Peer Feedback in English as Second Language Writing
Zainurrahman (Indonesia University of Education)
This research was originally aimed to investigate the impact of peer feedback toward the students’ narrative writing and the students’ responses toward peer feedback occurred in the L2 writing classroom. Although many researchers have noted that peer feedback had positive impact on students’ language skills especially writing, but peer feedback was originally used to develop students’ writing in L1 during 1970s (Hyland and Hyland, 2006:1). In 2000s, researchers like Zeng (2006), Kamimura (2006), Jiao (2007), and Hirose (2009) investigated the impact of peer feedback in L2 writing classroom and they noted that peer feedback offers many ways to improve students’ writing. However, until this time, peer feedback effectiveness is still debated. Hong (2006), for example, found that students’ had very negative response toward peer feedback activity in L2 and EFL writing classroom. This phenomenon raises an attempt to reinvestigate peer feedback in L2 writing classroom, especially in an Indonesian context. This research revealed that peer feedback is a useful way can be used to improve students’ writing, although the improvement is superficial in some extents.
This research focuses on students’ writing development and their responses toward peer feedback. The basic assumption underpinning this research is that writing is communication or a social process (Hyland (2005:198). Since writing is a social process, then in writing process the writer should be placed as a member of communicator, member of classroom society. Placing the writer in this situation gives the writer opportunities to have meaningful inputs from others. In this regard, the students are the writers and narrowing the social dimension in their L2 writing classroom emerges opportunities to negotiate their strength to improve other and their weakness to be strengthened.
Considering the assumption suggested by Hyland above, since peer feedback allows students to negotiate their ideas, commenting and correcting mistakes in their peer’s drafts, offering suggestions for their peer’s draft further development (Spear, 1988; Williams, 1957), then peer feedback can be applied confidently in L2 writing classroom. In the case of students’ attitude toward peer feedback, as hesitated by Hong (2006) that the students’ have very negative impact toward peer feedback, here Jacobs et al (1998) mentioned that they believe that students usually welcome peer feedback as one type of feedback in writing. This research also revealed that the students’ have positive response toward peer feedback; the students did not devalue peer feedback activities in L2 writing classroom.
Peer feedback is defined by Yang (in Zeng, 2006) as feedback that is given by peer. In writing activity, peer feedback means having other writer to read and to give feedback on what other writer has written (Hyland, 2005). In this research, since the writers are the students, peer feedback is understood as having other students to read and to give comments, corrections, criticisms, and suggestions on what other students have written.
Providing meaningful feedback, spoken or written, is one of the most important tasks for English writing teachers (Hyland and Hyland, 2006). While teacher feedback has been indicated to be desirable for the students’ writing development, debates continues over whether teacher written feedback should be provided as it is often neglected and misunderstood by students (Williams, 1975). Teacher feedback has been criticized for being product oriented because it occurs most frequently at the end point due to time and class size constrains (Lee, 2009). Whereas, writing as a process should be paid attention to make the students aware and understand that writing is not an instant product (Harmer, 2007). Hyland (2005) illustrates the process of writing that gives feedback and revision more attention. Feedback and revision stages are the recursive processes that take times to produce a good piece of writing, when the class size is needed to be considered, here peer feedback should be considered to be applied in writing classroom.
Peer feedback activities tend to generate more comments on the content, organization, and vocabulary (Lee, 2009:130). This means that peer feedback is not only about how a student makes corrections on his or her friend’s writing, but it is also about how a student’s criticism, suggestion, and point of view generate meaningful improve toward other student’s writing. However, peer feedback also has certain drawbacks those are discussed later on.
Feedback given by peer can be spoken or written feedback. This research focuses on the written feedback given by peer to improve their writing, especially narrative writing. Written peer feedback is given in form of marks, written comments, written correction, and there is form provided for students to give more suggestions.
