Learner-Driven Feedback in Essay Writing

Learner-Driven Feedback in Essay Writing

A recent focus of work into feedback in ELT looks at ways of increasing students’ openness to teachers’ feedback and how students can be stimulated to engage more thoroughly with the feedback they receive. Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) seems to be a promising practice here, and below is a summary of some research done in this area.

LDF is usually taken to mean responding to learners’ individual queries to make the feedback process more dialogic in nature, particularly in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) settings. For example, Bloxham and Campbell (2010)’s study of ‘Interactive Coversheets’, which require students to pose questions about their work when submitting essay drafts. Overall, they report good levels of uptake of the feedback provided, demonstrating that these Interactive Coversheets prompted their students to evaluate their writing in more detail, and that students responded positively to receiving this individualised feedback. Tutors in their study also found it quicker to give feedback based on the Interactive Coversheets, as students’ individual questions helped them focus their thoughts. However, Bloxham and Campbell noted that, if students had not put much effort into the draft or Interactive Coversheet, they were less able to make use of the formative feedback, for example if they only submitted an outline, or scribbled paragraph, instead of a properly formulated draft. This leads to the idea that the better organised or more autonomous students may be more likely to receive and engage with formative feedback, and Bloxham and Campbell thus note the limitation that this feedback procedure may merely help better students to perform even better.

Working within a similar framework, Campbell and Schumm-Fauster (2013) devised ‘Learner-Centred Feedback’, which also required their students to pose questions to direct tutors to give feedback on certain aspects of their writing when reading drafts, here in footnotes or as comments in the margins to their essays. They were interested in how students react to being asked/allowed to ‘drive’ the feedback they receive. Their survey showed that students were open to the dialogical feedback and reported finding it motivating and personal, and particularly helpful in working on their individual essay-writing weaknesses.

Studies on feedback on essay writing have also begun to explore the use of various delivery modes for feedback and has shown that this, too, may deepen students’ engagement with the feedback and may increase uptake. Technology-based modes can be used to deliver feedback on essays digitally, for example as in-text changes, as comments added to a document, as a feedback email, or as an audio recording. The focus here is on computer-mediated teacher feedback, i.e. not automated feedback.

In the field of language teaching, Cloete (2014) investigated the new multifaceted options for feedback which are afforded by EAP students submitting their work through online platforms. His study focused on the Turnitin platform, which his team of tutors used to give feedback by inserting comments into text’s margins or in separate columns, highlighting text in different colours, and recording audio feedback. Based on teachers’ evaluations of using Turnitin in this way, he notes that the time-efficiency of delivering feedback in electronic modes depends on tutors’ typing speed and general comfort with using the feedback functions of the software, but that the added value of such electronic modes stems from the scope and amount of multi-m feedback that can be given, and the option to provide feedback in various modes simultaneously. Students in his study also showed heightened engagement with the feedback they received.

My own, very recent, study (Fielder, 2016) focused on an LDF procedure I devised which combines and adapts these previously published ideas and allows learners to determine the feedback they receive. In my LDF, the feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‘drive’  how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various formats (e.g. hand-written, email, audio recording), and are required to pose questions about their work to which the teacher responds (e.g. on grammar, vocabulary/register, referencing, organisation). The study is an initial exploration of students’ receptivity towards Learner-Driven Feedback in EAP. The findings from the detailed survey data highlight a high level of student receptivity towards the procedure, and that students perceive it as a useful tool for improving their general language accuracy and study skills related to essay writing. However, it seems from the survey responses that the specific skills which can be significantly improved by my LDF may depend on which skills have already been trained by students’ previous academic experience.  Nonetheless, this and the studies described above demonstrate compelling reasons for piloting LDF on EAP writing courses; many of which may also justify trialling the approach in other ELT classrooms.



  • Bloxham, S. & L. Campbell, “Generating dialogue in assessment feedback: exploring the use of interactive cover sheets”, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol 35 (2010), 291–300.
  • Campbell, N. and J. Schumm-Fauster (2013). Learner-centred Feedback on Writing: Feedback as Dialogue. In M. Reitbauer, N. Campbell, S. Mercer, J. Schumm and R. Vaupetitsch (Eds) Feedback Matters (pp. 55–68). Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
  • Cloete, R., “Blending offline and online feedback on EAP writing”, The Journal of Teaching English for Specific and Academic Purposes, Vol. 2, No. 4 (2014), pp. 559-
  • Fielder, C., “Receptivity to Learner-Driven Feedback in EAP”, ELT Journal [Advanced access 2016 – print issue Maas, C. in 2017]

6 thoughts on “Learner-Driven Feedback in Essay Writing

  1. I often give feedback on the Word doc itself (our university hasn’t enabled the Grademark function for Turnitin…) in two or three colours to suggest various errors that the student needs to consider on their own, and then the commenting function for content questions. Where I find SS lacking in training is the ability to take the initiative to ask for feedback that’s important to them or even when they do, ask for specific enough feedback (i.e. beyond the “can you help me with my grammar mistakes?”). Through my feedback style, I try to give them reason to think and come up with questions they want to ask me, but quite often they just accept it and it never sees the light of day again unless I force it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tyson! Different colours, as well as track-changes plus comment bubbles definitely add to the scope of the feedback we can give! They probably Ned training in what Qs to pose, maybe the T can talk through examples, or work through an example as a whole class. And redrafting is important too, so tga they are oued to work with the feedback…. Though this an mean more marking for us teachers! 😦


  2. Thanks Clare, for an interesting and useful post.
    I noticed you only mentioned ‘audio recording’ and the references here, and on your IATEFL handout also seemed to be describing audio feedback separated from the student’s work and recorded on separate mp3 files (though I may have missed something). Have you looked at video feedback as a mode of feedback? This is where the teacher records themselves talking through the feedback while marking up the student’s writing, with the result a video rather than audio recording (see Russell Stannard’s research on this, plus many others). I have found this a very useful mode/method of feedback, as have the students I’ve used it with. I find it most closely replicates sitting with the student and talking through their work. I will keep in mind the ideas on learner driven feedback you have outlined above and incorporate them into whatever mode I am using (and they choose) for feedback.


    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment. Russell Standard has done a lot of work with video/screen capture feedback, it’s really interesting stuff! In my definition of LDF, different modes of feedback can be included, so any students/teachers wanting to you use video feedback could definitely do so! I haven’t used video myself, though, so I haven’t mentioned it in detail in my research, though the flexibility of LDF is discussed in my article, and as you say, you/other teachers can combine the ideas as best suits your learners!
      One Q I do have about video feedback – how big are the video files, can you easily email them?
      Thanks for engaging with my blog!


      1. Thanks Clare. I upload the videos to YouTube directly from ‘Explain Everything’ app (*) on my iPad. I then save the video privately and send the link to the student. It is (relatively) quick and very easy. Also has the advantage that I can also check when they have watched it, and how many times.
        Cheers, Lesley
        (* this has become my preferred way of doing the video feedback as I can write on the screen using a stylus – it’s just like writing on the student’s paper, but I can erase immediately and/or show different options, and so focus the student what I’m talking about in relation to their text.)


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