Giving

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Image courtesy of Tim Green

One of the tasks I was assigned while working for a shipping company in Lithuania was to read over and edit various documents that had been translated (I use that term loosely here) into English. While some of the documents had been done by a trained specialist and were quite good, there were others that were handed to me that were ‘translated’ by someone named Google. You can imagine the difficulties I faced trying to decipher what was trying to be communicated and I would often have to ask for the Lithuanian version as a comparison. Even though my Lithuanian was weak, I could often piece together what was  written and then edit that into something that understandable in English.

I noticed something interesting after doing a few of these documents. While I wouldn’t say that I was make great strides in my acquisition of the Lithuanian language, I was able to piece together some common phrases that I could use in my everyday life. It was this process of deciphering and interpreting the language that I was able to make connections in the language for myself. It also helped me find places where I could help my students in their language learning process.

I came across an interesting journal article the other day on the role of the ‘giver’ in peer-editing. It appears that the person who gives peer feedback on writing is liable to learn more from the process than the person who receives the comments. Here are some of the highlights from the study:

Peer-review is something that students need to have direct instruction on how to execute properly. There was an article published in 2010 in the TESL Canada Journal by Ricky Lam in which he lays out some guiding principles in preparing students for giving and receiving peer-feedback. This is something I am looking to do in my classroom during the coming school year.

Lower level students who give feedback have a greater likelihood of improving their writing than those who simply receive comments on their work. There is a benefit for all students, but the difference for lower level students is much higher. My comment on this is I have also noticed a difference in how that feedback is given. It is only from my observations and would need to be formally studied, but I have noticed a marked improvement in my higher level students’ writing when I give them oral feedback on their writing as opposed to written. I don’t think this directly applies to peer-feedback, but it does show that the mode of delivery does have an impact as well. I think this may be another area for me to explore more formally in class.

The greatest gains were in the area of organization of the material and development of the ideas. This also doesn’t surprise me much since this is something I have found when having others proofread my essays in college and university. When we are writing, we have the whole picture in our mind, but we somehow forget that the reader can’t see where we are going with a thought. It could be in the are of subject / verb agreement or in the content itself. Since language learners read a text differently than a native speaker, I can see how they would pick up on this better than even I would in some cases.

One of the things I have heard from my students whenever I have used peer-feedback in my classroom is that they can’t trust the other student’s comments since they are not an ‘expert’ in the language. I think this article may be a way of showing students that the process can be effective for both students in that they are helping one another in learning how to become better writers. I think that we need to prepare our students better for the process and be willing to work through some of the difficult times in order to see long term improvements.

What are your thoughts on peer-feedback in writing? Do you have and tips on how to make this a smoother process for everyone involved?

References

Lam, R. (2010).  A peer review training workshop: Coaching students to give and evaluate peer feedback. TESL Canada Journal, 27(2). 114-127. Retrieved from http://teslcanadajournal.ca/index.php/tesl/article/view/1052

Ludstrom, K. and Baker, W. (2009).  To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer’s own writing .  Journal of Second Language Writing, 18. 30-43. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2008.06.002

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3 thoughts on “Giving

  1. It’s really the active versus the passive learning that’s going on here, right? Giving the comments forces the learner to think about what’s best for their recipient (critical thinking) and how to do so in a way that makes the clearest sense (language use). Isn’t it always common among us to think that if we teach something, we learn it ourselves? Yep. The only hiccup here is when you teach something incorrect, then that too gets lodged into your brain.

    Before I’d done much research into language, I usually spent a lot of time trying to work out why we use language the way we do, especially in preparation for a lesson I was making. There were times, I’m not going to lie, that I created rules that seemed to make sense at the time and taught those, only years later to come across situations that didn’t match up with my rules. Danger!

    1. As I’ve been reading more and more articles, I have been discovering how we can’t make absolute statements based on the single piece of research. What it does do for me is to become more of a research tester in my own classroom with things I think would benefit my students. Articles like this cause me to think about other ways of exploring something similar , such as different feedback modalities in this case.

      You are correct. Pre-determined rules can be quite dangerous, but testing out our hypotheses can be an effective way of learning. We just need to be prepared to make changes if things don’t turn out the way we expected.

  2. Thank you for this post! Giving feedback on written work is a topic that occupies me a great deal (considering that with the deaf students we only work on reading and writing in EFL). Peer Feedback has come up naturally here and there but have never dared to try it intentionally.
    This sentence of yours helps clarify the rationale to the students:
    “It appears that the person who gives peer feedback on writing is liable to learn more from the process than the person who receives the comments”.
    Naomi

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