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Exploring Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices Associated with Written Feedback on English for Academic Purposes Student Writing


Debora Catavello
Centre for Academic Language and Development, University of Bristol

If teachers’ feedback practices are partly influenced by their institutions as well as their cultural and educational backgrounds (Hyland and Hyland, 2006a), then research on pre-sessional programmes is of particular interest since their increasingly international teaching staff generally consists of individuals coming from different institutions. As such, pre-sessional teachers might have differing attitudes to providing feedback on writing tasks (Seviour, 2015). Using interview data and teachers’ written feedback comments, this study seeks to explore the beliefs and practices of a small group of pre-sessional teachers at a UK university. The findings suggest that most teachers adopt a ‘contextualised’ view of feedback (Nicol, 2010) according to which written feedback must relate to the course’s intended learning outcomes as well as the assessment criteria. The data analysis also found that teachers conceptualise feedback as a dialogue and, in their written comments, combine the use of questions with requests for information and suggestions. This type of dialogic feedback, however, was less visible when the comments were typed in a checklist. The results also highlight the influence of teachers’ prior teaching and learning experiences on their feedback beliefs.

KEYWORDS: feedback, L2 writing, pre-sessional courses, teachers’ beliefs, English for Academic Purposes

Feedback is central to the student experience in Higher Education (HE) as it is through feedback that students understand whether they are meeting expectations (Boud and Molloy, 2013). Carless and Boud (2018, p.1315) define feedback as ’a process through which learners make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies’. Thus, feedback is a not a ‘product’ delivered to a student, and the teacher is only one of its many sources. This contrasts with notions of feedback typical of the receptive-transmission model of teaching and learning (Winstone and Carless, 2020) where feedback is conceptualised as ‘a gift from the teacher to the learner’ (Askew and Lodge, 2000, p.5). Similarly to Carless and Boud (2018), Nicol (2010, p.503) views feedback ‘as a dialogical and contingent two‐way process’ and argues that the issues surrounding feedback in HE are due to the failure of written feedback to engage students in a dialogue, thereby reinforcing what Winstone and Carless (2007) call the ‘old feedback paradigm’ (Winstone and Carless, 2020, p.7). The issues to which Nicol (2010) alludes are well-documented in the literature. Students often find the feedback they receive too vague and unhelpful (Van Heerden, 2020; Weaver, 2006), demotivating (Wingate, 2010) and difficult to interpret (Rossiter, 2022) and first-year undergraduates do not seem to be equipped with strategies for using feedback (Burke, 2009; Weaver, 2006).

Academic teaching staff, on the other hand, seem to theoretically embrace the idea that feedback should feed forward, but in practice they often use it to justify a summative mark (Price et al., 2010), a mismatch which also features in Lee’s (2009) list of mismatches between secondary teachers’ beliefs and written feedback practices. Overall, teachers in HE question the extent to which students value their feedback (Glover and Brown, 2006; Van Heerden, 2020), a perception which results in teachers’ negative emotional experiences, particularly in the case of second language (L2) writing teachers (Yu et al., 2021). In this regard, Bayley and Garner (2010) argue that innovative practices aimed at standardising teaching in HE such as structured feedback forms are partly to blame for the general dissatisfaction with feedback whereas Burke (2009) and Weaver (2006) claim that students do not receive enough guidance on how to action feedback. Notwithstanding these issues, feedback is still seen as central to the student experience (Boud and Molloy, 2013) and more so in the case of L2 writing (Hyland and Hyland, 2006a).

As Hyland and Hyland (2006a, p.13) point out in their discussion of the sociocultural dimensions of feedback, teachers ‘are at least partly influenced by the dominant ideologies of their institutions’. This is particularly relevant to Pre-Sessional (PS) courses which are often taught by teachers who ‘come from a variety of teaching contexts and so have widely differing experience of and attitudes to providing feedback on writing’ (Seviour, 2015, p.88). It is therefore important to research PS teachers’ beliefs and practices and, if necessary, improve the quality of feedback provided for the benefit of students (ibid.). As such, the current study inquired into the feedback practices of 5 PS tutors on a 10-week online course at a UK university.

McGrath and Bailey (2009) describe PS courses as ‘bridging programmes’ aiming to help international students reach the English language requirements of their future degree courses. However, the aim of the course in the present study is broader than this. Its Intended Learning Outcomes (Table 1) emphasise the importance of socialising students into academic practices rather than a mere focus on language proficiency which is often typical of courses PS students might have previously attended. The course adopts a Problem Based Learning approach which sees students engaging in activities where the focus is on sharing meanings. The language element of the course, which focuses on features of academic register with the aim of socialising students into the ‘academic discourse community’ (Basturkmen et al., 2014), consists of two hours a week of asynchronous consciousness-raising activities, followed by three hours of synchronous consolidation facilitated by the teacher. The students’ entry language levels, as measured by their IELTS scores, range from 5.5 to 6.5.

