FC Writing: Lesson 4

Writing: Lesson Four

Feedback vs. Grading

Grading assigns value to student output, while feedback provides students information about what the instructor found to be well done and where the content or accuracy of the text can be improved.
Feedback should include positive comments and corrections that cover content as well as grammatical/lexical accuracy.
• Use a separate sheet of paper for your comments instead of writing over students’ work, recommends Virginia Scott (1996), so that the “paper is analyzed instead of mutilated” (p. 124).
• Focus on important errors which hinder comprehension — these are higher in frequency and may stigmatize the author — or which are currently the focus of instruction.


Review this feedback sheet, whereby the instructor does not have to “correct” the student’s work, but rather guides the student through the revision process.


Writing Feedback Sheet


Grading can provide valuable feedback when the criteria for grading are clearly articulated and shared with the students beforehand.
• Pre-determine grading criteria: clear expectations.
• Make sure grading is valid and reliable.
• If you are concerned about having to read 75 essays/written assignments in three sections of a class, take heart. Giving ONE writing assignment with two revisions or expansion — instead of three different writing assignments — will ultimately result in better writing from your students and less time grading for you.


A discussion of grading and giving feedback.
Duration: 04:04

Professor Raizen (Hebrew) does not grade students’ writing. Here she shares the reason(s) for her belief.


Professor Raizen on assessment of writing.
Duration: 01:05

Make a short list of pros and cons of grading writing. What is your decision based on these notes? Would you grade writing? Why/why not?


Content vs. Accuracy

For many of us, giving feedback on a written assignment has meant grading it for grammatical (primarily) and lexical accuracy. In very few instances do students get comments on the actual content of their writing or suggestions for improving the readability of the text.
Watch the video and see if the points the instructor and the students raise are habits you yourself have in the classroom.


A discussion on giving feedback on a written assignment.
Duration: 05:21

There are several steps we, as instructors, can take to make writing the real focus of our feedback and assessment:
Connect the feedback to the purpose of the task. Do assign a grade for accuracy because it plays an important role in comprehensible communication, but also assign a grade for global content: clear statement of purpose, sufficient details, effective connection between ideas, for example. Students are smart, and if your grades only pertain to grammatical and lexical accuracy, in their next essay they will only focus on those features. This turns your “writing” assignment into a mere linguistic exercise.
Teachers should act as collaborators in the writing process. Your objective should be to help students learn how to write well. Giving a simple grade to a written

assignment means that you judge that assignment. Giving it feedback and letting students revise their written work will make your assignment be truly about writing.
Focus on content first, then on accuracy. This sequence will help your students view writing as genuine interpersonal communication between the author and reader(s). Research has found that when feedback focuses on content first, the final written work is better both in content and accuracy (Semke, 1984).
Facilitative comments maintain students’ integrity and help keep them motivated. Instead of writing a comment like “Don’t use the subjunctive here”, ask them a question: What does the subjunctive form suggest here? Sometimes, students intentionally flout linguistic norms for a creative, meaningful purpose (i.e., humor). Find out before you mark it wrong. Negative statements will shut down your students, while clarification questions will help them express an idea more effectively.
Self-correction increases accuracy, linguistic gains, and productivity. Make a few marks on the paper, then pose questions and offer facilitative comments. This process “forces” learners to resolve questions they still have and come up with the solution themselves (with peer or instructor guidance as necessary).


Types of Scoring

Writing can be assessed in different modes, for example analytic scoring, holistic scoring, and primary trait scoring. If evaluating the same piece of writing, each mode of scoring should result in similar “scores,” but each focuses on a different facet of L2 writing.

Analytic Scoring

In this mode, students’ writing is evaluated based on detailed grades for elements of writing such as vocabulary, grammar, composition, or mechanics. Results are based on multiple sub-grades (e.g., 4 out of 5 on vocabulary, plus 3 out of 5 on grammar plus 4 out of 5 on content, etc.)

Example analytic scoring scale PDF


Holistic Scoring

Holistic scoring results in a more general description for categories, but includes the different elements of writing implicitly or explicitly. The result is usually a global grade, such as A, B, C, D, E.
Example holistic scoring scal PDF


Primary Trait Scoring

If the class or the assignment focuses on a particular aspect of writing, or a specific linguistic form, or the use of a certain semantic group, primary trait scoring allows the instructor and the students to focus their feedback, revisions and attention very specifically.

Example primary trait scoring guide



The instructor discusses the different types of scoring.
Duration: 05:32

Which of these is the appropriate form of evaluation depends on the purpose of the writing task. For example, the first draft could be evaluated holistically, a second and subsequent draft using primary trait scoring and the final draft analytically. Each mode of scoring will give the instructor and students slightly different information about the writing process and students’ level of development. It is highly recommended, though, with the goal of improving writing instead of just assigning a grade, that the criteria for evaluation be shared with the students as soon as the writing task is assigned.