Peer Feedback and Social Constructionists’ View of Learning
Social Constructionists believe that knowledge is negotiated and best acquired through interaction (Kurt and Atay, 2007). One of the theories supporting this statement is Vygotsky’s theory Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Vygotsky (in Mooney, 2000:83) defines ZPD as the distance between the most difficult task someone can do alone and the most difficult task someone can do with help. Furthermore, Mooney states that Vygotsky believes that a learner in the edge of learning needs an interaction and can benefit from the interaction to enhance his or her learning achievement.
Morris (2008) mentions that ZPD explains the development from an actual level to a potential level. Peer feedback, since it allows students to make negotiation of their strength and weakness (Williams, 1957; Spear, 1988; Hyland, 2005) where the students can make negotiation of ideas, comments, corrections, and suggestions (Zeng, 2006; Kamimura, 2006; Jiao, 2007), provides opportunities for the students to be better in writing, and also reading.
ZPD is one of the theories that support peer feedback (Ferris and Hedgcock, 2005:225). This theory explains why and how the students’ writing skill can be developed through peer feedback. Although it is noted that ZPD pays attention to the interaction between the higher and lower level of interlocutor, it does not mean that peer feedback (where the students might be in the same level) discourage the students’ writing development. The students’ writing development can be occurred when mistakes are corrected, unclearness is clarified, ineffectiveness is criticized, and suggestion is applied in their writing. In offering betterment as mentioned, higher-lower level interaction is not necessarily the case. Students in similar level can do it, although some observed mistakes must be left ignored. Pei (2006:3; as well as Hirose, 2009) mentions that students, sometimes, are not aware that they make mistakes (because they do not know, or they forget it) and peer feedback can stimulate their awareness of their writing mistakes. Students in similar level can remind each other about the mistakes their friend made. This shows that development of writing (as product) in the peer feedback activities (as process) is not always determined by higher-lower interactant. Interaction of students in similar level can generate development of writing.
Furthermore, peer feedback generates development of both the student as the writer and the students as the reader. Kurt and Atay (2007) explain that in peer feedback students do not only compose their writing but also read their friend writing. In reading their friend writing, they are aware that their role is “error searcher” and this awareness makes them to carefully read their friend’s writing. This is in line with Rollinson (2005) who mentions that peer feedback also trains students to be critical reader. However, the importance pointed out here is that, when the student critically and carefully read their friend’s writing, it is possible that they find mistakes that similarly they made on their own writing. This emerges the student (as the reader) to make revision based on their self-awareness, where the friend’s writing becomes “mirror” that reflects their own writing. Therefore, the interaction and the negotiation in the peer feedback activity, as believed by Social Constructionist, generate benefit in two sides: writing and reading.
Peer Feedback: Advantages and Drawbacks
Peer feedback is still hotly debated. Literatures and researches lifted the impacts of peer feedback in writing instruction, especially L2 writing. Various conclusions have been declared, that is, peer feedback is advantageous in one side and disadvantageous in the other side. The criticism toward peer feedback offered by Hong (2006) that the students devalue peer feedback activity, even, they do not like peer feedback at all. The students, according to Hong, commented that they felt being underestimated by negative feedback given by their peer. But this research revealed that the students have seen peer feedback as an interesting way of learning to write. They also said that comment and negative feedback is the evidence that their writing is really read by their peer. Peer feedback generates positive impact if the students are ready and well-trained and prepared by the teacher (Williams, 1957). It can be assumed that peer feedback failure is caused by ignoring this aspect, preparation.
It has been already mentioned that peer feedback plays important role in writing process. Since narrative is defined as the choice of a specific linguistic technique to report or to tell past events, stories, experiences (Labov, 1997), then writing a narrative should be considered as process oriented writing activity. Narrative functions to entertain, to inform, to display sequential events, and those are closely related to the readers’ satisfaction. Therefore, considering feedbacks from the reader must be very important to guarantee the readability of the narrative itself.
