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[Xmca-l] Re: studies of feedback on student writing?

Hi Shirin, Greg, others,

Thanks, this is a topic very near to my own interests as well. I’m not aware of much research on “writing as dialogue” that encourages expansive learning, unfortunately. Related, there is a good deal of supporting evidence against the capitalization of academic work (e.g., Alexander Sidorkin’s excellent work) and grades as extrinsic rewards (e.g., Alfie Kohn’s dogged fight). Maja Wilson’s book Rethinking Rubrics has also been helpful. Both instructors and students collude in the capitalization of academic work, though we tend to blame each other.

I don’t use grades in my classes, which are writing intensive (a practice I learned from Barbara Rogoff and UC Santa Cruz, which for many years did not use letter grades opting for narrative performance evaluations; there are other institutions still doing so). The pushback I get from students on this puts sweat on my pre-tenure brow each semester, but I strongly feel that it is worth it. For nearly all of my students, this is the only time in their 15+ year schooling career that they’ve participated in a non-letter-grade assessment system, and most are studying to become teachers. Many students eventually come to agree with a narrative, ideas-focused approach, but some don’t. Many of those that don’t are with me when we’re working closely together on their ideas in a paper, but are unwilling to “experiment” with their GPA in a broader sense. And, I understand that concern.

Greg — It has also been my experience that when grades and written feedback exist side-by-side, written feedback gets reduced to or interpreted as explaining the grade. The way in which the form of assessment drives what’s possible is very powerful here. It conveys — again, to both students and instructors — a strong sense of what the “conversation" is supposed to be about, as well as what our relationship is to each other.

For me, one of the most promising transformations in expansive approaches to writing as a collaboration/conversation, supported by certain kinds of written comments and less so by others I would imagine, is that it has a meaningful purpose other than its evaluation. I’ve often overlooked the proximal, more intimate purpose of writing for communication, looking for a way to make student writing “count” in a conventional sense (e.g., getting it published in one or another venue — I’ve been using Wikipedia for this for a few years). But, I think there’s a great deal of meaning to be accessed in evolving a relationship and conversation, in writing, that is basically about developing and sharing an idea.

I continue to try new things. Very interested to hear what others are thinking/doing. Happy also to share how I “sell” this to both students and my Department.

/ Andrew

Andrew D. Coppens
Education Dept., University of New Hampshire
302 Morrill Hall, 603-862-3736

On Jul 31, 2017, at 11:08 AM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com<mailto:greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>> wrote:

I find your suggestions for writing feedback as dialogue (and as "writing
itself") to be a really fantastic idea.
My question is: How to accomplish your task in a world in which education
and indeed knowledge have been thoroughly capital-ized?
How to fit this into the educational system of today in which not only do
universities treat students as so many widgets to put out, but students see
often see themselves (or, at least, their "skills" and "knowledge") in
precisely this same way?
My anthropology students regularly tell me of the interrogations that they
endure with friends and family who ask them "But how can you make money
with an anthropology degree?" I'm unsure whether to tell my students that
there are a million ways to make money with an anthropology degree or
whether I should tell them to respond with "That's a stupid question" and
to go on to interrogate the grounds of the question. The former is more
practical, the latter is more revealing.
Shirin, I'm wondering if you are encountering this sort of thing? And if
so, how might you "sell" such an alternative pedagogy to a capital-ized
university and its students?
Just for a little more context, I regularly have conversations with a
colleague in my department who was, for the past two years, tasked with
leading our students in the final write-up stage of their theses. He found
that they were often uninterested in feedback-as-dialogue. Rather, the vast
majority were interested in feedback as a way of telling them how to get
the grade that they wanted. He was incredibly thoughtful and thorough in
his comments and feedback but the students tended to ignore this feedback
unless it had teeth (i.e. was directly connected with grades).
I am in a culturally peculiar context, but I'm not sure exactly how
peculiar. Shirin, do you encounter this same kind of thing at Northwestern?
(or other places you have taught?).
Perhaps you have some writing on this somewhere?