Intended Learning Outcomes
 By the end of the pre-sessional course, you will be able to demonstrate:

1. Skills and strategies to communicate effectively in academic contexts.

2. Skills to access and critically question knowledge in academic contexts.

3. Choices of content, organisation and language to communicate with different audiences for different purposes.

4. Autonomy through active reflection on feedback and self-evaluation to enact learning goals.

5. Collaborative participation in local and global communities of practice

Table 1: Pre-sessional Intended Learning Outcomes


Taking as a premise that teachers are influenced by the institutional context in which they are operating, a brief overview of the main ideologies at the Centre in which this study took place seems necessary. In relation to language teaching and material design, the Centre espouses Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL): ‘Materials should focus on choice of language, organisation, and content for audience and purpose. This means focusing on effectiveness and efficiency, and the impact of the writer’s choice on the reader rather than right or wrong answers’ (internal website, n.d.). In the area of feedback, the Centre’s view draws on both Carless and Boud’s (2018) work on students’ feedback literacy as well as Nicol’s (2010) idea of inner feedback: materials often feature the analysis of both student exemplars and marking criteria so students can develop their ability to form judgments about the quality of their own work. In relation to assessments, the Centre embraces ‘assessment for learning’ (Wiliam, 2011) as a leading ideology and for this reason assessments on the PS course are portfolio-based: students submit weekly formative assignments on which they receive written feedback which is then followed-up in a weekly tutorial with the teacher. Overall, the Centre operates within a socio-constructivist framework that emphasises the principles of collaboration but also autonomy. This is also visible in the PS feedback checklist (Appendix 1) which includes a column for peer feedback and a section where students decide what their teacher’s feedback should focus on.

However, it is uncertain the extent to which PS teachers at this Centre are familiar with these ideologies since a significant number of tutors are usually employed only for the duration of the course (10 weeks). Thus, some might not be familiar with institutional practices, and this is perhaps why they attend a week-long induction which features a seminar-style discussion of the theories underpinning the work at the Centre – and for which teachers need to prepare by reading relevant texts (e.g., Ryan, 2011 and Alexander, 2019) – as well as a whole day focussed around feedback on writing and the use of exemplars. Further ways in which tutors’ feedback literacy is developed include the provision of the checklist in Appendix 1, which tutors are encouraged to use when giving feedback, as well as a Career Development session on feedback practices, which was partly designed to help teachers stay within the allocated time of twenty minutes per script.

It was thus with the aim of investigating the extent to which pre-sessional teachers’ feedback practices align with the Centre’s ethos and espoused theories that the present study was undertaken. In particular, this exploratory study was guided by the following research questions:

  1. What are PS teachers’ beliefs in relation to written feedback on writing and what are the origins of these beliefs?
  2. How do these beliefs manifest themselves in the teachers’ feedback practices?

This is a qualitative case study offering in-depth perspectives from a small group of teachers (5) with a variety of backgrounds (Table 2). Although the data in the present study cannot be representative of the broader teacher group, it is reasonable to assume that the issues raised in this study are relevant to that group.

Tutor Employment (permanent / summer only) Teaching experience (years)  EAP experience (years) - provision Other teaching experience
Jacob permanent over 20 years 5 years (UK) - PS, International Foundation Programme (IFP) Primary schools
Melissa permanent 9 years 9 years (UK) - PS, IFP Seminar tutor (English department) and Academic Skills tutor
Stephanie summer only 10 years 10 years (UK) - PS, IFP English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
Carol summer only 20 years 5 years (UK) - PS EFL and exam preparation courses
Georgia Summer only 25 years 15 years (mainly overseas) -PS, in-sessional EFL and teacher training

Table 2: Participants’ profile


Data collection and analysis 

This study reports the analysis of 20/30-minute semi-structured online interviews with the individual teachers as well as the feedback comments visible in screen recordings of the teachers’ computer-based activities in the process of giving feedback. In the interviews, teachers were asked to discuss their beliefs in relation to the following topics:

  • The purpose of feedback
  • Approaches to giving feedback on a written task
  • Changes over time in feedback practices
  • Emotions associated with giving feedback
  • Influences on feedback practices

The 20-minute screen recordings, which captured the process of giving written feedback on student scripts, were done autonomously by the teachers using Microsoft Teams after the interviews had taken place. In these recordings, teachers left a total of 83 comments across 5 scripts. Teachers recorded themselves giving feedback on the first draft of a written formative task that required the students to synthesise ideas from two different texts (see the assignment brief in Appendix 2).

