Towards a contextualised interpretation of Chinese university student engagement with teacher written feedback

Yuwei LIU

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Teacher written feedback (TWF) refers to the written comments, corrections and responses offered by second language (L2) teachers on students’ writing drafts. This practice, being considered common and important in scaffolding L2 students’ writing process and improving writing products, has attracted significant research attention.

Among the existing literature, two gaps have been discovered. Firstly, the majority concentrated on written corrective feedback (WCF), indicating feedback exclusively on linguistic and grammatical errors. However, in many English-teaching classes, teachers not only provide linguistic feedback, but also deliver feedback on non-linguistic aspects of writing problems, including content, organisation, genre and linguistic use. Moreover, L2 students were found to expect different aspects of TWF in their writing. Thus, research on WCF exclusively is insufficient to generate a comprehensive comprehension of TWF, does not reflect the teaching practice in authentic classes and ignores the preferences of students. Secondly, research on TWF was mostly quasi-experimental, investigating the efficacy of feedback on writing performance. This overemphasis on the written products as evidence of learning overlooks the learning that could happen during the process where students engage with TWF and the individual and contextual factors that come into play during the process. Thus, there is a call for more research on learner engagement with teacher feedback on all aspects (i.e. local, global and praises) and how various writer-related and contextual factors mediate engagement.

To respond to this call, the current qualitative longitudinal case study tried to fill the gap by investigating how Chinese English-major university students with diverse English proficiency levels engaged with TWF from cognitive, behavioural and affective perspectives in a naturalistic classroom setting as well as examined individual and contextual factors that mediated student engagement. Aiming to generate rich and thick data, the study lasted for two academic semesters and included two teachers and 18 students (9 in each class) of high, intermediate and low English proficiency levels. Multiple sources of data were collected including writing drafts with TWF, students’ retrospective oral reports, semi-structured interviews with teachers and students, field notes generated from verbal reports and class observations and lastly, teaching-related materials.

The findings indicated that learner engagement was complex, dynamic and subject to change in all three dimensions (i.e. cognition, behaviours and affect). Additionally, levels of engagement were found to differ among different students, and even within the same student, there could be variations in engagement levels across different writing tasks. Both individual and contextual factors were identified to influence student engagement, with the former pertaining to English proficiency levels, learning beliefs, and L2 motivation and goals and the latter encompassing technological, sociocultural, institutional, instructional, interpersonal and textual levels.

Overall, the study is meaningful since it enhances the understanding of learner engagement with TWF from comprehensive and contextualised perspectives. As such, insights have been gathered on learner engagement with TWF through the inclusion of different focuses of feedback. The study also enriches the subdimensions of affective engagement by including “meta-affective operations” as a sub-category and provides much clearer categorisations and explanations of each dimension of engagement, rendering the abstract concept of “engagement” more researchable for further investigation. In addition, the study also provided answers to how individual and contextual factors influence engagement. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • MAK, Wing Wah, Pauline 麥詠華, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2024.


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