Students' interpretation and application of feedback in a first-year English composition course

Date of Completion

January 2007


Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Teacher Training|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




College graduates who communicate their thoughts and reasoning through concise, clear, and organized writing are on a fast track to succeed in today's knowledge-based society. Despite the crucial role that writing plays in the development of an individual's literacy and thinking skills in the US, the skill has largely been undervalued in high school and college. Feedback is one of the activities that students use to refine their written messages. However, instructors do not always have an understanding of how students make sense of the feedback they receive and the decisions they make to interpret and apply it in their work. This study focused on how students perceived, interpreted, and applied feedback in a First-Year Writing Composition Course at college level.^ The theoretical rationale for this study synthesized empirical and theoretical research from a spectrum of fields. Specifically, Complex Systems Theory provided a framework to understand the nature of feedback within the environment it takes place. Experiential Learning Theory provided an account of the individual experience with feedback.^ The design of this study followed a generic qualitative research methodology. Data was collected from nine students and their instructor in a face-to-face writing composition course at a large public university in the Northeastern United States. Primary data collection strategies included interview and questionnaire. Data was analyzed following the constant comparative method. Trustworthiness was established using member checking, peer debriefing, journaling, and audit trail.^ Seven themes were identified and classified into two main categories: feedback attributes and individual use of feedback. Findings suggested that students who were strategic users of feedback displayed an array of self-regulation strategies and formulated analogies to frame their interpretation of feedback messages, compared to less strategic users. The outcome of this process influenced how students applied feedback.^ Effective feedback users were characterized by their active and strategic approach. Recommendations include strategies that promote students' active use of feedback and its impact on the development of their writing skills. ^