Creating effective feedback for developing students* academic

Creating effective feedback for
developing students’ academic
Amanda French, University of
• Defamiliarise and problematise lecturers’ feedback practices
around students’ academic writing in HE.
• Encourage lecturers to be more reflective/proactive about
feedback practices around students’ academic writing.
• Challenge the low status and often poor quality of feedback
around academic writing.
• Suggest ways in which lecturers and students can be
encouraged to view written feedback as an integral part of a
practice-based, situated approach to developing academic
The importance of academic
• It is the primary means by which students
communicate their learning across all disciplines.
• Written texts form one of the primary means by
which students access information across all
• Writing is the most common way lecturers
assess what students have learnt across all
Writing as a situated practice
• My research stems from a ‘situated’ perspective on
language and literacy practices (Barton, Hamilton &
Ivanic, 2000).
• This approach takes the view that academic writing and
writing development in higher education are social
practices requiring students and lecturers to develop
‘situated’ writing practices, which reflect the dominant
discourses operating within higher education generally
and their subject area specifically (Lea & Street, 2000).
Academic writing as a
social/situated practice
• It can be illuminating to treat undergraduates’ writing and
writing development as sites though which discourses of
knowledge and pedagogies of learning within which higher
education can be explored and challenged.
• Lecturers and students are engaged in an inherently dialectical
relationship around writing in which both parties actively
produce, consume and transform each others’ writing (and
that of others) (Maclure, 2006).
What is academic writing ?
Talk to your neighbour for two minutes about one of these questions.
• Does academic writing differ from other kinds of writing ?
• How does writing for HE differ from writing for academic purposes
in other education settings ?
• What kinds of writing experiences do students bring with them to
HE ?
• What do lecturers think academic writing is ?
Do these questions ever get discussed explicitly
with students……..?
The problem with
feedback on academic writing
• There is plenty of evidence that students often do not read or
value their lecturers’ feedback.
• Students also fail to act on feedback.
• Students are often more interested in their grade.
• Too often the whole subject of academic writing and feedback
becomes solely about passing the assignment.
• Feedback around writing often focuses on what students need
to do or what they have not done, which creates a deficit
• Students and lecturers often only think about writing as a
product not a process.
Don’t lecturers know what
academic writing is ?
• Lea & Street (1998) found that whilst lecturers emphasised
aspects of structure and critical thinking as key elements to
successful writing in their feedback, they were unable to
specify exactly what they meant by those terms.
• This creates a ‘discourse of transparency’ around academic
writing. This means that lecturers often do not explicitly
discuss their expectations of students’ writing are in a
coherent or consistent way (Lillis and Turner, 2001).
• Evaluative phrases such as those used in assignments and
feedback are anything but self-evident and indeed mean
different things across a range of contexts (Lillis & Turner
Synthesis…isn’t it obvious !
• Putting theories into your own words
• Writing the knowledge/things you’ve learnt in a certain way
• Producing themes in your own words by bringing in theories to
enhance your argument
• Including lots of different ideas in your work
• Doing something with the knowledge you’ve learnt.
• How you convey the knowledge you have
• Streaming my arguments
• Producing theories in my own words
• Including theories to enhance your own argument
• Bringing your work and the texts you have read together
• Bring together points
• Find ideas that are similar to others
…explaining and developing the exact
requirements and purpose of the
academic writing students are
being asked to do often remains
implicit and tacit for students and
lecturers, particularly within subjectspecialist modules where
most teaching takes place …..
Developing effective academic
• Is a gradual process which feedback is a vital part of.
• Is largely dependent on students learning how to present
and articulate their learning with confidence using
appropriate academic writing practices (Ivanic & Lea,
• Requires students to develop
positive academic writing
identities (Ivanic, 1998).
Issues around academic literacies and writing
• Academic writing is not just about mastering a set of technical
• Many lecturers see themselves as novice writing developers,
this is in contrast to the more secure identities they have as
experts and teachers in their disciplinary field.
• There are many potential misunderstandings and
discontinuities between lecturers and students around writing
for academic purposes.
• Expectations about students’ academic writing and strategies
for writing development are not discussed or shared by
lecturers nor are they part of their professional development.
• It is very difficult to measure effective practice in academic
writing and writing development.
Questions raised by an academic literacies
approach to feedback
• How can/could lecturers negotiate/recognise issues around writing
and writing development more effectively with their students ?
• To what extent do lecturers critically reflect on their own
experiences as academic writers ?
• To what extent do lecturers critically reflect on their expectations
and feelings about students’ academic writing and writing
development ?
• How might lecturers develop a pedagogy of academic writing
with/for their students which may or may not be integrated into
their subject specific teaching ?
• How does this notion of combining subject-specialist teaching with
academic writing development lead to tension and difficulties, not
least with regard to lecturers’ professional identities ?
Issues around academic writing
development for subject specific
• Workload and professional development implications.
• Lack of time to set up academic writing development
• Need to provide and feedback on many different/short tasks.
• Need to integrate academic writing development into
exisiting curriculum demands.
• Lack of knowledge/confidence on how give effective
feedback/development on academic writing.
Ways forward for lecturers ?
• Shift the emphasis away from a disourse about failing
students and begin to critique taken-for-granted assumptions
about academic writing.
• Think about academic writing as a tool, integral to the process
of teaching a subject.
• Assume nothing about students’ academic writing.
• Make expectations around academic writing tasks explicit and
contestable .
• Celebrate writing ( in all its forms !!).
• Share your own academic writing struggles
with students.
• Expose students to each others writing.
• Keep talking about the processes and purposes of academic
• Providing unassessed opportunities to practice and share
academic writing experiences.
• Discuss how academic writing practices complement or
support students’ subject learning.
• Link summative assignments, assessment criteria and
• Do lots of it !!
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Developed or Merely Assessed? In Teaching Academic Writing in UK Higher Education:
in Theories, Practices and Models. L. Ganobcsik-Williams. Basingstoke, Palgrave
Macmillan: 16-29.
Higgins, R., Hartley P., and Skelton, A. (2002) The Conscientious Consumer: reconsidering
the role of assessment feedback in student learning.
Studies in Higher Education Vol. 27 No. 1 pp 53–64.
Ivanič, R. and M. R. Lea (2006). New Contexts, New Challenges: the Teaching of Writing in
UK Higher Education in Teaching Academic
Writing in UK Higher Education. L. Ganobcsik-Williams. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan: 615.
Lea, M. R. and B. V. Street. (1998 ‘Academic Literacies’. Learning Matters, Student Writing in
Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach’. In Studies in Higher Education. Vol 23.
No. 2 pp.157-172.
Lillis, T. & J. Turner (2001) Student writing in higher education: contemporary confusion,
traditional concerns. Teaching in Higher Education. Vol. 6. No. 1. pp. 64-73