Rhetorical Meta-language to Promote the Development of Students’ Writing Skills and Subject Matter Understanding

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Abstract

Background: Feedback is one of the most significant factors for students’ development of writing skills. For feedback to be successful, however, students and teachers need a common language – a meta-language – for discussing texts. Not least because in science education such a meta-language might contribute to improve writing training and feedback-giving.
Purpose: The aim of this study was to explore students’ perception of teachers’ feedback given on their texts in two genres, and to suggest how writing training and feedback-giving could become more efficient.
Sample: In this study were included 44 degree project students in biology and molecular biology, and 21 supervising teachers at a Swedish university.
Design and methods: The study concerned students’ writing about their degree projects in two genres: scientific writing and popular science writing. The data consisted of documented teacher feedback on the students’ popular science texts. It also included students’ and teachers’ answers to questionnaires about writing and feedback. All data were collected during the spring of 2012. Teachers’ feedback, actual and recalled – by students and teachers, respectively – was analysed and compared using the so-called Canons of rhetoric.
Results: While the teachers recalled the given feedback as mainly positive, most students recalled only negative feedback. According to the teachers, suggested improvements concerned firstly the content, and secondly the structure of the text. In contrast, the students mentioned language style first, followed by content.
Conclusions: The disagreement between students and teachers regarding how and what feedback was given on the students texts confirm the need of improved strategies for writing training and feedback-giving in science education. We suggest that the rhetorical meta-language might play a crucial role in overcoming the difficulties observed in this study. We also discuss how training of writing skills may contribute to students’ understanding of their subject matter.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature
  • Other Natural Sciences not elsewhere specified

Keywords

  • feedback, rhetoric, meta-language, science, higher education
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch in Science & Technological Education
Early online date2015 Oct 28
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes