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Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2005 16:18:18 -0500 From: Laurel Reinking Subject: Response to Student Writing: Implications for Second Language Students
AUTHOR: Ferris, Dana R. TITLE: Response to Student Writing SUBTITLE: Implications for Second Language Students PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum YEAR: 2003
Laurel D. Reinking, English Language and Linguistics, Purdue University
Second language composition instructors, researchers, and theorists continue to debate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of responding to student writing. This debate continues in part because of the amount of time and energy instructors devote to responding to students' writing and in part because of the conflicting conclusions based on studies examining this issue. Ferris provides a much needed analysis and synthesis of and critical commentary on research, theory, and discussion on response to student writing. In the first part of her text, Ferris reviews the literature on response to student writing examining several pertinent areas including teacher feedback, error correction, and research on and students' reactions to peer response. In the second part of her text, she suggests effective strategies to be used by second language composition instructors responding to student writing. All in all, Ferris provides a thoughtful and helpful text for second language composition instructors, researchers, and theorists grappling with the issue of response to student writing.
Second language (L2) composition instructors, researchers, and theorists continue to debate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of responding to student writing. This debate continues in part because of the amount of time and energy instructors devote to responding to students' writing and in part because of the conflicting conclusions based on studies examining this issue. Ferris, a Professor of English at California State University, Sacramento, has written extensively on response to student writing (Ferris, 1995a, 1995b, 1995c, 1997, 1998, 1999a, 1999b, 2001a, 2001b) in addition to co-authoring many texts on the same topic. Thus, Ferris brings much experience to her much needed analysis and synthesis of and critical commentary on research, theory, and discussion on response to student writing. Her target audience includes researchers interested in L2 composition and those interested in differences between first language (L1) and L2 composition. Additionally, Ferris's target audience includes practitioners working with second language writing and writers and teacher educators.
In Part I, Ferris reviews the literature on response to student writing examining several pertinent areas including teacher feedback, error correction, and research on and students' reactions to peer response. Her sources include ''published books and book chapters, journal articles, printed annotated bibliographies on second language writing, various computer databases, master's theses, doctoral dissertations, and conference papers .. ''(p. xii). Although Ferris does include unpublished work in her analysis, she states, ''[A]t no point, is an unpublished, unrefereed source used by itself to argue for a particular conclusion or pedagogical practice'' (p. xii).
In Part II, Ferris suggests effective strategies to be used by second language composition instructors for error correction, in peer response, and in response to student writing in one-on-one teacher-student conferences. The numerous charts and appendices provided in this section are especially informative and useful to both the researcher and the practitioner. All in all, Ferris provides a thoughtful and helpful text for second language composition instructors, researchers, and theorists grappling with the issue of response to student writing.
Part I: Research
In Part I, Ferris looks at the theoretical underpinnings of response to student writing. Additionally, she extensively reviews the research literature on this topic.
Chapter 1: An Overview of L1Composition Research on Response and Its Influence on L2 Writing Theory and Practice. Response to student writing became a significant issue to composition instructors in the early 1970s with the advent of the ''process approach'' to writing. Ferris notes that L2 composition has been greatly influenced by research in L1 composition. Thus, in this chapter, Ferris begins her review of literature on response to L1 student writing starting with the 1980s. In particular, Ferris focuses on the work of Knoblauch and Brannon (1981, 1984), Sommers, (1982), Hairston (1986), and Sperling and Freedman (1987). Conclusions of their work suggest that the following are ineffective or demotivating to students: Focus on errors and grade justification, vague rather than specific comments, excessively controlling instructor comments, lack of establishment of common meanings, and instructors' imposition of the ''Ideal Text'' paradigm on students' writing. Findings also note that instructors need to respond in a variety of ways other than just written comments. Finally, research on response needs to take into account the larger context in which the commentary is given, i.e., more goes on in the conversation between instructor and student than can be understood by an outsider reading comments on a student's draft.
Ferris continues her review of research on response to student writing by examining the L1 literature of the 1990s. Here she argues that research ''moved toward more empirically grounded descriptions .. .'' (p. 11). She primarily discusses the work of Straub (1996, 1997) and Straub and Lunsford (1995). One significant finding of their research suggests that ''student writers [do] not seem to mind teacher suggestions as long as they [are] helpful and framed positively and respectfully'' (p. 13). Finally, synthesizing the research on response to this date, Ferris writes that research concludes that students revise based on instructors' feedback; however, researchers disagree on whether or not students benefit in the long term from feedback.
Ferris concludes this chapter by examining the effects of L1 composition research on L2 composition (Zamel [1982, 1983, 1985, 1987] is singled out as an example) and the development of L2 composition research. Positions on the interrelationship between L1 and L2 composition pedagogy range from those (e.g. Zamel, 1987) who believe that what works for L1 writers also works for L2 writers to those (e.g. Silva, 1993) who believe that L2 writing is significantly different than L1 writing and thus L1 composition pedagogy needs to be carefully examined within the L2 context to determine its applicability. Finally, Ferris suggests that L1 composition research on response to student writing and L2 composition research ''have come full circle'' (p. 17) because, for example, both have developed similar analytical models for teacher commentary. (See Figure 1.5, ''Similarities between L1 and L2 analytic models for teacher commentary'' [p. 18]). However, Ferris warns that it is important that L2 composition research not isolate itself from L1 composition research because of its substantial body of literature with its ''strengths, weaknesses, successes and missteps'' (p. 18) from which L2 composition researchers can draw.
Chapters 2 - 5 review, analyze, synthesize, and critique studies on instructors' written and oral response, peer response, local (grammar and conventions of Standard Written English) response, and students' perceptions about response.
Chapter 2: Teacher Feedback on L2 Student Writing This chapter deals specifically with what studies instructors focus on and with the methodologies researchers use. First Ferris examines the results of research on the focus of response, which concludes that instructors' primarily (85% of comments) focus on global issues, ''students' ideas and rhetorical development'' (p. 22). However, Ferris cautions that researchers do not agree as to when in the writing process content (global issues) and form (local issues) should be addressed. While the process approach to composition pedagogy has encouraged response to global issues in early drafts and response to local issues in later drafts, Ferris argues that L2 writers may need response to local issues at earlier stages in the writing process. She claims, first, that no research supports that student revision suffers from response to both local and global issues. Second, Ferris asserts that ''form'' and ''content'' might better be seen as components on a continuum of types of responses, rather than be categorized as oppositional binaries. Third, Ferris argues that decisions on the type of feedback a student receives should be based on that student's individual needs. And, finally, Ferris contends that for pragmatic reasons L2 writers need an abundance of feedback on form.
Studies have found that the written forms used by instructors to provide feedback include marginal and end comments on drafts. Additionally, the forms consist of questions, imperatives, cryptic notations, jargon, general and direct/specific comments, and more extensive comments. Direct, specific suggestions with examples seem to provide the most effective feedback; however, Ferris cautions that some problems, because they are so complex, may be best addressed in face-to-face student-teacher conferences.
Ferris moves on to respond to the question of whether or not ''written teacher commentary help[s] students at all'' (p. 28). Ferris concludes that it does. She bases her assertion on the following synthesis of results of studies: L2 writers revise based on the type of feedback they receive (i.e., local or global). If the feedback addresses content or meaning, writers' content improves over time. The type of change suggested and the writer's ability affect the success or failure of appropriate revision. And, finally, some revision fails, and some revision may worsen a text.
In the second part of Chapter 2, Ferris examines and critiques methodologies used in studies of response to student writing. She asserts that ''a number of methodological questions .. . must be considered in assessing the state of the field to date and in designing future research programs .. .'' (p. 31). Studies must be analyzed and evaluated based on the following criteria: 1) Participants' demographics, motivations, and writing experience 2) Type of institution and composition class 3) Type of writing 4) Instructor's pedagogy 5) How and on what does the instructor comment? 6) ''How are effects on revision measured'' (p. 35). 7) ''How is improvement measured'' (p. 37).
