Feedback in Writing Teacher Education: 3 Suggestions

I’d like to continue my conversation about implementing issues related to feedback into teacher training/education programs. In today’s post, I provide three ideas that writing teacher educators can use in their preparatory courses: 1) helping teachers develop their philosophies about feedback, 2) giving teachers tools for continuing professional development, and 3) implementing observations of experienced teachers’ feedback performance. These suggestions are based on an analysis of the literature on teacher feedback.

1. Helping Teachers Develop Their Philosophies About Feedback

In order to help beginning teachers recognize their own views and beliefs about feedback, teacher training programs should encourage them to develop their philosophies about response to student writing. At the beginning of the course, for example, teachers would be asked to reflect on their learning experience and identify factors that could have shaped their views on feedback. Indeed, some teachers may not even realize that they had formed teaching philosophies prior to entering their first classroom, and most of these philosophies are informed by “their own learning histories” (Uysal, 2007, p. 243). However, research indicates that teachers tend to rely largely on their personal learning experience when they provide feedback and may even dismiss the principles taught to them during the teacher preparation course (Borg, 2003; Feuerherm, 2012). Therefore, understanding their philosophies about feedback could help novice instructors balance the influence of their own learning experiences with the theoretical knowledge gained from preservice training, which may not always be in agreement with each other.

Throughout the training course, as teachers gain more knowledge, both theoretical and practical, and as they engage in small teaching assignments or practicum (if applicable), these philosophies will be revised. Thus, by describing their beliefs about feedback, teachers would learn not only to identify the enactment of these beliefs in their actual feedback performance, but also see how they may change over time.

2. Giving Teachers Tools for Continuing Professional Development

Developing a teaching philosophy about feedback is one of the many tools that teacher education courses can give novice instructors to prepare them for their ongoing development as professionals. In fact, the growth of teacher knowledge does not end with the end of the training. Therefore, teacher education programs need to equip novice instructors with the tools for developing their feedback practices in the future. These tools, according to Uysal (2007), will help beginning teachers “find connection between their past learning, teacher education experiences, and current practices as a way of professional development” (p. 244).

To help teachers improve their feedback practices, you can encourage them, for example, to conduct action research (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988). They should also be encouraged to keep up with the current trends in the field. Language teaching methods and approaches are constantly developing, especially in such a dynamic field as second language writing. Therefore, teachers cannot master the subject fully without being in the same flow with it. To achieve this goal, novice instructors should be encouraged to participate in professional conferences, both as attendees and as presenters; read professional journals and perhaps even publish their own material; and be actively involved in the professional community of teachers.

3. Implementing Observations of Experienced Teachers’ Feedback Performance

Novice teachers can gain knowledge about feedback practices not only from relevant literature, but also from observing “real-world” experienced instructors. For example, preparatory courses could provide trainees with the opportunity to observe how other instructors implement peer-review activities in class or conduct writing conferences. By observing more experienced instructors, beginning teachers will learn “how teachers are supposed to talk to students,” “how to diagnose student learning,” “how to respond to student needs,” “how to engage and support students,” and “how to extent student thinking and writing” (Kennedy, 1998, p. 14). Surely these rather general statements can also be related to response to student writing.

The benefits of these observations include more than simply becoming familiar with feedback techniques. Classroom dynamics and interaction between teacher and students greatly affect the way teachers respond to student writing (Lee & Schallert, 2008). Therefore, if preservice teachers are given the opportunity to conduct several classroom observations and analyze the actual feedback of the teachers they observed, they may be able to see how teachers’ comments are linked to the nature of teacher-student interaction in the observed classroom. In other words, through these observations, novice instructors may better understand the socially and culturally contextualized dimension of feedback.


Borg, S. (2003). Teacher cognition in language teaching: A review of research on what language teachers think, know, believe, and do. Language teaching, 36(2), 81–109.

Feuerherm, E. (2012). Written feedback, student writing, and institutional policies: Implications for novice teacher development. CATESOL Journal, 23(1), 132–154.

Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (1988). The action research planner. Melbourne, Australia: Deakin University.

Kennedy, M.M. (1998) Learning to teach writing: Does teacher education make a difference? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lee, G., & Schallert, D. L. (2008). Constructing trust between teacher and students through feedback and revision cycles in an EFL writing classroom. Written Communication, 25(4), 506–537.

Uysal, H. H. (2007). Educating second language writing teachers: Issues and suggestions. In B. Johnston & K. Walls (Eds.) Voice and vision in language teacher education: Selected papers from the 4th International conference on language teacher education (pp. 239–248). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

from TESOL Blog


The Sentence

The Sentence
A group of words that contain a subject and a predicate and makes complete sense.   The words communicate an understandable message and  reveals a complete thought.

A group of words which begins with 
  • a capital letter 
  • ends with a full-stop (.)exclamation (!) or question mark (?) 

Happy Teaching!

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

Grammarly: 1 Easy Step to Improved Writing

Writing is one area where students tend to lack confidence, so I am always on the lookout for resources that can help them. Previously, I shared Quill and NoRedInk, which both guide students through independent practice of writing and grammar skills. They really appeal to the teacher in me that believes students need to practice their way to mastery. Today’s post, however, is about an entirely different type of resource and one about which I feel some amount of conflict.

Let’s take a look at it first. Grammarly is a browser extension that works with both Chrome and Safari that is designed to proofread your work automatically. According to the site, “It checks for more than 250 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, enhances vocabulary usage, and suggests citations.” An ad for Grammarly on Facebook caught my eye, so I decided to try it. Who doesn’t want to improve their writing and avoid making embarrassing mistakes like using the wrong their, there, or they’re? Even if people know the rules, it is still easy to make mistakes from time to time.

Signing up was simple. I use Chrome, so I clicked “Add to Chrome” on the main page, clicked “Add extension” when it popped up, and then it installed. From there, I had the option to sign up with Facebook or enter my name, email, and a password to get started. Finally, I could choose the free or premium account and was on my way! The tour explained the primary features of Grammarly, and I was able to get started with my exploration.

The demo document that comes with the account really shows what Grammarly is all about. Errors are underlined and clicking on one brings up the rule or rules they violate and what they should be changed to, so it is like having a ton of mini-lessons tailored to the mistakes you have made. If it is not an actual error or the writer chooses not to make the change, then it can simply be ignored and the underline will disappear. Since I installed Grammarly as a Chrome extension, I hopped over to Facebook and typed “I are happy today.” which was automatically checked and I was able to view the suggestion to change the verb to am. The little green Grammarly circle also showed up in Gmail and other sites I visited with areas to input text, too. Besides the browser extension, Grammarly can be installed on your desktop and even as an add-in to Word using the same email and password as the online version. I was really impressed with my experience using it, and now that it is installed and the account has been made, the hard part is done, so I suppose I may as well keep it.

Here comes the conflict, though. As a teacher, do I really want my students using this? It seems a lot like cheating to me, especially if students just click through and accept the changes without reading through them. On the other hand, spellcheckers do the same thing for spelling, have been around forever, and are viewed as an acceptable resource to help us avoid mistakes. Shouldn’t students be able to utilize all available resources to help them succeed? I realize that in my ESL classes, I need students to be able to demonstrate their mastery of English grammar independently without the aid of something like Grammarly. Having said that, I teach adults and college students whose writing for work or university classes is about communicating, completing tasks, demonstrating understanding or in-depth thought on complex topics, and so much more than grammar rules.

So there you have it. Feel free to ponder this conundrum and share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

from TESOL Blog

Three Levels of Complexity in ESOL Placement

Placement testing is tough. Doing it well can be time consuming and resource intensive, and doing it with insufficient rigor can lead to “slippery” leveling, where, say, a level 3 one year is different in ability from a level 3 in future years.

