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Yes/No/Maybe: A Boolean attempt at feedback

H Louw
B van Rooy


This paper describes an experiment in which Boolean feedback (a kind of checklist) was used to provide feedback on the paragraph structures of first year students in an Academic Literacy course. We begin by introducing the major problems with feedback on L2 writing and establishing why a focus on paragraph structures in particular is of importance. The experiment conducted was a two-draft assignment in which three different kinds of feedback (technique A: handwritten comments, B: consciousnessraising through generalised Boolean feedback, and C: specific Boolean feedback) were presented to three different groups of students. The results indicate that specific Boolean feedback is more effective than the other two techniques, in small part because a higher proportion of the instances of negative feedback on the first draft was corrected in the second draft (improvements), but much more substantially because in the revision a much lower number of changes to the text resulted in negative feedback on the second draft (regressions). For non-specific feedback, almost as many regressions occurred as improvements. In combination with automatic analytical techniques made possible with software, the results from this study make a case for the use of such checklists in giving feedback on student writing.

Keywords: Boolean feedback, checklist, academic literacy, analytical techniques, improvements, regressions, L2 writing