The interview data was coded thematically in two main stages. In the first stage, the themes were identified inductively (Braun and Clarke, 2006); in the second stage, these themes were revisited in light of what had emerged from the coding of the feedback comments. Drawing on similar studies (Mirador, 2000; Ellis, 2008; Basturkmen et al., 2014; Guasch, Espasa and Martinez-Melo, 2018; and Van Heerden, 2020), these written comments were coded from two perspectives, which in practice resulted in each comment being assigned two codes. One set of codes, partly informed by the Centre marking criteria, aimed to identify the aspects of the task teachers focused on in the comment (Table 3) while the other set classified comments according to how they had been formulated (Table 4). Table 3 distinguishes between content/purpose and language, and this perhaps warrants clarification. Although it is indisputable that the distinction between language and ideas in writing is artificial (Hyland and Hyland, 2006), within the context of the present study the category of language in Table 3 was interpreted very narrowly as consisting mainly of comments focusing on discrete elements in student writing such a single word or punctuation.

Another point worth clarifying is the use of the term corrective in Table 4. In contrast to similar studies (Guénette, 2007; Ellis, 2008; Evans et al., 2010; Van Beuningen, De Jong, and Kuiken, 2012), the label corrective used herein includes any type of correction and not only linguistic errors. Therefore, comments focusing on any of the categories in Table 3 were classified as negative/corrective if they pointed to weaknesses or areas for development in the student writing. If the answer to these problems in the student writing was given by the teacher, the comment was coded as direct. Conversely, if the comment only pointed out the existence of a problem without providing a solution, it was classified as indirect. Finally, the comments were coded as dialogic if the teacher seemed to engage in a dialogue with the student which included prompting the student to offer reasons for a specific choice and/or to think of how the issue identified could be addressed. The data analysis of positive comments did not identify any instances of dialogic positive feedback, so this type was omitted from Table 4.

Focus Examples
Content/purpose ‘Perhaps you could include some more background information. One or two sentences would be enough.’
Cohesion/structure ‘A good use of a summary noun to introduce another point of comparison, but you need to state that you are comparing the two texts.’
Language ‘I’m not sure this is the right word.’
Presentation/conventions ‘You must refer to your texts with citations. Ask a classmate the best way to do this, citations are a very important part of academic writing and are a transferable skill you will need throughout your studies next year.’

Table 3: Classification 1: the focus of feedback


Category Sub-category Examples
Negative/ corrective Direct ‘The last sentence contained new information, you analyse a point not made in the body. It would be better to move this up to the body as the conclusion should not contain new information, remember?’
Indirect ‘I don’t think this is the right word.’
Dialogic ‘I’m not sure where this sentence belongs -

is it a heading? Part of a paragraph (which)?’

Positive/praising Direct ‘here you provide an explanation - well done.’
Indirect ‘However great evidence of learning here - well done.’

Table 4: Classification 2: the function of feedback


The following sections have been organised around the themes that emerged from the data analysis. Each theme is explored by examining the main findings from the analysis of interview data and by then considering whether these findings are consistent with the analysis of comment data as well as the relevant literature.

Contextualised feedback
The first question in this study aimed to explore teachers’ beliefs about written feedback on writing. A common view amongst the teachers interviewed is that PS students are transitioning between two different educational contexts, and a key aspect of this transition is a necessary shift in students’ perceived priorities. In this regard, teachers view written feedback as facilitating this transition by helping students set priorities in relation to their writing skills as it is generally felt that students attach excessive importance to surface features of writing such as grammatical accuracy which does not adequately reflect the expectations of the academic community as expressed, for example, in marking criteria:

I suppose the other thing is to provide not only your focus but also priorities [ … ]. What a student might think of priorities could be very different. They often think grammar is the most important thing, whereas for us on our criteria sheets it’s 20% rather than the structural things which we think are more important and the analysis (Jacob).

One tutor suggested that this misalignment might be a legacy of students’ previous language learning experiences:

There’s a lot of filling in all that background and perspective because [students] have come from a background in language to pass tests and we’re looking at it in a completely different way, so there’s a whole kind of perspective shift happening (Stephanie).

These teachers, however, appear to share the tendency of students, and perhaps most L2 writing instructors (Lee, 2019), to focus on surface features that would require Language Corrective Feedback (LCF) but purposefully resist it. In fact, most tutors acknowledge that this type of feedback would not help students develop their writing:

I just notice that’s what I do. I focus on every word and actually that’s not always going to be helpful at all (Jacob) .

I don’t want to overwhelm [students]. I’m not going to correct or question every single wrong word choice or grammatical issue. But I would kind of go through it organically and just note what I think was important (Melissa).

I certainly have the tendency to spot all the little errors and something that I’ve really enjoyed about [name of language centre] is that we haven’t been focusing so much on the grammatical aspect [ … ] I think that allowed me to sort of step back and take a more sort of a broader view (Carol).