I don’t have any all-encompassing answers to this problem, but in using a popular computer-adaptive test for placement purposes, I’ve begun to recognize a few broad categories that students can be broken into, according to the grammatical complexity of their utterances.

Level 1 – This level is marked by strings of simple sentences. Use of and may occur as well. Before you assume that a student is at this level, make sure you’re asking questions that call for more complex answers. Ask plenty of elaboration questions like why and tell me more. If students still answer in simple sentences, score them a level 1.

Level 2 – At the second level, students begin using more challenging coordinators like or and but, as well as subordinates like when, so, if, and because. The most common one you’ll hear is because, but double check that students are actually using the word correctly. Many students seem to use it as an all-purpose connector.

Level 3 – You have to listen closely to recognize this third level. It’s marked by relative clauses and noun clauses. Most often you’re listening for that and which introducing clauses that describe nouns, as in the house that I live in and my job, which I love. Also in this category are noun clauses, as in I made the decision that we would move to Texas.

Ask questions of increasing complexity to get a sense of what students are capable of. I generally find that students reach a pretty hard stop between each of these levels. That is, students are either using level 2 language constantly or not at all. The same levels, of course, could be found in student writing.

from TESOL Blog

👀October Workshops! Register Today 👀

Hello everyone!
Get ready for fall and sign up today for one of our October workshops!

Our newest professional development offering:
Workshop #7

Parts of Speech – verbs, nouns, adjectives and more! 
FRIDAY OCTOBER 21, 2016 – Lane ESD, 1200 Highway 99 N, Eugene 97402
Does teaching grammar to students make you say “YIKES”? 
This Fun To Teach workshop will ease your anxiety about teaching the parts of speech
and types of sentences to students Kinder through 5
th grade. Join us for a basic grammar boost, and learn about strategies and activities that engage students and increase writing abilities. This workshop is designed to help primary 1-5 teachers who:

  • feel uncertain about their knowledge of grammar and want to improve their confidence in teaching it
  • want more strategies and activities that teach to the Common Core and ELP Standards
  • want to increase student writing abilities and teach English grammar in a fun and engaging way
  • want to refresh their knowledge of English grammar and the terminology used to describe it

    What the workshop covers:
    Teaching activities and strategies related to parts of speech and types of sentences

    Workshop #6 

    ELD Models and Strategies for Co-Teaching – Push-in and Pull-out! 

    With inclusion on the rise, ELD and Classroom teachers are sharing classrooms more than ever and becoming effective co-teaching partners. Bring your team, co-teacher or just yourself and learn the models for co-teaching. 

    Understand when and how to use each model for effective instruction to second language learners and low language at risk students. Find out which strategies are best associated with each model and create make and take activities so you can use them in the classroom the next day! 

    Engaging, robust English acquisition happens throughout the day when ELD and Classroom teachers team up to enrich each lesson with rigorous language instruction.


Click here to register today!

Happy Teaching!
from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

#GoodCallsHome: From Twitter Hashtag to Education Movement

I’m happy to introduce guest bloggers Rik Rowe, a secondary math teacher from Wilmington, Massachusetts, USA, and Anabel Gonzalez, a Grade 7–12 ESL teacher from Mooresville, North Carolina, USA. Rik and Anabel met on Twitter while chatting on #GoodCallsHome, a movement to encourage teachers to make positive calls to the homes of their students. 

What started out as a simple hashtag, #GoodCallsHome, has evolved into a powerful movement that is changing lives and altering academic destinies. #GoodCallsHome is a undertaking that encourages teachers to commit themselves to making positive phone calls to the homes of at least two of their students each week in the hopes of reaching the families of every single learner by the end of the semester or year. But this goes beyond positive phone calls. #GoodCallsHome is a mindset shift for educators to proactively reach out to families, thereby establishing an invaluable parental rapport.

