’t everyone’s essay be similar to the sample essay? Therefore I feel that an essay is not enough. Perhaps you could give more than one essay.” – Student J (Group 1)

 

A significant number of participants gave honest, if thought provoking responses, such as these:

“To be honest, I would lift the whole thing also. Because if I don’t lift, I will fail, and if I lift, I will still fail, so might as well [sic]. Or I would just copy the examples and change the description.” – Student ZX (Group 2, emphasis added)

Copy, and I will add in my stuff.” – Student KW (Group 2, emphasis added)

Again, there was a greater prevalence of responses from group 1 which offered more constructive uses of the sample than group 2. This may, or may not signify differing attitudes towards learning and assignments in general, and will be discussed in the next section.

Finally, regarding the need to show a grade together with the written feedback, the students comments once more signaled their need for more guidance, and for an indication of whether they ‘measured up’. It is interesting to contrast, however, how this ‘measuring up’ looks like between group 1 and 2. While the group 1 wanted the grade as a benchmark from which they could then ‘improve in comparison with their peers’, group 2 needed it as a hurdle; so long as their grades indicated that they had crossed the hurdle and attained the desired level of affirmation , they would ‘just leave it’ and not make further revision. The following quotes from both groups demonstrates this:

“If marks weren’t given, students would not be able to make a comparison with their peers and they would not know how well or how badly they did in the level. Maybe instead of giving the marks, we could be rated on a scale (e.g. how well did we do based on a scale of 1-5) so we would know where we stand and how much [we] need to improve in comparison with our peers.”  - Student MJ (Group 1)

“For example if the grade of the first draft is a fail, then I will change the entire essay and write a better one. But if it is good, I will just leave it, in case it becomes worse after I change.” - Student KW (Group 2)

These findings, especially in group 2, echo observations made in the literature about how some students respond to formative assessment. Contrary to what teachers intend for formative assignments, which is to provide opportunities for learning and for self-development, certain profiles of students are observed to ‘only do enough to “get by”’ (Perrenoud, 1991, cited in Black et al., 1998). Furthermore, avoidance of challenging tasks or a preoccupation for cues for the ‘right answer’ from teachers also signal a particular perception of the self as a learner (Swain, 1991; Blumenfeld, 1992, cited in Black et al. 1998). Such perceptions are one of several factors that can influence the effectiveness of written feedback, because it is not just the language of the feedback itself, but also the socially influenced perception of the feedback that determine whether the desired learning objectives are met.

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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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