It is common practice in Hong Kong for teachers of English as a second language to provide their students with written commentary as the sole source of feedback on their writing. However, there are teachers who question the efficacy of their own writing feedback and express concerns about providing commentary in ways that help their students to effectively revise their texts and to acquire skills that can be applied in future writing tasks. This study set out to test whether teacher-student conferencing could lead to greater improvement in both content and grammatical accuracy in writing tasks. After a pilot study, the main study was carried out on 34 students, who were in their sixth year in secondary school. They were randomly allocated to either the control or experimental group, with the 17 students in the control group receiving written commentary, and the 17 students in the experimental group receiving teacher-student conferencing as their writing feedback. Findings of the main study revealed a statistically significant difference in students’ performance between the experimental and control groups (p < 0.05). The effect size was very large (eta squared > 0.14) in both the paired-samples t-test and the mixed between-within ANOVA. These suggest that teacher-student feedback sessions facilitate improvement more than written feedback. Semi-structured interviews were used with six of the participants to determine student perceptions of the different feedback modes. Analysis of findings revealed that all six interviewees expressed a preference for teacher-student conferencing. These findings were validated through conferences and post conference interviews with another small group of students. The study makes a case for more interactive modes of feedback which focus on the process as well as the product of writing, and for more open teacher-student exchange about the nature of feedback offered in second language classrooms in Hong Kong
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