Portfolio Assessment

A somewhat newer approach of evaluation is the writing portfolio. This approach underscores writing as a process, a meaningful communicative act, and a skill worthy of emphasis in the foreign language curriculum.
Some characteristics important to any type of portfolio assignment are:
• Repeated submissions over time: students submit one or two writing samples each week, each month, or as the course allows.
• Student selection of “representative sampling”: students have latitude in which draft or assignment they submit, within teacher-established guidelines.
• Feedback from multiple sources: Students may be asked to include feedback from a variety of sources, such as self-editing checklists, peer-editing comments, and/or comments from the instructor.

• Focus on process, growth, active analysis: Asking students to revise a written assignment helps them develop their writing skills and engages them in active analysis of their writing. Over the course of the semester, by comparing their very first and last assignments, they become cognizant of the progress they have made.
• Meaningful, motivating and long-term learning: When students re-examine and compare their different writing assignments, they realize that the writing task is part of a long-term learning process rather than a single evaluative event. The noticeable progress they make and the recognition of their work by the instructor and peers can be highly motivating for most students.


Editing can be a part of the main writing activity or the post-writing sequence as a form of feedback from a peer or the instructor. Byrd (2003) describes several types of peer-editing that can be effectively implemented in any level of foreign language classroom:
• Classical editing: author reads paper; peers in small group take notes on content, organization, accuracy (both lexical and grammatical); discuss comments
• Silent editing: each partner reads quietly then gives feedback during debriefing session (with or without specific check-lists)
• Select editing: members of group get different colored pencils; each is responsible for one aspect of paper to give feedback on
• Post-teacher editing: teacher gives feedback; students work collaboratively in pairs making corrections and resolve any questions they may have about the instructor’s comments (this seems to be the most satisfying for students and results in the least amount of hypercorrection)
In peer-editing, both the writer and the reader(s) have different responsibilities, as Byrd (2003) outlines:
Writer’s Responsibilities Reader’s Responsibilities
1. Come to class with completed draft.
2. Jot down your questions and/or concerns.
3. Be open to suggestions.
4. Decide if editor’s comments are valid or not.
5. Make changes you think are appropriate. 1. Pay attention to the draft.
2. Make note of concerns the author has.
3. Offer both positive and negative critiques.
4. Discuss with the author concerns & praise.
5. Realize that comments such as “liked it” are not helpful; be specific, honest & respectful.
Teacher feedback during the editing process should focus on both content and form, global and detailed information. Not everything needs to be corrected; focused attention will help students improve their writing more effectively. Share commonly used editing marks, such as:
angl. Anglicisms, literal translation
con. Logical connection between ideas/paragraphs/etc. missing
voc. Questionable lexical choice
del. Delete (word, idea, paragraph, etc.)
vt. Verb tense
The process of editing does not have to center on one writing activity. Students do not have to re-write the same text in order to improve their writing. The learning process can and should take place over several writing assignments, over a long period of time, over the course of several semesters and years.



This module intended to make several points regarding teaching L2 writing. First, it underscored the idea that writing deserves systematic and continued attention in the foreign language classroom in its own right, not merely as a support skill for listening, reading or speaking. Second, this module presented L2 writing as a complex process that demands of authors to have clear ideas they wish to communicate, to take note of their audience, to be aware of the purpose of the texts they produce, and to use the linguistic aspects of language necessary for conveying meaning effectively. Third, L2 writing tasks should reflect a variety of purposes for writing in real life.
This module also aimed to impress upon instructors that activity sets rather than individual tasks provide the necessary scaffolding for a process-approach to L2 writing. Generating ideas, pre-writing, re-writing, collaborative writing not only improves the quality of the written product learners create, but also provides a coherent framework for instruction that reinforces the legitimacy of writing and literacy as worthy pedagogical pursuits in their own right.
Feedback guides further improvement of the written product; its main purpose is not merely to assign a grade. Even regarding assessment, writing should be viewed as a process, with multiple steps that guide learners from generating an idea to articulating it clearly, effectively, tailored to the purpose of the task.
Instructor’s Final Comments

Writing is essential for developing literacy and can help language learners connect the L2 to meaningful expression of ideas. By incorporating creative writing into a language curriculum, you can significantly contribute to learners’ sense of autonomy over the language.
Writing Activities
Design an activity set that helps learners focus both on content and form (accuracy) and which has real-life applicability. It can be writing as a support skill, creative writing, academic writing, anything that is appropriate for the level and the focus of the course. Create a sample feedback rubric that could guide students to complete this task effectively.


Narrating a story (Dutch).
Duration: 05:32



View the lesson plan



[Module Instructor Zsuzsanna Abrams . ] 2010. [Writing]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu

The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.

How ever a no obligation  exam is available at the end of this module.