These findings suggest that these teachers believe that, apart from its ‘evaluative’ function, feedback has an important ‘inducting’ function: feedback does not merely identify strengths and weaknesses but has a key role in socialising students into the academic discourse community, thereby highlighting the social nature of writing (Basturkmen et al., 2014). This approach to giving feedback seems to suit the genre-oriented writing instruction (Hyland and Hyland, 2006) which has gained popularity on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses (Riazia, Ghanbar and Fazel, 2020).

This move away from LCF toward a more global approach where attention is directed to content and organisation was also described as the main way in which feedback practices have evolved as tutors gained more experience:

I used to be a lot more corrective (Jacob).

I think it was much more analytical and going into detail and focusing on all the tiny little errors. I think there is still a certain element of that. Now I think it’s certainly more holistic (Carol).

One tutor suggested that their own assessment literacy in the form of increased familiarity with the marking criteria contributed to refocusing her practices away from LCF:

I learned a lot from the pre-sessional courses that I did at [name of university]. If we start off with writing, you know learning about criteria, things that were important and focusing on those areas (Carol).

The feedback these teachers give can thus be described as ‘contextualised’ (Nicol, 2010, p.512): feedback comments are ‘framed with reference to the learning outcomes and/or assessment criteria’. These findings are very encouraging since students appreciate feedback that relates to the marking criteria (Weaver, 2006). However, in the case of Georgia, who worked extensively outside the UK both as a teacher and teacher trainer (Table 2), LCF appears to still be an important aspect of her feedback practices. A recurrent theme in her interview was the use of marking codes and the importance of training students in using them. In this discussion of marking codes, the use of terms such as ‘errors’, ‘peer correcting’ and ‘models’ suggests a slightly more prescriptive linguistic approach than that observed in other tutors:

We did a lot of learner training like codes, basically lots of code. [ … ] So the writing feedback was the coding but training them. I think this is the key thing [ … ] you have to help the students, particularly if they have different learning backgrounds. You could call it scaffolding, but you have to sort of build up to it. You can’t just get them to peer correct. [ … ] and you say to them you’ll save a lot of money when you get to university if you could correct it yourself. [ … ] When you’re giving models as well, I quite like guided discovery where you give them a model and maybe with errors (Georgia).

A possible explanation for Georgia’s attitude is that she might have come from a context that attached great importance to accuracy. Such was the case in Al Shahrani and Storch’s (2014) study, for example, in which they found that teachers at an EFL university in Saudi Arabia felt forced to follow the institution’s guidelines of providing feedback on all errors using error codes. These findings thus appear to provide further support for the claim that the social and institutional context in which teachers work plays a role in shaping their practices (Hyland and Hyland, 2006a).

The second question in this study aimed to explore how teachers’ beliefs about written feedback on writing manifest themselves in their practices. The analysis of written comments indicates that the teachers in this study do not focus extensively on LCF as most of their comments concern content/purpose. This contrasts with earlier studies that found L2 writing tutors mostly focus on LCF (Lee, 2009; Junqueira and Payant, 2015). Although a discourse analysis of written feedback is outside the scope of this study, it was noted that when teachers provided LCF, they often hedged their comments or phrased them as questions (Table 5). This mitigation suggests an awareness that LCF might encourage negative attitudes toward writing such as writing anxiety (Tsao, Tseng and Wang, 2017). Indeed, this was one of the reasons behind Truscott’s (1996) call for abandoning LCF altogether. Furthermore, the fact that most comments on language (Table 5) are indirect – the tutor indicates that there is an error but does not correct it is consistent with research on LCF that supports the view that indirect correction is more appropriate when the teacher’s focus is on developing ‘effective [students’] metacognitive skills as well as revision and editing processes’ (Ferris, 2010, p.190).

Tutors’ on-script comments Function
I don’t think this is the right word. indirect
Do you mean topic sentence? indirect
The stories and questions create cohesion?


I’m not sure this is the right word. indirect
However, you have made a couple of vocabulary/ word choice errors, so be sure to double check you know the precise meaning of a word and the context in which it is used before using it. indirect
Spoken language. direct
The areas you could improve: 1. use of brackets and punctuation. indirect
Perhaps some proof reading would be good. indirect
Driving factor - maybe you could re-name this topic: do you mean purpose? direct
Comparative language. direct
Try using comparative sentence structures in your topic sentences. indirect
You have clearly used much of the compare and contrast language we have focused on in class- well done. direct

Table 5: Tutors’ on-script comments on language errors in student work


It is worth noticing that in some instances language feedback is used to encourage certain habits (e.g., proofreading and checking the meaning of words) or, in the case of positive comments, praise students for using language taught on the course. This last finding suggests that teachers situate their feedback in ‘an ongoing dialogue between teachers and students’ (Hyland and Hyland, 2006, p.213). It is this theme of feedback as a dialogue that we will explore below.

