Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (9)

It’s the last week of term, exam week, and we have managed to squeeze in a final scholarship circle meeting for the term. How amazing are we? šŸ˜‰ I also have no excuse not to write it up shortly afterwards – nothing sensitive content-wise and, for once in a way, I have a wee bit of time. Sort of. (By the time you factor in meetings, WAS and ADoS stuff for next term, not as much as you might think…!)

For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please lookĀ hereĀ and forĀ write-ups of previous scholarship circles,Ā here

You might also be interested inĀ session 1Ā /Ā session 2Ā /Ā session 3 and 4Ā / session 5-8 of this particular circle.)

So, session 9. The first thing we recognised in this session is that we won’t be collecting data until term 3 for September students and term 4 for January students (which will be their term 3). This is a good thing! It means we have next term to plan out what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. It sounds like a lot of time but there is a lot we have to do and elements of it are, by their nature, time-consuming.

Firstly, we need to decide exactly who our participants will be and why. “You just said term 3/4 September/January students!” I hear you say. Yes…generally, that is the focus. In other words, students who are doing a coursework essay and therefore receiving QuickMark feedback. However, within those two broad groups (September Term 3/January Term 4), we have IFY (foundation) and PMP (Pre-masters) students and the IFY cohorts are streamed by IELTS score into a, b, c and (numbers depending) d groups. So, we need to decide exactly who our participants will be. This choice is affected by things like the age of the participants (some of our students are under 18 which makes the ethical approval process, which is already time-consuming, markedly more difficult) and what exactly we want to be able to find out from our data. For example, if we want to know the effect of the streaming group on the data, then we need to collect the data in such a way that it is marked for streaming group. (NB: as I learnt last term in the context of a plagiarism quiz that had to be disseminated to all students, it is a bad idea for this information to rely on student answers – having a field/question such as “What group are you in?” might seem innocuous but oh my goodness the random strangeness it can throw up is amazing! See pic below…)

“Bad” and “g’d” are other examples of responses given! …Students will be students? We need to make sure that our Google Form collects the information we want to collect and allows us to analyse it in the way that we want to analyse it. Obviously, we need to know what we want to collect and how we want to analyse it before we can design an effective tool. Additionally, however pesky they might be, participant students will also need to be a) fully informed regarding the research as well as b) aware that it is voluntary and that they have the right to cease participation and withdraw their data at any point.

Developing our research is just one of the directions that our scholarship circle might take next term. We also discussed the possibility of further investigation into how to teach proofreading more effectively. We are hoping to do some secondary research into this and refine our practice accordingly. While we will do what we can, we recognised that time constraints may affect what we can do. For example, we discussed the following activity to encourage proofreading after students receive feedback on their drafts:

  • Put students in groups of four and have them look at the feedback, specifically QuickMarks, on their essays
  • Students, in their groups, to work out what is wrong and what the correction should be. Teacher checks their correction and ensures that it is correct.
  • Students to pick a mistake or two (up to four sentences) and copy them onto a piece of flip-chart paper with the mistakes still in place
  • Each group passes their flip-chart paper to another group who should t try to correct it.
  • The flip-chart paper passes from group to group, with the idea that they look at the mistake and the first correction group’s edits and see if they think it is now correct or want to make additional changes (in a different colour)
  • Finally, the original group gets their flip-chart paper with corrections and edits back and compares it with their correct version.

This is a really nice little activity. However, after students receive their first draft feedback, they do not have any more lesson time (what time remains of the term, after they get their feedback, is taken up by tutorials, mocks and exams!), so it wouldn’t be possible to do it using that particular feedback. Perhaps what we need to do is use the activity with a different piece of work (for example a writing exam practice essay), and integrate other proofreading activities at intervals through the course, so that when they do get their first draft feedback for their coursework, they know what to do with it!

Another thing we discussed in relation to proofreading and helping students to develop this skill is the importance of scaffolding. I attempted to address the issue of scaffolding the proofreading process in a lesson I wrote for my foundation students last term. In that lesson, students had to brainstorm the types of errors that they commonly make in their writing – grammar, vocabulary, register, cohesion-related things like pronouns etc – and then I handed out a paragraph with some of those typical errors sown in and they had some time to try and find the errors. After that, I gave them the same paragraph but with the mistakes underlined, and having checked which ones they had found correctly, they had had to identify the type of error for each one that had been underlined. Finally, I gave them a version with the mistakes underlined and identified using our code, and they had to try and correct them. All of this was group work. The trouble was the lesson wasn’t long enough for them (as a low-level foundation group) to have as much time as they could have done with for each stage of the lesson. I had hoped there would be time for them to then look at their coursework essays (this was the last lesson before first draft submission) and try to find and correct some mistakes but in reality we only just got through the final paragraph activity.

Other ideas for scaffolding the development of proofreading skills were to prepare paragraphs that had only one type of mistake sown in so that students only had to identify other errors of that particular type, with the idea that they could have practice at identifying different errors separately before trying to bring it together in a general proofreading activity. That learning process would be spread over the course rather than concentrated into one (not quite long enough) lesson. There is also a plan to integrate such activities into the Grammar Guru interactive/electronic grammar programmes that students are given to do as part of their independent study. Finally, we thought it would be good to be more explicit about the process we want students to follow when they proofread their work. This could be done in the general feedback summary portion of the feedback. E.g. cue them to look first at the structural feedback and then at the language feedback etc. That support would hopefully avoid them being overwhelmed by the feedback they receive. One of our tasks for scholarship circle sessions next term is to bring in the course syllabus and identify where proofreading focuses could be integrated.

Another issue regarding feedback that we discussed in this session was the pre-masters students’ coursework task which is synoptic – they work on it with their academic success tutor with focus on content and with us for focus on language. Unfortunately, with the set-up as it is, as students do not work on it with a subject tutor, there is no content “expert” to guide them and there is a constant tension with regards to timing of feedback. Our team give feedback on language at the same time as the other team give feedback on content (which, not being experts, is a struggle for them, exacerbated by not being able to give feedback on language, especially as the two are fairly entwined!). Content feedback may necessitate rewriting of chunks of text, rendering our language feedback useless at that point in time. However, there is not enough time in the term for feedback to be staggered appropriately. We don’t have a solution for this, other than more collaboration with Academic Success tutors, which again time constraints on both sides may render difficult, but it did lead us onto the question of whether we should, in general, focus our QuickMarks only on parts of text that are structurally sound? (Again, there isn’t time for there to be a round of structural feedback followed by a round of linguistic feedback once the structural feedback has been implemented.)

Suffice to say it is clear that we still have plenty to get our teeth into in future scholarship circle sessions – our focus, and areas closely related, is far from exhausted. Indeed we have a lot to do still, with our research still in its early stages. We are not sure what will happen next term with regards to when the sessions will take place as it is timetable dependent but we are keeping our current time-slot pencilled in as a starting point. Fingers crossed a good number of us will be able to make it or find an alternative time that more of us can do!

Thank you to all my lovely colleagues who have participated in the scholarship circle this term, it has been a brilliant thing to do and I am looking forward to the continuation next term!

 

 

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