Finally, Ferris discusses alternative forms of feedback such as student- teacher conferences and audiotaped and computer-based feedback. She cautions that there is not much research on the latter two forms of forms of feedback and that all three might pose problems for both students and instructors in a variety of situations.
Chapter 3: Error Correction Ferris begins the chapter on error correction research by situating it within a conversation between Truscott (1996, 1999), Ellis (1998), and Ferris (1999b). Truscott argues: ''[T]he existing research on grammar correction provides no evidence that it helps student writers; .. grammar correction as it is currently practiced ignores important insights from second language acquisition (SLA) research; and .. . insurmountable practical problems related to the abilities and motivations of teachers and students mandate against the practice of grammar correction ever being effective.'' (p. 43)
Ellis and Ferris disagree with Truscott primarily on two points: One, results of studies on error correction finding it to be unhelpful are inconsistent, and two, even if the evidence were consistent, it is not adequate to support Truscott's assertions. Ferris devotes the remainder of this chapter to support for these two assertions. In order to do so, Ferris first constructs a framework within which to analyze the many studies on error correction. The framework consists of three parts: basic parameters, instructional procedures, and research design. On page 54, Figure 3.2, ''Summary of error correction studies,'' Ferris presents one of the first of many helpful charts. In Figure 3.2, Ferris lays out the sixteen studies reviewed in this chapter and analyzes each based on the three parts of her framework for analyzing error correction studies. On page 64, Figure 3.3, ''Major issues in error correction studies,'' in the first column of the chart, Ferris synthesizes the studies' research questions, which follow: 1) ''Does error correction help student accuracy in revision and/or over time?'' 2) ''Do direct and indirect feedback have different effects on accuracy?'' 3) ''Do students respond better to feedback on certain types or categories of error? 4) ''Is there a difference in outcome depending on whether indirect feedback is coded or uncoded?'' 5) ''Does revision after correction help student accuracy?'' 6) ''Does maintenance of error logs lead to improvement in accuracy over time?'' 7) ''Does supplemental grammar instruction (along with error correction) make a difference in student accuracy?''
In the second column of the chart, Ferris lists each study's findings. As a result, without reading Ferris's interpretation of the results of each study, the reader is able to form an overall general idea of the discrepancy of the findings among the various studies, thus highlighting one reason why error correction remains a topic of debate among L2 composition instructors and researchers.
Although Ferris provides an insightful analysis of each study presented, because, as she complains, ''the results of the ... studies ... have been conflicting and not always well designed or clearly described ...'' (p. 67), her conclusion does not support the efficacy of error correction. However, her thoughtfully designed framework for analyzing error correction studies provides the researcher with a useful construct within which to design a study. Furthermore, as she does throughout her text, Ferris suggests further areas for research. For example, regarding research in error correction, Ferris asserts that ''[T]he most critical need, . , is to contrast the effects of error correction over time with the effects of no error correction'' (p. 67).
Chapter 4: Research on Peer Response Because the efficacy of using peer response in the L2 classroom continues to be a subject of debate among L2 composition instructors and researchers, Ferris devotes the chapter to review of the topic. She begins by summarizing practical benefits of peer response suggested by theorists: 1) ''Students gain confidence, perspective, and critical thinking skills from being able to read text by peers writing on similar tasks.'' 2) ''Students get more feedback on their writing than they could from the teacher alone.'' 3) ''Students get feedback from a more diverse audience bringing multiple perspectives.'' 4) ''Students receive feedback from nonexpert readers on ways in which their texts are unclear as to ideas and language.'' 5) ''Peer review activities build a sense of classroom community.''
However, in spite of the overwhelming theoretical support in favor of peer response, results of studies are mixed. As in her chapter on error correction, Ferris constructs a framework by which to analyze and evaluate the studies. The main categories include: 1) ''Subjects and setting'' 2) ''Peer feedback procedures '' 3) ''Research design issues''
Organized according to the above categories, Appendix 4A, included at the end of the chapter (pp. 87-91), summarizes the fourteen studies critiqued in chapter 4. Results of the studies show that peer response is a complex social activity and that peers sometimes revise and sometimes do not revise and that these revisions may produce either better or worse drafts. Additionally, studies show that students who are trained to respond to their peers' drafts not only respond more effectively but also enjoy responding more than students who have not received peer response training. Other factors complicating peer response include cultural expectations and knowledge shared by peers about the writer's topic. Finally, some evidence suggests that writers revise differently and with different effects depending on whether the responder is a peer or an instructor.