Dialogic feedback and use of the checklist

The analysis of interview data indicates that tutors generally acknowledge the relational dimension of feedback on writing which one tutor describes as a ‘discussion’:

Other things that I’ve been doing more recently are asking more questions to the student as to what they could do (Jacob).

[Feedback] is any discussion you might have with the student about their work [ … ] I try to elicit more rather than giving answers (Melissa).

Both comments suggest that students’ active involvement is seen as essential for feedback uptake to occur. This is in line with the ‘learning-focused feedback paradigm’ proposed by Winstone and Carless (2020) who advocate for a closer partnership between teachers and students.

Even when the issue in the student’s work relates to language (i.e., grammar), feedback is said to be given in dialogic terms in line with an SFL-informed view of language:

I’ll have a look at perhaps where that apparent contradiction comes from, and if it’s just a grammatical mistake, I might suggest ‘Do you mean this version of what you could have said? Or do you mean this version of what you could have?’ (Stephanie.)

Teachers’ conceptualisation of students as ‘active participants’ (Winstone and Carless, 2020, p.8) might explain why the analysis of written comments on language in the previous section highlighted the predominance of indirect feedback (Table 5). This seems to extend to comments on content and structure of which the majority were coded as either dialogic or indirect (Table 6). In this respect, Guasch, Espasa and Martinez-Melo (2019) found that feedback that combines questioning, requesting information and making suggestions seems the most effective as it encourages students to take an active role. In other words, dialogic and indirect feedback seem to prompt students to redraft more substantially (Ferris, 1997) as well as encouraging self-regulated learning (Carless, 2013; Nicol, 2010).

However, in regard to indirect feedback, it is interesting to note that one of the comments coded as indirect in Table 6 (bolded for ease of reference) does not fall within the categories of requests, suggestions or questions but appear to be a call-to-action if not an order as indicated by the use of the imperative mode (‘Discuss, examine, evaluate them’). Hyatt (2007, p.341) notes how the use of imperatives ‘can lend an air of authority, representing comment as the “truth” rather than an invitation to a dialogue’, which might discourage students from being active participants. On the other hand, imperatives have been found to lead to more substantial changes in subsequent drafts than questions in the case of Japanese students with a pre-intermediate or intermediate English proficiency level (Sugita, 2006).

Comment Focus Function
This sentence contains too many ideas, so think how you could separate them to make it easier to understand. structure dialogic
Is this about the definition of IoT? content dialogic
What are you *doing* with this information? You’ve lifted it from the reading text, but what do you want to show? Are you defining IoT (as the subheading and first sentence suggest)? or are you contrasting how the two texts view the uses and benefits of IoT? or something else? Whatever your purpose, you need to reference where this information came from. content dialogic
What’s the purpose of this section? You appear to start comparing how the two texts present the development of the IoT, but then the focus shifts and you simply repeat the narrative history taken from the listening. Are you going to return to the typology you outline here (taken from the reading)? content dialogic
Are you going to tell your reader anything about this? content dialogic
The audience has no idea which text you are discussing here. You need to cite when you refer to text and then it is very clear. See here how to cite your sources [links]. structure indirect
Please note where I have highlighted in red. I would suggest you pull out concepts more from the content. For example, ‘government control/ support’ and compare contrast how each author explores them rather than describing both listening and reading in a linear way. structure direct
In this paragraph you state use of language features, by describing. You could include some examples and also evaluate how effective you think they are. content indirect
These are the ideas we want you to get into! Discuss, examine, evaluate them. Don’t just mention them. content indirect
‘There does not appear to be any evaluation of opinions of point 1 and 2. You have told me what the writer’s and speaker’s stance is, but not what is your opinion (student’s name). content indirect

Table 6: Examples of comments on content and structure


Overall, however, the findings discussed so far indicate that the tutors in this study conceptualise feedback as a dialogue and try to encourage students’ responses by mitigating their comments and/or phrasing them as questions. This is how most university tutors give written feedback (Van Heerden, 2020; Pazio Rossiter, 2022). PS tutors are thus helping students adjust to how they will receive feedback on their future degree courses by adopting a similar approach to that of lecturers. In this respect, Van Heerden (2020) highlights the importance of feedback beyond teaching students the mechanics of academic writing: feedback should help students become successful participants in HE so has an important ‘developmental’ function. A key aspect of the student experience in HE, she emphasises, is the ability of students to respond effectively to dialogic feedback which first-year students might have experienced less than evaluative feedback.