A narrative, as well as other text types, should be written in a process oriented scheme where peer feedback activities can take place. Generally, peer feedback might be useful to enhance students’ awareness on the grammatical mistakes and mechanical mistakes. For the example, narrative tells story in the past that means the tenses used mostly past tense (Feez and Joyce, 2000). Students those are not aware this aspect might use inappropriate tenses in their narrative and peer feedback can stimulate their awareness on this kind of mistake. Mechanically, the correct use of punctuation in the (narrative) writing is also important to shape the meaning; here peer feedback may generate correction when the mistakes are observed by the students. Specifically, peer feedback is useful to develop the idea, content, clarity, mechanics, and the organization of the students’ narrative writing (Clark, 2003:119).
When the students are asked to write with sense “to be read” by authentic audience (peers), their writing is better than when they are asked to write to be read by teacher (Clark, 2003:120). As well as writing narrative, the students must be aware that their effort is to tell story, to make the reader entertained, and they should hope the reader’s satisfaction. If the narrative is written as an instant product, without recursive processes (composing-peer feedback-revising), the narrative must be “not ready” to publish.
I am personally confident that the students as readers are experienced in reading narrative. Since short stories and novels are more favorable by undergraduate students than textbooks, the students will relatively easy to identify unclear parts in their peer’s narrative writing, especially in terms of the elements and the clarity of the ideas. However, I am personally doubtful if the students are experienced enough to offer meaningful and significant feedbacks in terms of grammaticality and mechanics. It is assumed that feedbacks and revisions made by the students in writing their narrative could be superficial, because one of the difficulties in peer feedback revealed by the researchers is caused of the lack grammar and mechanics knowledge (Clark, 2003).
Peer feedback in process oriented narrative writing can be successfully done if the teacher provides guidance. Most students, especially younger and less able writers, need direct instruction in evaluating writing and guidance in responding to the writing of peers (Clark, 2003:122). Therefore, the teacher needs to prepare feedback form or narrative rubric to help students doing peer feedback. The feedback form can be in form of leading questions in regarding the clarity of idea, the completeness of the elements, and the schematic structures of the writing. Peer feedback activity that is recursively done in the process of narrative writing will develop the students’ narrative writing mostly organizationally. Feedbacks given by the student-reader will support the student-writer to make meaningful development due to their narrative writing readability.
Peer feedback in narrative writing does not only promise the development of writing based on feedbacks given, but it also promises the development of reading ability, to stimulate self-awareness on mistakes and weaknesses in their own narrative writing (Kurt and Atay, 2007; Rollinson, 1995). When a student finds that his or her peer’s narrative writing contains unreasonable complication or resolution, it might remind the student to reflect his or her own narrative; the student must be “embittered” of what feedback given for his or her complication or resolution. Therefore, process oriented approach, where peer feedback activity takes place repeatedly and recursively is better for the students in writing narrative than writing narrative as an instant product. The more peer feedback in the narrative writing process, the more narrative writing development the student can achieve.
It is found that peer feedback improves students’ narrative writing. Generally, students’ narrative writing develops in terms of grammaticality and mechanics. These developments are classified into general development. General development is the development which occurs across genre such as grammar and mechanics.
Students’ grammatical development can be directly indentified thorough the revisions made by the students from draft to draft. Mostly, grammatical development achieved by the students is in terms of the appropriate use of past tense, sentence pattern, and concord. Feedbacks from the responders given to the students encourage them to revise their draft to be better in grammar. Revisions made by the students in this regard are based on the feedbacks given or based on their self-awareness when they read their peer’s drafts. The students’ are aware that they may make similar mistakes as their peers make. This self-awareness is an evidence that peer feedback also provides chance to make reflection through reading peer’s drafts. It means that peer feedback does not merely give chance to comment or correct peer’s drafts, but it also provides possibility that peer’s drafts can reflect each student’s own draft. The students are supported by their role as “mistakes searcher” and this role makes the students more critical on their own writing. This proves what Rollinson (2005) stated that peer feedback also trains students to be critical reader on their own writing.
