Feedback in Second Language Writing: Contexts and Issues

Feedback in Second Language Writing: Contexts and Issues. Ken Hyland & Fiona Hyland (Eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xi + 291.
Aysha Viswamohan
Indian institute of Technology Madras
Chennai, India.

ESL teachers of writing often face several challenges in their work and providing appropriate feedback is a major issue. Feedback in Second Language Writing is a comprehensive work designed to assist scholars in this direction. Divided in three sections with a total of fourteen chapters, the three sections are appropriately titled, “Situating Feedback: Sociocultural Dimensions,” “Shaping Feedback: Delivery and Focus Dimensions,” and “Negotiating Feedback: Interpersonal and Interactional Dimensions.”

The book begins with “Contexts and issues in feedback on L2 writing: An introduction.” This is co-authored by the editors and includes teacher feedback to L2 writers, interactive writing conferences, the nature of peer interactions, automated or computer-mediated feedback and contexts and issues of feedback. The next chapter (chapter 2), ―Sociocultural theory: A framework for understanding the socio-cognitive dimensions of peer-feedback” by Villamil and de Guerrero gives an overview of sociocultural theory and its key concepts. Nelson and Carson s “Cultural issues in peer response: Revisiting culture” provides a detailed review of various issues related to culture in peer response.

The discussions of the key issues by various writers are critically questioned. And in chapter 4, the last from Section I, “Appropriation, ownership, and agency: Negotiating teacher feedback in academic settings,” Tardy accounts for culture from different sociocultural, sociohistoric and sociopolitical perspectives.

Chapter 5, “Does error feedback help student writers? New evidence on the short- and long-term effects of written error correction” by Ferris, starts the second section of the book. The author discusses teacher feedback strategies and their effectiveness in improving L2 undergraduate students writing, which leads to the next chapter by Ware and Warschauer, “Electronic feedback and second language writing.” In this chapter, the writers observe that electronic feedback can be used for developing metacognitive and
metalinguistic awareness among students.

The next chapter of this section, Milton s “Resource-rich web-based feedback: Helping learners become independent writers,” describes methods for giving students access to online resources for feedback on lexico- grammatical errors. Hamp-Lyons in chapter 8, “Feedback in portfolio-based writing courses” , states that a portfolio is a collection of students written work over a semester or year, and she endorses their efficacy. “Students and research: Reflective feedback for I-search papers” is the next chapter. In the first part, the author, Johns, discusses ways to improve learner autonomy through carefully scaffolded activities; in the second, she notes that I-Search is a tool to encourage continuous student reflection and self- evaluation.

Section III of the book begins with the chapter 10, “Feedback and revision in second language writing: Contextual, teacher, and student variables” by Goldstein. Through her two case studies, the author advocates the need to look at each student and his or her context individually. The editors come together again in chapter 11, “Interpersonal aspects of response: Constructing and interpreting teacher written feedback.” Here, they point out that teachers feedback is “a response to a person rather than to a script” (p 206).

The next chapter, “Formative interaction in electronic written exchanges: Fostering feedback dialogue” is by Hewings and Coffin. Analyzing feedback in three different tutor groups in asynchronous computer-mediated communication, the authors argue that tutor participation is required but without playing the dominant role. Weissberg s “Scaffolded feedback: Tutorial conversations with advanced L2 writers,” explains Scaffolding as ―the verbal support provided to the learner by the tutor that enables the learner to complete a new task” (p 247). In the final chapter, “You cannot ignore”: L2 graduate students response to discipline-based written feedback” , Ilona Leki emphasizes that L2 students expect to have more feedback, although they remain silent during interaction, and this aspect must be understood by the disciplinary teachers.

The range of articles in the book offers several scholarly perspectives on the much needed skill of writing. Thus Feedback is a useful tool for teachers/researchers of writing as it provides in-depth awareness of the theory and praxis of the skill. It is also a valuable addition to the corpora of writings on feedback for teachers and researchers in this field.