Interestingly, in the process of analysing written feedback, it became apparent that the majority of comments typed in the checklist (Appendix 1) belonged to the categories of either direct or indirect feedback (Table 7). This suggests that the checklist might impede dialogic feedback in that teachers appear to use it to simply acknowledge whether the student has followed the guidelines or not. On the other hand, the checklist might have facilitated positive feedback since most positive comments were found in the checklist and not on the scripts. The checklist might have acted as a reminder of all the processes the student writers had to undertake to complete the draft by prompting teachers to consider those achievements that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Moreover, the presence of the checklist might have made positive feedback, which students often find unhelpful if expressed in short comments such as ‘good’ or ‘good point’ (Tom et al., 2013), more specific. However, a note of caution is due here since the positive comments in the checklist appear to merely acknowledge that the student has followed the guidelines and the praising language that would usually feature in positive feedback (e.g., well done for; I like how … ) is sometimes absent.

Written feedback Function Evaluation
There are many differences and similarities.
This is quite vague. Can you make it more specific and relate it to the texts?
dialogic negative
I agree with your peer feedback. Can you give a clearer definition of IoT? dialogic negative
You discussed the structure, language and evidence provided throughout referring to both texts, you analysed the evidence provided and your stance regarding which text was stronger is clear. However, you did not discuss the content, as in the actual arguments made, in either CCR. Why did you choose to focus on the structure, language and evidence without comparing the arguments? Let’s discuss this in tomorrow’s tutorial. dialogic juxtaposition
1. what do you mean by the implications? 2. What are you referring to? 3. See Wed S1 optional activity on thesis statements. dialogic negative
Although the area I have highlighted in blue seems to be only talking about the listening text but the last sentence mentions both as a summary. How could you clarify this better? dialogic negative
The structure is clear. It includes sub-headings and the paragraph follow a logical order (as indicated in the introduction). They only contained one point per paragraph. direct positive
You used clear topic sentences to introduce each paragraph. direct positive
Your conclusion contained a summary and thesis, but although it commented on the future focus of both texts, did not include a future focus of your own. direct juxtaposition
Your introduction contains a clear purpose, map and relatively well-formulated thesis statement direct positive
The last sentence contained new information, you analyse a point not made in the body. It would be better to move this up to the body as the conclusion should not contain new information, remember? direct negative
Additionally, the next two paragraphs are talking about the listening and reading separately. direct negative
Please note where I have highlighted in red. I would suggest you pull out concepts more from the content. For example ‘government control/ support’ and compare contrast how each author explores them rather than describing both listening and reading in a linear way. direct negative
Perhaps you could include some more background information. One or two sentences would be enough. direct negative
You have identified two main points for the reading text and three main points for the listening, which are appropriate, direct positive
There does not appear to be any evaluation of opinions of point 1 and 2. You have told me what the writer’s and speaker’s stance is, but not what is your opinion, direct negative
nice conclusion you have summarised the key points in your paper, made suggestions for the future-well done. direct positive
You have clearly used much of the compare and contrast language we have focused on in class- well done. direct positive
there is no hook. You introduce the texts straight away, indirect negative
Yes, you have identified three main areas that you will discuss in the main body. indirect positive
I don’t feel I’ve learnt much about the issues surrounding (the growth of) the IoT from this CCR. indirect negative
I agree with your peer feedback. indirect positive
Have a look at this link which may help you. indirect
I agree with the peer feedback.
However, you have made a couple of vocabulary/ word choice errors, so be sure to double check you know the precise meaning of a word and the context in which it is used before using it.
indirect negative

Table 7: Comments in the checklist


These mixed results in relation to the effectiveness of the checklist were also mentioned by Melissa:

As a tutor, seeing whether they’ve used cohesive devices and then just ticking ‘yes’ in the box, I feel the quality of my feedback is not the same as when I’d go through it organically. Of course, it’s less standardized in that sense because what I’d notice and would give feedback on might be slightly different than what a different teacher would notice. But I do think that the level of feedback is slightly deeper perhaps than using the checklist.

Melissa went on to explain that the checklist might prove more useful when students engage in peer review activities which is consistent with the findings in Wakefield et al. (2014) where students reported benefitting from using an essay feedback checklist to self-assess their own work before submission:

I think certain things are more useful to use as peer feedback. If you’re a student and you’re looking at another person’s summary to see whether they use hedging language or cohesive devices and you spot which ones they’ve used. That’s really useful as a peer feedback giver.