The mechanical development achieved by the students is in terms of the appropriate use of punctuation and diction, including word spelling. Students’ drafts develop mechanically since they are given feedbacks from their responders to correct punctuation misuses and to correct misspelled words. Mostly, the punctuation misuse found and commented by the responders are about the use of comma and quotation. As well as in grammatical development, the students are also made aware of their own mechanical mistakes when they read their peer’s drafts. However, the revisions made in this regard is superficial and this proves what Clark (2003) mentioned that revision made by the students in peer feedback processes is superficial.
However, students’ grammar and mechanics knowledge are the most important thing must be considered by the researcher. Students in this research are lack grammar and mechanics knowledge. This is identified through the unobserved mistakes found in the students’ drafts. Those mistakes are unobserved both by the student-writer and the student-reader or responder. The students’ knowledge concerning grammar and mechanics has influential impact on their ability to identify grammatical and mechanical mistakes in their peer’s drafts. The unobserved mistakes, grammatical and mechanical mistakes, show that students’ ability to identify mistakes in their peer’s drafts need to be improved for the peer feedback is done successfully in the future.
The next development achieved by the students is organizational development which is classified into substantial development. Organizational development covers the revisions made by the students in terms of the clarity of idea, the completeness of the narrative elements, and the schematic structure of the students’ narrative writing. It is called substantial development because it shows how the students’ narrative as specified genre in this research develops through peer feedback.
The development of idea and its clarity can be identified through the revisions made by the students which are based on the feedback given by the responder. The students’ ideas in their 1st drafts are unclear. The lack of idea clarity is triggered by title-content disconnection. Feedbacks given in this aspect focus on how to make title and content of the writing match, and the students found that the feedbacks given have improved their ideas and this can be seen from the title revisions made by the students.
The development of the elements and schematic structure is also found in the students’ drafts. Mostly, the students wrote their orientation verbosely. Through the feedbacks and the revisions, it is found that students’ narrative orientations have developed more focus and clearer. It is also found that students’ orientation and complication in their 1st draft do not match or lack of description. In their later drafts, by considering feedbacks given by the responder, students then add descriptions to make their orientation and complication match. Students’ narrative writing also developed in terms of the connection of complication and resolution. In the students’ drafts it is found that they do not put reasons of how or why the resolution comes and in the later drafts they put descriptions to make their resolution explainable. The development of the element and the structure show that peer feedback helps students to write their narrative in better way. Since the students are allowed to negotiate their points of view, the students can benefit the negotiated view to create or to revise their narrative to be better.
From the description above, it is concluded that peer feedback has an influential impact on the students’ narrative writing. The development achieved by the students through peer feedback can be classified into three developments they are grammatical development, mechanical development, and organizational development.
The students commented that peer feedback is effective for some reasons. Firstly, it enables the students to know mistakes and weaknesses. Secondly, it allows students to consider peer’s or responder’s views. Thirdly, it provides chances to know the reader’s perception on the students’ drafts. Fourthly, it gives more opportunities to the teachers or lecturers to do other works during peer feedback processes. Peer feedback, since it provides links or channels for students (as writer and reader) to negotiate knowledge and strength, enables students to be good writers and to be critical readers. Peer feedback also make the students learn that what one believes as true or correct is not always true or correct for other.
As already mentioned, students’ ability to identify mistakes in their peers’ drafts is challenged and this invites difficulties in peer feedback activities. Twelve students commented that they were unconfident of their ability to identify, to mark their peers’ mistakes; mostly in grammar.
Students’ language proficiency and ability to identify mistakes are the most influential aspect during peer feedback processes. Lack of grammar knowledge made students have difficulty in figuring out what is correct and what is incorrect is and this was realized as one of the peer feedback drawbacks.
Another difficulty in peer feedback activity covered through interview is the product or the draft itself. The students sometimes complained that they could not identify certain punctuation because it was written by hand and not by computer. For example two students commented that they sometimes could not distinguish comma and period, colon and semicolon because the drafts were handwritten.
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