Chapter 5: Student Views on Response Results of research on students' perspectives on response is especially important because, while evidence about the effectiveness of response remains ambiguous, clear evidence does exist that students like and want feedback. In this chapter, Ferris first discusses eleven studies investigating students' perceptions of response to both content and form. In several, well-organized charts, Ferris categorizes the studies. In ''Appendix 5A: Student Survey on Teacher Feedback,'' (pp. 115-116), Ferris provides an example of a form instructors can use to survey their students' views on teacher feedback. In Figure 5.1, ''Survey studies on teacher commentary,'' (pp. 95-96), the studies are categorized by ''Research Questions'' and by ''Subjects.'' Ferris states that several researchers modeled their studies on Cohen's (1987) study of 217 college students in which he asked: 1) ''What does teacher feedback deal with?'' 2) ''How much of teacher feedback do students process?'' 3) ''What strategies do students use to cope with teacher feedback?'' 4) ''What problems do they have interpreting teacher feedback?''
Figure 5.2, ''Summary of survey findings on teacher commentary,'' (pp. 97- 99), categorizes findings by: 1) ''Student Preferences of Reactions about Feedback'' 2) ''Student Reports of What Teacher Feedback Covers'' 3) ''Student Problems with Feedback'' 4) ''Student Strategies for Teacher Feedback'' 5) ''Other Findings''
Results of the studies show overwhelmingly that students like feedback; they even like and want feedback on local issues. Furthermore, students will revise based on instructors' comments; however, they require specific instructions regarding that revision. In other words, if the instructor does not require revision or offer strategies for revision, the student is less likely to revise. However, students indicate that they are willing to accept responsibility for revision in collaboration with help from the instructor.
In the second part of chapter 5, Ferris looks at four studies that focus solely on students' perceptions of error correction (local issues/grammar and conventions of Standard Written English). Results indicate that L2 writers believe they need to write accurately and that instructors' error correction helps them toward this goal. Additionally, students prefer instructors to note all errors by type; however, students believe that they benefit more if they correct the errors themselves.
In the next section of this chapter on student views on response, Ferris discusses seven studies that explore students' perceptions about peer feedback. Questions asked in these studies include: 1) ''Do ESL writers enjoy peer feedback sessions?'' 2) ''Do they find peers' comments beneficial when they are revising?'' 3) ''Do they value peer feedback as much as teacher feedback?'' (p. 108)
Results of the studies show that while students prefer teacher response to peer review, most students like peer review and find it helpful; furthermore, they prefer it to ''self-evaluation.'' From the results of these studies on student views on response, if we believe that affective factors-specifically students' motivation-contribute significantly to students' ability to learn, we can infer that instructor response is beneficial to students because they believe it is beneficial.
Part II: Practice
In Part II, chapters 6 - 8, Ferris applies results of research critiqued in Part I to specific and practical pedagogical strategies (many come from her years of experience as a L2 composition instructor) for instructors who want to help their students maximize the benefits of response to their writing. Additionally, Ferris provides numerous, helpful appendices, e.g., forms for peer response.
Chapter 6: Preparing Teachers to Respond to Student Writing Ferris begins this chapter by detailing how instructors can implement effective strategies for response. Her major points listed in Figure 6.1, ''The process of teacher response,'' (p. 118), follow: 1) ''Identify sound principles for response to student writing.'' 2) ''Examine student texts and identify major feedback points.'' 3) ''Prioritize issues on various essay drafts.'' 4) ''Construct feedback that is clear and helpful.'' 5) ''Explain your feedback philosophies and strategies to your students and be consistent.'' 6) ''Hold students accountable for considering and utilizing feedback.''
