Creative Feedback

Creative Feedback

Time-consuming? Mind-numbing? Soul-destroying?

Having spent too many hours marking this last holiday I’ve been thinking hard about the sort of feedback teachers give or enable and how useful it may or may not beWhilst it is now widely agreed that feedback is crucial in second-language learning, there is less agreement concerning what sort of feedback, (peer feedback, teacher feedback, self-regulation, focused/un-focused, indirect/direct, explicit/ unlabelled…) and how these different categories might best be combined and implemented in language teaching.

Corrective Feedback in Second Language Teaching and Learning (Nassaji and Kartchoava 2017) brings together current research, analysis and discussion of role of the role of corrective feedback by specialists in the field. I found the chapters by Rod Ellis (concerning oral corrective feedback) Neomy Storch (on peer-corrective feedback on-line collaborative writing) and John Bitchener (which turns to cognitive processes to think about why all L2 leaners don’t benefit from corrective learning) particularly enlightening and thought-provoking.

However, whilst reading I did wonder about other sorts of feedback besides corrective feedback  In Making Sense of Assessment Feedback in Higher Education, (Evans, 2013) I came across the terms ‘feed-forward’ and ‘feed-up’ (Hounsell, McCune, Hounsell, & Litjens 2008) and the idea that feedback is not necessarily limited to being a ‘a corrective tool’ but may also be a ‘challenge tool’. Evans goes on to refer to Nelson and Schunn’s (2009) three broad meanings of assessment feedback:

(a) motivational – influencing beliefs and willingness to participate;

(b) reinforcement – to reward or to punish specific behaviours; and

(c) informational – to change performance in a particular direction.

It seems to me that as teachers we have a tendency to concentrate on the reinforcement and informational aspects to the detriment of motivation and the introduction of creative feedback may be a means of righting the balance. I have been experimenting with creative feedback, notably in an on-line Moodle, distance teaching course on creative writing for second-year undergraduates, to this end.

What do I mean by creative feedback? Well, before answering that question I’d like to start with its aim which is to encourage interaction between students, teacher, writers, readers and texts, enhancing a sense of readership and collaborative authorship in order to help learners actively engage with the course and aid language learning. I posit that creative feedback is helpful in creating a sense of presence in the context of distance-learning, as theorised by the community of inquiry model.

So, what is creative feedback? During the course students are invited to post their creative writing. For instance, in one session they are invited to read James Thurber’s Unicorn in A Garden, watch videos offering different interpretations of the story, discuss the interpretations (is there such a thing as a right or a wrong interpretation of a story?) and loosely adapt the model (see attachment) in order to write their own fairy tale. The texts are posted in the forum and read by everyone, with students encouraged to provide feedback and comments on their peers’ texts. At the end of the session the teacher provides a corrective feedback pdf on commonly-found errors. This general feedback replaces individual feedback which I used in the past and proved itself ineffective in preventing individual students making the same errors time after time.   As well as the general feedback, creative feedback, that is to say a text inspired by the students’ own texts, is posted in a forum entitled ‘Creative Feedback on the Week’s Works’. Concerning the James Thurber sequence, here is this year’s production. The segments in blue are segments taken verbatim from students’ text whilst segments in red and/or underligned are inspired more or less loosely by Thurber :

“For I am you and you are me

Once upon a December afternoon in Ganges, a dispirited teacher sat at her desk, trying to forget about the previous week which had been a very bad week indeed all things considered. She tried to cheer herself up. It was nearly Xmas after all. Oh God. That didn’t help at all. Not at all.

She listened to the shutters of her house rattling in the wind in a very irritating manner. Why could her husband never take the time to clip them back properly in the morning, she crossly thought to herself. The phone rang. Somebody selling something. The teacher snarled down the phone in a very unpleasant manner and hung up. She knew that she had not only not been polite, but she had been unkind. That only made her feel worse.

When you scream at the fool be careful not to become one yourself. For I am you and you are me.

The teacher was surrounded by piles of marking so high you could hardly see the top of her head.

Thinking that she could put off until tomorrow what she could do today, if she damn well felt like it, she decided to switch on her computer and start reading their stories. So she clicked and clicked and clicked until she was in.

Into a world of speaking apples, of snails’ houses and wily grand-daughters, cats and shepherds. Of angels crying tears of glass and little boys playing with dragonflies. Of old ladies left to knit in peace and a land where purple cats talk to yellow birds next to the lounge window if you know how to find them. Where Mrs Thurber goes off with the psychiatrist and leaves Mr Thurber and Alphonse to live happily ever after. Into a world where everyone was wearing only t-shirts. Do beware though. You should never ever judge a book by its cover. Or a bed for that matter.

She laughed out loud.

A world of books whose characters will comfort you if you know how to listen to them, their stories stay your pain and save you from greyness should you know how to recognise their vivid glittering joys and let the shiver and chime of their faraway stars of desire come close and creep across your skin and into your heart.

Into a world where nothing negative has to be written in stone.”

I also posted an example of a short story that I wrote inspired more directly by Thurber’s story.

Whilst I am not suggesting that creative feedback should replace corrective feedback I do think its aesthetic, collaborative approach to learners’ texts makes it a valuable, complementary feedback tool and may be a means of taking on board the importance of affect in the language learning process.

ps. What we don’t ever ever do but sometimes might like to :



Evans, C. “Making Sense of Assessment Feedback in Higher Education.” Review of Educational Research, vol.83, no.1, 2013, pp.70-120. SAGE journals,

Ferris, Dana. R., et al. “Written Corrective Feedback for Individual L2 Writers.” Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 22, 2013, pp. 307-29. SciVerse ScienceDirect,


Hounsell, D., et al. “The Quality of Guidance and Feedback to Students.” Higher Education Research and Development”, vol.27, no. 1, 2008, pp.55-97,

Nassaji, H., and Eva Kartchoava, editors. Corrective Feedback in Second Language Teaching; Research, Theory, Applications, Implications. Routledge, 2017.

Nelson, M. M., and Christian Schunn. “The nature of feedback: how different types of peer feedback affect writing performance.” Instructional Science, vol 37, no. 4,  pp.375-401.



Image by Allison Lily Giraud, 2018


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