Peer feedback is increasingly viewed as a key element of students’ feedback literacy coupled with students’ ability to initiate feedback by requesting teachers to focus on specific aspects of their writing (Winstone and Carless, 2020). In regard to peer feedback, it is worth noting the three instances of the teacher explicitly agreeing with peer feedback in Table 7. In these three instances, the peer’s comments that the teacher agrees with include examples as well as explanations, albeit very brief. Although this is an extremely small sample of comments, it seems reasonable to assume that teachers are more likely to acknowledge peer feedback when this does not consist of a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which was the case for some of the peer feedback visible in the screen capture recordings. Interestingly, there were also instances where the teacher and the peer left very similar comments, but the teacher did not explicitly acknowledge this agreement. These findings combined indicate that students need training to be able to engage effectively with peer feedback (see Nicol, Thomson and Breslin, 2014 for an overview of the benefits of giving feedback), and teachers might need to acknowledge peer feedback more consistently if they want students to value their peers’ comments.

In addition, closer inspection of Table 7 seems to provide evidence in support of Nicol’s claim (2010) that teachers’ and students’ conceptions of task requirements often do not match, which results in students’ difficulties interpreting feedback. This misconception is visible in the underlined comments in Table 7 where tutors draw students’ attention to a key requirement of the task (Appendix 2) which the students failed to meet: the need to synthesise information from different sources. Nicol (2010, p.505) explains that the solution to these ‘conception mismatches’ lies in taking a more dialogic approach to feedback and moving away from a mere focus on written comments.

Beyond investigating how teachers give and conceptualise feedback, the current study aimed to explore where teachers’ beliefs originate. This is the topic the next section will explore.

The influence of prior experience

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study participants’ prior teaching contexts seem to partially influence their current feedback beliefs, which is consistent with the literature on teacher cognition (Borg, 2007). For instance, both Stephanie and Georgia’s views appear to be informed by their teaching experiences in EFL settings (Table 2) and, more specifically, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). CLT, a popular EFL approach since the 1970s, aims to help students develop communicative competence – as opposed to only grammatical competence – by emphasising aspects of language use such as purpose and setting (Richards, 2006). The influence of CLT can be seen in the importance Stephanie attaches to communicating ideas:

[feedback] is time to let [students] know what they’ve achieved with a piece of work, what they’ve communicated, how clearly and what more they could do to communicate the idea or clarify a point because ultimately a bit of work that they’ve written is to communicate. Anything [students] do is to communicate an idea and [students] have either got the linguistic resource as well as the ideas or they haven’t. And then sometimes the problem might not be the language. It might be that they just haven’t got a clue what they’re trying to say.

CLT seems to also inform Georgia’s views on the focus of feedback, at least in her downplaying of grammatical competence:

it’s not just about having right grammar ‘cause often students can do the grammar, but they can’t construct it. You know, construct the writing as well, or they use their first language. So it’s making them aware of appropriate collocations, appropriate language.

On the one hand, this shift from LCF to aspects such as purpose and appropriacy seems better suited to the challenges posed to students by the modern university: a mere control of grammar or style would not prepare students to deal with “the communicative demands” of HE (Hyland and Shaw, 2016, p.1). On the other hand, Kirk and King (2022) have recently drawn attention to the unsuitability of CLT to cater for the needs of EAP students. They advocate for a shift ‘from the “E” to the “AP”’ (Kirk and King, 2022, p.2) with a greater focus on academic discourses and practices. In this regard, Melissa’s approach to engaging with her students’ work appears to be more aligned with Kirk and King’s (2022) perspective. This is evident in the self-reported attention Melissa pays to important academic practices such as research methods and criticality in the use of sources:

it could be feedback on [ … ] a broader level looking at how to structure the entire text or going into content or even discussions around methodology. Uh, data collection. How to analyse those things? Or are talking about how to use secondary sources in your work critically?

Melissa’s approach seems to stem from her academic background: she did not start her career as an EFL teacher but rather first as an Academic Skills Tutor and later as a disciplinary lecturer, and she holds a PhD in an English-related subject (Table 2). Melissa acknowledges this influence very explicitly in her interview:

Focus more on the academic side of things rather than going into sentences and looking at language mistakes. [ … ] I do have some perspective into how a content tutor would maybe give feedback on an essay. From that perspective, because I also did training as a departmental tutor.

Another area where teachers’ prior experiences, this time as learners, appear to be influential is positive feedback. Teachers seem generally aware of the importance of providing some positive feedback:

The first thing obviously is always notice the good (Jacob).

I feel it’s really important to give praise where praise is due (Carol).

You know you make sure there are positives and negatives in there (Georgia).

This belief in the importance of praising students seems to originate in teachers’ previous experiences as feedback receivers:

I think my own experience of receiving feedback when I did my MA [ … ] the feedback has to connect with the task, and it has to connect with the person’s attempt. And even though it’s not brilliant, you’ve got to recognize that they’re trying to do something (Jacob).

