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

So here is an interesting story about the concept of feedback (not apocryphal from what I have been able to figure out, but probably also limited in scope). The concept of feedback was discussed a great deal at the Macy's conferences on cybernetics. In particular second order cybernetics with Bateson and Mead and Lewin (and a host of others).  The concept of continuous feedback loops that led to evolution of thought and action became a really important topic.  If you read the works of these thinkers it is really apparent. It is the central topic of Bateson's Mind and Nature I think (I wonder why his metaphor of bumps in the road creating feedback loops never gained more traction). Anyway as the story goes the members of this particular conference were really interested in pushing feedback forward as a concept.  Lewin, who is one of my favorites characters from academic history, it sounded like he was a total trip to be around, was so excited with the concept he immediately went out and started telling people about it. Only the way he explained it it sounded more like something you give somebody (a product) than a process, a continuous loop in which all involved are constantly changing and readjusting.

So Lewin comes back to the next meeting of the conference and they tell him, "No, no you're explaining it wrong. People are thinking that feedback is something one organism gives another organism.  Lewin realizes his mistake and tells everybody not to worry, he's going to fix everything. A few days later he drops dead of a heart attack. And we have bee struggling with the concept of feedback ever since.

Andrew I admire your note giving grades. It is something I have stopped doing a while ago.  But there is definitely push back from students, who have been taught to expect this, and from faculty no matter what they say.

For those who are interested Alison Koenka who is a post doc in my department has done some really interesting work on this.  She basically found that giving grades is detrimental to motivation (this is crossing theoretical boundaries I know) on a whole host of issues. Basically it seems nothing good comes from giving grades. If you give the type of process oriented feedback it really improves motivation.  I know she had presented this a bunch of places, not sure if she has it published yet.  But really interesting.  

But we are going to continue feedback as product, in the form of grades....because. sight.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Coppens, Andrew
Sent: Monday, July 31, 2017 11:50 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
Subject: [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 practice.

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 of 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 language ideas based on providing the young writer with a "print rich environment"
and plentiful "input" towards more social-behaviorist notions of "focus on form" and "corrective feedback". The theoretical rationale was that the former approach had been "cognitivist" whle the latter was "sociocultural", because it involved interaction between minds which was then "internalized"
within the learner's mind.

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

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, Culture, 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 too 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 proximal 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 academic writing.
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