Are you intrigued, but think you don’t have the time? If you are like most educators, you probably have way too much on your plate already, and time is a precious commodity. However, investing a few minutes each week in making proactive phone calls home will generate much needed parental support. Students will know you have their best interest in mind which, for an English learner, may be the difference between graduating or dropping out.

The #GoodCallsHome inspiration originated from the parent of one of Rik Rowe’s learners. The learner was a hard-working student whose engagement in learning, class contributions, and discussion questions were at a higher level than he had previously witnessed, even in honors classes. During an Underclassman Awards Night, this young lady earned more honors than were typically awarded to a single student. She was cited as an exceptional individual, communicator, and contributor. During the reception following the awards ceremony, Rik had an inspiring conversation with the parents of this young lady. The most compelling moment was when the student’s dad asked him why he had not called home to share of the incredible learning their daughter was experiencing in class.

Rik was speechless. His initial thought was that he had had no reason to call home because everything was fine. The more he pondered the dad’s question, the more he realized that the student had given him every reason to make a positive call home, yet he had not taken the opportunity. Rik and the parents talked at length about the need for parents to know of the good things taking place in our schools. That dad then asked Rik if he would commit to communicating with the parents about the success of his students. Rik indicated that he would think seriously about making positive phone calls. And so #GoodCallsHome was born. To this day, the young lady’s dad and Rik share on Twitter about the profound impact educators across the country are making with weekly good calls home.

Coincidentally, Anabel felt the need to implement a more proactive approach to connecting with her learners’ families. Parent nights and meetings specifically targeted toward the families of English learners were not well attended. She was intrigued and inspired after seeing the #GoodCallsHome hashtag on Twitter. In the fall of 2014, Anabel stepped up her commitment to making positive phone calls home by adding #GoodCallsHome to her professional goals for the year.

Both Rik and Anabel agree that finding the hidden gems in every student to share with parents is not always easy, but they maintain an open mind and have always been able to find something to celebrate in each learner. Positive phone calls are a collaborative way to build trusting relationships: first with parents, and second with students. Once word gets around that they are making positive calls, behavioral issues start to diminish as students realize that their teachers are not only their teachers but also their allies.

Based on their experience, here are a few reactions you can expect when making good calls home:

  • Anxious Silence: When calling families who rarely receive calls from teachers, much less positive calls, you can expect parents to suspect that there’s a problem. Even if you immediately blurt out your good news, they tend to remain silent as they anticipate trouble or the other shoe to drop.
  • Defensiveness: Sadly, parents never expect teachers to take time to call with a compliment, and they feel suspicious and wonder what’s really behind your call. We find that it may take a few phone calls before parents let their guard down.
  • Tears: Some parents may become emotional, especially if it is the very first time a teacher has acknowledged their child’s strengths.

So why make these calls? Rik and Anabel make positive calls home because they truly care about the development and well-being of their students. They want to foster a support system that connects home and school. They want parents to be aware of the growth, perseverance, and grit that their students exhibit on the learning journey. There really is so much to share when you look at engagement, feedback, and communication that so often blooms into learning.

#GoodCallsHome has brought a heightened awareness of the power of positive calls and the encouragement and motivation that they generate. The perseverance through challenges, the tireless effort, and the commitment of learners to reach for higher levels of proficiency is inspiring educators across the United States. Weekly good calls home can translate into increased academic achievement and an improved overall school experience. Join the nationwide movement and watch the purposeful calls generate more meaningful relationships, deeper learning, and collaborative excitement between educators, parents, and learners!

Rik Rowe is a 16-year secondary math teacher from Wilmington, Massachusetts, and a connected educator with a passion for learning and a passion for empowering his learners to engage in exciting learning opportunities. He’s an avid reader and participates in many Twitter chats. Follow him on Twitter @RoweRikW.

Anabel Gonzalez began teaching in 1996 and is currently a secondary ESL teacher for the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, serving English learners in rades 7–12. She is also a trainer for NCDPI’s English Learner Support Team. Follow her on Twitter @amgonza.

from TESOL Blog