Each of these main points is followed in the text by clearly understandable, specific sub points or suggestions and numerous examples for implementing the primary strategies. Summaries of sub points are provided in figures on subsequent pages. Additionally, Figure 6.3, ''Sample essay feedback checklist,'' (p. 120), provides a useful tool for instructors who struggle with how to respond effectively with limited time constraints.
Because teacher-trainers comprise a portion of Ferris's target audience, a short section of this chapter is devoted to a helpful outline of Ferris's own procedures in training instructors to respond to student writing. In addition to this text, Ferris suggests the following sources as helpful for instructor in training: Ferris (1997) and Ferris and Hedgcock (1998).
In the third section of the chapter, Ferris suggests strategies for effective student-teacher conferences. One of the more important strategies suggested is that instructors adequately prepare students for conferences by explaining rationales for conferences and by requiring students to plan ahead.
Finally, Ferris provides appendices including an essay response form that can be used by instructor or peer reviewer and as an example, a copy of a student paper with instructor's comments.
Chapter 7: Suggestions for Error Correction Though, as shown in chapter 3, evidence on the effectiveness of error correction is not conclusive, Ferris--based on the premise, supported by results of studies examined in chapter 5, that students like and believe they need error correction-proceeds to suggest strategies for error correction that seem to be most helpful to students. Referring back to the results of research summarized in chapters 3 and 5, Ferris presents 6 categories of what she considers to be the most crucial issues and options in error correction:
Issue 1) ''Direct Versus Indirect Feedback'' (pp. 141-146): Direct feedback means that the instructor not only indicates that there is an error but also corrects the error as well. Examples of direct feedback include deletion, insertion, substitution, and reformulation. Indirect feedback means that the instructor indicates there is an error but does not correct it. Ranging from most direct to least direct, options for indirect feedback include marking the error using error codes, underlining the error, simply check marking the line on which the error occurs, or the instructor may, in an endnote, suggest the writer revise looking for specific types of errors such as verb tense errors. Overall, students seems to benefit more in the long term from indirect feedback; however, at a lower competency level, students seem to need direct feedback until they have a better grasp of local issues. Ferris suggests instructors consider progressing from more direct to less direct error correction feedback throughout the semester though she cautions that choices must be based on factors such as students' L2 competence and their prior experience with error correction.
Issue 2) ''Varying Feedback According to Error Type'' (pp. 146-150): Not all errors can be treated similarly. Ferris labels some types of complex sentence structure errors, idiosyncratic, idiomatic, and not-rule-governed error types as ''untreatable,'' meaning that regardless of the type of feedback provided and the revision practiced by the student, no improvement in the error type is evident in the student's writing. Thus, Ferris suggests that for these types of errors, which include lexical and preposition errors, the instructor either correct the error or ignore it.
Issue 3) ''Coded Versus Uncoded Error Feedback'' (pp. 150-152): The crux of this issue concerns if indirect feedback is given, should the error be labeled or simply located? Evidence shows that ''error location may be adequate and even ... beneficial to [most] students'' (p. 151).
Issue 4) ''Revision after Correction'' (pp. 152-154): Here Ferris discusses the optimal stage in the writing process in which to provide error correction. Contrary to what is practiced by most process-approach composition instructors, Ferris asserts that student do benefit from receiving comments on both content and form on the same draft.
Issue 5) ''Using Error Logs'' (pp. 154-155): Although Ferris suggests that using error logs might help students improve their accuracy, no evidence to date conclusively supports that error logs benefit students any more than any other strategy used.
Issue 6) ''Supplemental In-Class Grammar Instruction'' (pp. 156-157). As with error logs, no evidence exists that supplemental grammar instruction improves accuracy. Nevertheless, Ferris provides suggestions for grammar mini-lessons and in Appendix 7B, she provides ''Sample Mini-Lesson Materials,'' (pp. 162-163).
As noted previously, one of the better features of Ferris's text is the summary she provides in various figures. This chapter is no exception in that Figure 7.10 provides an excellent summary of the eleven most important strategies suggested in chapter 7 for instructors concerned with error correction.
