Feedback on writing in the supervision of postgraduate students: Insights from the work of Vygotsky and Bakhtin

  • Janne Morton University of Melbourne
  • Neomy Storch University of Melbourne
  • Celia Thompson University of Melbourne
Keywords: Vygotsky, Bakhtin, feedback, scaffolding, dialogism, postgraduate writing.


One of the dominant models of postgraduate supervision is apprenticeship, with its focus on the role of the supervisor as an expert who provides guidance to the novice supervisee. This model has been critiqued by scholars including Knowles (1999), who suggests that it may encourage students to accept feedback uncritically because of the difficulty of challenging the perceived expertise and authority of supervisors. Drawing on Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of cognitive development, an alternative conceptualisation proposed in this paper is that of a dynamic relationship that evolves over time, moving from expert/novice to a more cooperative relationship. In such a conceptualisation, feedback is seen as a form of scaffolding that encourages the student to ultimately take greater responsibility for their writing and their development as legitimate authors in their disciplines. Our analysis of the nature of feedback and authorial development is also informed by Bakhtin’s (1981, 1986) theory of dialogism. Bakhtin suggests that all individual contributions to textual creation come through the ways in which we accent the words and ideas of others in order to articulate an authoritative position of our own. Thus, if all speakers and writers are producers of texts that intersect and address each other (Bakhtin, 1981), then feedback also can be characterised as a point of intertextual engagement through which textual authority, ownership and authorship are negotiated between supervisor and student over time. In this paper we report on two case studies through which we explore the usefulness of these theoretical constructs to investigate issues surrounding the role of feedback in postgraduate supervision.
How to Cite
MortonJ., StorchN., & ThompsonC. (2014). Feedback on writing in the supervision of postgraduate students: Insights from the work of Vygotsky and Bakhtin. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 8(1), A24-A36. Retrieved from