Receptivity to Learner-Driven Feedback in EAP

I used to have beautiful handwriting. Classmates would stare greedily at my penmanship and otherwise lacklustre report cards home would be redeemed by effusive praise for my D’Nealian script. But as with all great expressions of beauty, my handwriting’s time in the sun was fleeting. Today, it is an incoherent, shambling wreck, only comprehensible to the similarly afflicted, spewing itself across the margins of defenceless essays, reports and dissertations. I trail in its wake, filled with shame, helping my poor students sift for meaning through the detritus of my ruined talent.

I mention this as a teacher’s handwriting is only one of many issues related to feedback on students’ written work. If you go back to Truscott (1996), he’d have us jack in the red pen and grammar correction altogether. Ferris and Roberts (2001) took on the explicit or implicit feedback problem (and sort of decided that we don’t need to be too explicit), whereas Hyland (1990) looked at making feedback less of a “discouraging experience” for both the teacher and learner. Exploring more recent research, Anthony Schmidt (here) and Matthew Noble (here) on this website have both looked at research into the effectiveness of corrective feedback.

Regular ELT Research Bites contributor, Clare Maas Fielder, has contributed to the area of feedback, focusing in particular on the link between feedback and increased learner autonomy. Drawing on previous work on learner-centred feedback (e.g. peer review, students directing teacher feedback), Fielder (2016) offers a procedure she refers to as learner-driven feedback (LDF), whereby the student decides what aspect of their written work they would like feedback on and how they would like to receive that feedback (e.g. by email, handwritten, audio recorded). The student is also required to ask the teacher specific questions about their work. In this way, the student guides and takes ownership for the feedback process.


Fielder, C. 2016, Receptivity to learner- driven feedback in EAP, ELT Journal, pp. ccw065.

What is LDF?

In LDF, the student writes a first draft and submits to the teacher, specifying what area of their work they would like feedback on. They can also ask for the feedback in a particular form – handwritten in-text corrections, correction symbols, handwritten feedback, email, audio recording, or face-to-face consultation. They then redraft their work and resubmit, repeating the LDF process for the next draft. The idea is that this enhanced involvement of the learner in the feedback creates more of a dialogue between teacher and student, improves learner autonomy, encourages more awareness from students and (hopefully) is more time efficient for teacher as they do not end up correcting every detail of the work.

Research and Results

The study was based on two groups of students in a German university at C1 level. They took part in an academic writing course over 14 weeks, during which they submitted three drafts of a 2,000 word discursive essay. On each draft they received LDF feedback according to their preference. The research was conducted by survey questionnaire and aimed to investigate the 30 students’ opinions, and use, of LDF upon completion of this course. The main results were that:

  • Audio recordings (67%) and email (60%) were the most requested forms of feedback, with students stating that this form of feedback felt more personal and more detailed.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, only 13% opted for handwritten comments.
  • Students experimented with different ways to receive feedback over the course.
  • Students believed they had improved in a number of ways: grammar, transitions. The biggest perceived areas of improvement were in natural expression, text structure, and vocabulary.
  • In terms of their general language ability, students responded positively to LDF, stating in open questions that it felt more personal and relevant to their needs than more traditional feedback they had received.
  • In terms of academic writing, students were overwhelmingly positive about LDF as a way to help them engage in academic discourse (87%).
  • Some tangible grade improvements recorded but author acknowledges that a more thorough experiment would be required to validate. However, this result does correspond with previous research by Farshi and Safa (2015).


Students are probably fairly sick of handwritten comments on their work so exploring alternative approaches to giving feedback will be appreciated. I’d like to know a bit more about the nuts and bolts of giving feedback in alternative forms, in particular the audio. What options are available to give audio feedback to students (I’m imagining recording on phone and emailing the file)? The students in this research were adults and a decent level although this approach could still work with lower levels, especially if the teacher scaffolds it. It would be very interesting to see how this approach would go over with younger students or students who might be a tad suspicious of autonomy. A very interesting and encouraging article about a method that gives a little hope for those of us who sweat our feedback onto pages that end up crumpled at the bottom of school bags.


Farshi, S. S. and S. K. Safa. 2015. ‘The effect of two types of corrective feedback on EFL writers’ skill’. Advances in Language and Literary Studies 6/1: 1–5.

Ferris, D. and Roberts, B., 2001. Error feedback in L2 writing classes: How explicit does it need to be? Journal of Second Language Writing10(3), pp.161-184.

Fielder, C. 2016, Receptivity to learner- driven feedback in EAP, ELT Journal, pp. ccw065.

Hyland, K., 1990. Providing productive feedback. ELT Journal44(4), pp.279-285.

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Stephen Bruce
Pre-Masters Course Leader at Dublin International Foundation College
Stephen works as an EAP tutor in Ireland for Dublin International Foundation College. He is a member of ELT Ireland and blogs at and tweets @EAPSteve.

7 thoughts on “Receptivity to Learner-Driven Feedback in EAP”

  1. It’s a new different technique. However, doesn’t it also depend on the objectives of the course and of the teacher as well? i.e. if the teacher determines a specific objective for a written work and the student asks for feedback to a different objective or aspect that the teacher finds unnecessary, don’t you think there will be a gab here? Should the teacher still provide feedback on what he sees unnecessary? one more thing, this technique will be very tiresome and luxurious with a large number of students. 🙂

  2. I used to use Soundcloud for students to record themselves and then for me to provide time-synced comments on their recordings (it allows you to place comments on the waveform itself) but it is too buggy and now I just use Google Classroom and I provide written feedback on audio.

    1. Anthony, do I get you right – you’re talking about giving feedback on students’ audio recordings, i.e. oral work? I’ve never thought about this before, but now I’m thinking how odd it is that I usually give written feedback on oral presentaitons, but have started to give audio feedback on written work!! 😀

    1. Is this something like what Russel Stannard also advocates, vidoeing the screen whilst talking through the changes you’re making? I’ve never tried it – it always sounded pretty time consuming to me, too!

  3. Regarding audio recording feedback: There are a couple of options, one is to record on a mobile phone or dictaphone and send the file to the students, the other is to use an online recording website (e.g. and send them the link to the recording. I’d recommend getting students to insert line numbers so you can refer to specific parts of the text.

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