The belief that feedback should include some praising is what Carless and Winstone (2023), in their three-dimensional view of teacher feedback literacy, call the relation dimension of feedback: teachers should show emotional sensitivity. This calls for greater consideration of the ‘social-affective dimension of feedback’ (Yang and Carless, 2013, p.289) and the impact the lack of positive feedback can have on students’ self-esteem and more so in the case of novice writers (Su and Huang, 2022). This raises the need for teachers to monitor their practices to ensure their feedback does not neglect students’ affective needs (McGrath, Taylor, and Pychyl, 2011).

When considering teachers’ actual practices, it is worth pointing out that, although positive feedback was included in the final overall comments, most of the written in-text comments analysed in this study were negative. This is perhaps to be expected since teachers were giving feedback on a first draft and/or might have wanted to delay positive feedback until the tutorial so to encourage students to edit their work.

An initial objective of this study was to identify the aspects of writing that PS teachers focus on when giving feedback. This aim was justified on the premise that teachers delivering PS courses often have very different backgrounds, and this variety might result in overall inconsistent feedback practices. The results of this study indicate that the teachers who participated in this study are selective when commenting on linguistic errors as they try to direct their attention to other aspects of writing such as content and organisation thus aligning their practices with the course ILOs. This finding led to the claim that, overall, the feedback these tutors provide is ‘contextualised’ (Nicol, 2010, p.512). The present study also aimed to investigate whether teachers’ beliefs in relation to how feedback should be communicated to students have any effects on the way written comments are worded. The results of this study suggest that tutors conceptualise feedback as a dialogue and try to encourage students’ responses by phrasing their comments as questions and/or mitigating them. This was interpreted as an attempt by teachers to encourage the active involvement of students (Winstone and Carless, 2020).

An additional finding emerging from this study is that teachers’ beliefs appear to originate in their prior experiences both in teaching and learning. In this regard, it was noted that the beliefs of teachers with extensive experience in EFL settings appear to be partially informed by CLT.

This study has a number of limitations, the most obvious being the small sample of teachers who agreed to participate and, consequently, the limited number of comments analysed. More importantly, this study explores the views and practices of teachers only. Further research examining students’ views and responses to feedback is needed. In relation to this, screen capture recordings of students redrafting processes might yield valuable insights.

Address for correspondence:



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Pre-sessional 2021 Checklist

Points to consider


Peer Feedback Teacher feedback
Choose 3 areas you would like your peers to focus on in their feedback.

·         Main points of the reading and listening texts summarised clearly.

Analysis and Evaluation

·         Strengths of each text included

·         Weaknesses of each text included

·         Judgement/critique of and clear stance towards each text and their evidence (see evidence below)

Synthesis and Evidence

·         Main (primary) two texts synthesized throughout

·         Evidence used by both texts critically analyzed (see analysis and evaluation above) including their own use of sources (secondary texts)

·         Your stance supported with evidence (from texts)


·         Clear, informative, concise CCR title

·         Clear Introduction with purpose, map and working thesis

·         Clear and coherent overall structure with paragraphs following logical order (as indicated in Introduction)

·         Point by Point structure to allow for effective synthesis

·         Clear paragraphs (one main topic) and sections (with headings?)

·         Clear topic sentences, general to specific and given-new sentence pattern aid flow within and between paragraphs

·         Conclusion with summary, thesis and future focus (implications, suggestions for further research or recommendations)







·         Variety of sentence structures eg simple, complex, co-ordinated; concession etc

·         Language to express voice and stance eg boosting, hedging, emphatic structures, concession, choice of reporting verbs etc

·         Variety of cohesive devices eg Pronouns and summary nouns etc

·         Compare-contrast language (for CCR) eg modified comparatives etc

·         Academic style: Formal, impersonal, precise and concise eg Precise noun phrases; moves between abstract and general and more concrete, specific details/exemplification

·         Range of appropriate vocabulary and expression

Choose 3 areas you would like you teacher to focus on in their feedback.



CCR assignment brief

In Weeks 4 and 5 you will be producing a Comparative Critical Response (CCR) You will only produce one CCR and it must be written – not verbal. The CCR should be between 1000-1500 words.

In a Critical Response, you are required to evaluate and give your opinion about a text. In a Comparative Critical Response, you will need to compare, evaluate and give your opinion on two sources: the sources you will compare and evaluate are this week’s reading and listening texts:

·         the reading text Any Thing for Anyone? A New digital Divide in Internet-of-Things Skills (van Deursen and Mossberger, 2018)

·         the listening text ‘The human use of the Internet of things’ by Dr. Michael Marcinkowski (2021).

In addition, you can use a third text of your choice, but this is not a requirement.

When you are writing about more than one source, you need to synthesise ideas from both sources. The synthesis matrix you made for your PBL work in Week 3 will be useful for planning your CCR.

In Session 2 today, you will learn more about how to write your CCR and begin making an outline and drafting your introduction to your Comparative Critical Response.