On Mon, Jul 31, 2017 at 8:32 AM, Shirin Vossoughi <shirinvossoughi@gmail.com<mailto:shirinvossoughi@gmail.com>

Thank you for these David, very interesting. I sympathize with many of your
comments and am drawn to the moments when the more complex and dialectical
understandings of the ZPD become a meaningful tool for mediation and

Your thoughts on the term "feedback" also got me thinking about the
ideological baggage that term may carry so thank you for that. What I'm
after these days is a way to understand the specific qualities of
educators' written commentary on student writing that support shifts
towards more expansive relationships with writing, ideas, self and world.
feedback as dialogue, in a sense. but also as writing in itself.


On Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 5:44 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com<mailto:dkellogg60@gmail.com>>

Dear Shirin:

I'm currently writing a rather tiresome article on the distortions of
Vygotsky's ideas we find in Lantolf, Thorne, and  "sociocultural theory"
generally. I won't bore you with the details: the gist is that the "zone
proximal development" was never designed to be tautological: Vygotsky did
not think that the "next zone" was defined by being able to do tasks, and
being able to do tasks was how you knew that the child was ready for the
next zone of development (i.e. "the child is ready to learn whatever the
child is ready to learn"). It was based on a serious study of child
development and an attempt to establish age periods that were immanent to
the process of development itself (i.e. defined by the pace of
development--crises and stable periods--but relatable to the fruits of
development--as observable in language and verbal thinking).

But inevitably part of what I have to do is to take out the garbage that
has accrued around Vygotsky's name, to show how sociocultural theory
popularized Vygotsky by reducing all his ideas into extant "best
practices". At the time (the early nineties in second language writing
instruction) best practices were starting to move away from whole
ideas based on providing the young writer with a "print rich environment"
and plentiful "input" towards more social-behaviorist notions of "focus
form" and "corrective feedback". The theoretical rationale was that the
former approach had been "cognitivist" whle the latter was
because it involved interaction between minds which was then
within the learner's mind.

Here are some key articles from Lantolfian "sociocultural theory" which

Aljaafreh, A. & Lantolf, J.P. (1994). Negative feedback as regulation and
second language learning in the zone of proximal development. Modern
Language Journal, 78, 465-483.

De Guerrero, M.C.M. & Villamil, O.S. (2000). Activating the ZPD: Mutual
scaffolding in L2 peer revision. Modern Language Journal, 84, 51-68.

Poehner, M.E. (2012). The zone of proximal development and the genesis of
self-assessment. Modern Language Journal, 96 (4) 610-622.

Poehner, M.E. & Lantolf, J.P. (2010). Vygotsky’s teaching-assessment
dialectic and L2 education: The case for Dynamic Assessment. Mind,
and Activity, 17 (4) 312-330.

Poehner, M.E. and Lantolf, J.P. (2013). Bringing the ZPD into the
Capturing L2 development during Computerized Dynamic Assessment (C-DA).
Language Teaching Research, 17 (3) 323-342.

Needless to say, I don't recommend any of these. Don't get me wrong: I
am an agitator  and not a propagandist; I want a few simple ideas I can
give to lots of teachers rather than a whole complex system that can only
be mastered by a few. Like you, I firmly I believe that it is possible to
popularize without vulgarizing, and I even think the demotic forms of
theory are the most democratic and ultimately the most profound.

I too have a strong sympathy for the teacher training approach that
analyzes best practices and tries to abstract best principles, and then
shows how these are perfectly compatible with high theory. I even think
that at some point it is useful to try to show teachers that they were
"unconscious" Vygotskyans all the long.

But this stuff isn't that. It's just bait and switch: The zone of
development was not and never will be a form of corrective feedback, and
the very word "feedback" suggests the behaviorist theory that it really
belongs to.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

On Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 3:46 AM, Shirley Franklin <
s.franklin08@btinternet.com<mailto:s.franklin08@btinternet.com>> wrote:

I know people in this project have done research on feedback on
Also, we  discussed people's work on this in the Academic Literacies
Forum in the Institute of Education in London.  Brian Street, who sadly
died recently, had a lot to say about it.


Sent from my iPad

On 27 Jul 2017, at 19:00, Shirin Vossoughi <shirinvossoughi@gmail.com<mailto:shirinvossoughi@gmail.com>>

Dear all,
I am writing to ask if anyone might have suggestions for CHAT or
socio-cultural studies of written feedback on student writing?
Thank you,

Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602