Formative feedback for academic writing: Stuck in the mud?

Lisa Robinson, Sandra Leigh and Richard Lee

Abstract

The nature of formative feedback is complex. The significant body of literature exploring feedback should help us to navigate it; however, there appears to be a gap between teachers’ feedback beliefs and their practice.

The assumption is that EAP tutors can apply knowledge of higher education or L2 literature to the very specific context of (typically) postgraduate content-specialists writing in a second language. We are still faced with limited practical guidance which links theory to real-world application. We know what we should do, but how do we do it?

With this question in mind, this paper follows the structure of our workshop with the overall aim of providing a practical approach to operationalising the research findings and developing feedback practice. Drawing on a range of existing literature, we first propose criteria for ‘better’ feedback. We then mine a local example of formative feedback for these criteria. Student voices add a much-needed perspective on the experience of receiving feedback and help to inform our final suggestions for effective and efficient feedback practice. We suggest that EAP departments could replicate or adapt a workshop such as this to initiate or revisit a focus on feedback, (re)assess feedback beliefs and share ‘better’ or alternative practices. The triangulation of student voice, theory and ongoing practitioner development has the power to transform formative feedback practice and enhance the EAP student experience.

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