Tertiary student writing, change and feedback: a negotiation of form, content and contextual demands

Iris Vardi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study aimed to examine the relationship between teacher written feedback and change in the writing of tertiary students in their final year of undergraduate study through investigating: (i) the characteristics of final year undergraduate tertiary students’ texts prior to receiving feedback; (ii) the way these characteristics change after written feedback is given; and (iii) the relationship between the changes made and the types of feedback given. The study examined student texts and teacher written feedback that arose naturally out of a third year disciplinary-based unit in which the students each submitted a text three times over the course of a semester, each time receiving feedback and a mark prior to rewriting and resubmitting. Two in-depth non-quantitative analyses were conducted: one analysing the characteristics of each of the students’ texts and how these changed over the course of the process, the other analysing the relationship between the different types of feedback and the changes that occurred in the subsequent text. The analysis of the students’ texts and their changes covered: (i) coherence; (ii) the sources used and the manner in which these were cited and referenced; (iii) academic expression and mechanics; and (iv) additional expectations and requirements of the writing task. These characteristics and their changes were related to the instructional approaches to which all the students had been exposed in their first, second and third year studies. The analysis shows that, on their own accord, the third year students were able to produce a range of generalisable characteristics reflecting the “basics” in writing and demands specific to the tertiary context that had been revealed through the instructional approaches used. The problems in the students’ texts were mainly related to (i) executing and expressing the specific requirements of the task and (ii) their reading of the social context. Most of the changes in the texts were related to the feedback given. Some of these changes directly resolved problems, however, others did not. Some changes occurred to accommodate other changes in the text and some were made to satisfy a demand of the lecturer sometimes resulting in a problem that did not present in the previous text. These findings enabled insights to be drawn on two major views of tertiary student writing: the deficit view in which the problems in student’s texts are seen to be due to a lack of “basic skills”; and the view that students’ problems arise due to the new demands of the tertiary context. The study found that the deficit view and the “new demands” view were unable to explain all the characteristics of the students’ texts and their changes. Arising out of these findings, this study proposes that the characteristics of a student’s text show the end result of how that student negotiated and integrated his/her understanding of form, content and contextual demands at the time of writing. In analysing the relationship between the different types of feedback and the changes that occurred, the feedback was categorised according to the issue that was being addressed, the manner in which it was given, and its scope. The different types of feedback were directly related to the changes that occurred in the students’ subsequent rewrites. The analysis shows that clear direct feedback on which students can act is strongly related to change where it (i) addresses characteristics that could be readily integrated into the existing text without the need to renegotiate the integration of form, content and contextual demands OR (ii) addresses characteristics and indicates to students how to negotiate the integration between form, content and contextual demands where integration in the text needs to change. In addition, the analysis shows that change is further influenced by the balance between the various individual
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2003


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