A critique of response strategies: Measures to induce a paradigmatic shift in response to student writing

  • Brenda Spencer


This paper explores response to student writing in entry-level English modules in an Open and Distance Learning (ODL) context at the University of South Africa (UNISA). After an evaluation of the research undertaken by Spencer (1999) and Lephalala and Pienaar (2008), both conducted in this specific teaching context, the argument is put forward that the predominantly formalist orientation of the marking can be described as an attractor (Weideman, 2009), since it seems that the system is attracted into this state and has maintained it over a number of years. There is a need to shift towards a cognitive, reader-based orientation. The author uses the categories defined in Lephalala and Pienaar (2008) to describe feedback styles. The categories are L1 (minimal feedback), L2 (general and non-text-specific feedback) and L3 (feedback with a focus on content and organisation). Four amendments are proposed to the existing marking code which will encourage markers to operate in the desired L3 feedback category. This paper argues that these additions to the marking code will address limitations inherent in the marking code. At present, marked scripts contain a jumble of recommendations relating to content/form and global/local issues and there is little indication of the relative importance of an error. The marking code is inherently negative in orientation and promotes a formalist L1 style of response. A qualitative investigation into the reaction to the proposed changes was obtained from 33 marked samples of response to student writing provided by external markers. Compared to the data given in Lephalala and Pienaar (2008), the changes tested in this study were unable to influence the dominant L1 response strategy, but caused a shift away from L2 formulaic responses and an increase in the desired L3 feedback. There is a need for intensive investigation into feedback in this ODL teaching context and into measures to promote L3 feedback.Key words: Response, student writing, formalist approach, correction code, limitations, writing research, ODL


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Brenda Spencer
Brenda Spencer is an Associate Professor in the English Studies Department at the University of South Africa (UNISA).  Her research focus is on assessment and response to student writing, specifically in a distance-teaching context.  She heads the TESOL section of the department.   Email:  Spencb@unisa.ac.za