Chapter 8: Implementing Peer Response In the final chapter of this text, Ferris proceeds on the assumption (based on the results of some studies discussed in Chapter 4) that students benefit from peer response. Her suggestions for strategies are listed in Figure 8.1, ''Guidelines for peer response in L2 writing classes'' (p. 165): 1) ''Utilize peer feedback consistently.'' 2) ''Explain the benefits of peer feedback to students.'' 3) ''Prepare students carefully for peer response.'' 4) ''Form pairs or groups thoughtfully.'' 5) ''Provide structure for peer review sessions.'' 6) ''Monitor peer review sessions.'' 7) ''Hold students responsible for taking peer feedback opportunities seriously.''
Helpful forms are again provided within the text itself and as appendices: ''Appendix 8A: Peer Response Forms - A Sample Sequence'' (pp. 177-178), and ''Appendix 8B: A Peer Response Lesson Sequence'' (pp. 179-180).
My only reservation about Ferris's thoughtful and well-researched text concerns her bias toward the effectiveness of response to student writing. This bias may have affected her characterization and interpretation of some of the research presented. Furthermore, there are forms of feedback, such as error correction, for which research does not clearly support its effectiveness. Nevertheless, Ferris continues to champion its use. It seems inevitable that she would do so because her area of research interest for at least the previous 8 years has been in instructors' response to student writing. Thus, if it were clearly established that response to student writing did not help students improve their writing, Ferris would need to find another research area. Nonetheless, this is a small bone to pick in an otherwise comprehensive and thoughtfully written text. The organization of the text is superb. Each assertion is carefully supported, and evidence is well-documented. The same information is provided in several forms-in the main body of each chapter, in end of section and end of chapter summaries, in charts that summarize and analyze studies and their findings, and in end-of-chapter appendices.
Additionally, Ferris responds to concerns and questions raised by composition researchers and instructors. For example, to the question, ''Does feedback help my students become better writers?'' Ferris responds that it depends on the form in which the feedback is given, the amount of feedback, when the feedback is given, how frequently it is given, how feedback is defined, and who gives the feedback. If feedback does help, what kinds of feedback are the most effective? Instructors' written comments? Peers'/students' written comments? Instructors' oral comments (in one-on-one or group conferences)? Peers'/students' oral comments? Instructors' audio taped comments? Comments using electronic forums, e.g., MOOs and email? Summative, formative, global, or local comments? Ferris responds to each of these questions with support from the body of research on response to student writing. However, nowhere does Ferris suggest that response to student writing is easy. Rather, she warns the instructor eager to implement her response strategies that effective response requires a significant investment of time and energy.
By providing a history of response to student writing and a thorough review and critique of the literature, Ferris addresses most concerns composition researchers and instructors might raise. Furthermore, throughout her text, Ferris notes gaps in the literature where further research would be beneficial. For example, in Chapter 2 Ferris states, ''[T]here has been very little empirical work done on the nature and effects of writing conferences in L1 writing classes, and almost nothing in L2'' (p. 39). Nevertheless, one gap Ferris does not address is the writing center conference. An additional chapter or section on research on this topic would help make Ferris's text more nearly complete. However, little research has been done on L2 writing center conferences. Thus, this seems to be another area in which further research is needed.
Because Ferris grounds her suggested pedagogical strategies in the research previously reviewed, her text provides the reader with a more complete understanding of the underlying rationale for the suggested strategies. Moreover, unlike many texts that review and critique the literature but leave the composition instructor wondering how what she has just read can be applied to her classroom practices, Ferris provides clear, specific, and realistic strategies and examples for the composition instructor to implement. All in all, I highly recommend this text to anyone interested in the subject of responding to student writing.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Laurel Reinking is a third-year Ph.D. student at Purdue University in the English Department where her primary area is English as a Second Language and her secondary areas include Linguistics and Writing Program Administration. Laurel considers herself a sociopragmatics applied linguist, and her research interests include second language speakers and writers, writing centers, one-on-one writing conferences between tutors or teachers and L2 speakers (tutees or students), writing for academic purposes, and the relationship between silence and (im)politeness. Laurel has taught both undergraduate and graduate L2 writers.