The role of corrective feedback in grammar practice: Does it foster language learning?

Research on Corrective Feedback

Lyster & Ranta (1997) studied the different types of corrective feedback used by teachers. They identified 6 types of feedback:

CORRECTIVE FEEDBACK TYPES

Explicit correction, – correction of the error by the teacher.

Recasts – reformulation by the teacher of the error without repeating it

Clarification requests – asking a question to show to the learner that something is wrong

Metalinguistic feedback – comments or questions using terminology to show learners there is an error.

Elicitation,- through questions or requests to reformulate.

Repetition – repeating the error with intonation to show that it is wrong.

Effective Correction: With regard to effective correction, there are some key questions which teachers must consider:

1. Should learners’ errors be corrected?

2. When should learners’ errors be corrected?

3. Which errors should be corrected?

4. How should errors be corrected?

5. Who should do the correcting?

(Hendrickson 1978 in Lyster & Ranta 1997: 38)

Scrivener (1994) has listed several ideas for indicating/correcting learner errors especially those related to grammar.

Ideas for indicating/correcting errors (Scrivener 1994: 112)  
– Tell them
– Facial expressions (e.g. frown).
– Gesture combined with facial expression.
– Finger correction (hold on to the ‘error finger – e.g. the third word).
– Repeat sentence up to error.
– Echo sentence with changed intonation or stress.
– Ask a question (e.g. Was this last week?).
– Ask a one word question (e.g. tense?).
– Draw a time line on the board.
– Draw spaces or boxes on the board to show the number of words in a sentence. Indicate which word is the problem.
-Write the problem sentence on the board.
-Exploit the humour in the error.  
Oral correction techniques (Ur 1996: 249)   [Teacher]  
1. Does not react at all
2. Indicates there is a mistake, but does not provide any further information about what is wrong.
3. Says what was wrong and provides a model of the acceptable version.
4. Indicates something was wrong, elicits acceptable version from the learner who made the mistake.
5. Indicates something was wrong, elicits acceptable version from another member of the class.
6. (May go with any of 3-5 above) Asks the learner who made the mistake to reproduce the correct version. 7.(May go with any of 3-5 above) Provides or elicits and explanation of why the mistake was made and how to avoid it.    

Factors Influencing Feedback

Teacher’s choices about which corrective strategy, to use will depend on a

number of factors (Borg 2003):

  • the purpose of the activity the error occurs in (e.g. accuracy or fluency);
  • the gravity, of the error in the context it occurs;
  • what effect they feel that ignoring it is likely to have on the student making it and/ or on the rest of the class (i.e. whether the other students would ‘learn’ the error)
  • the extent to which the error is specific to a particular student or whether it reflects an issue the whole class are having problems with.

The notion of scaffolding: Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994:469) refer to the notion of scaffolding as “the idea of offering just enough assistance to encourage and guide the learner to participate in the activities” and to “ assume increased responsibility for arriving at the appropriate performance”. As long as it is done by keeping in mind our lessons’ primary aims and does not contradict with our classroom’s communicative goals, commenting on our learners’ written or oral production can prove to be very beneficial for their interlanguage development. The teacher’s comments and scaffolding, i.e. the extra help given to the students to direct their attention towards specific language structures and patterns in the TL, can be either explicit or implicit depending on what the teacher wants to achieve and on the learners’ level and linguistic development.

The importance of noticing

The concept of noticing as key to successful language learning has been highlighted by many linguists and SLA researchers (Skehan, Long, Harmer, Thornbury). There seems to be a general consensus among them that some form of attention to input is necessary for effective learning to take place. Noticing is considered to be successful when it leads to language acquisition, when our learners’ attention is shifted towards a TL structure, which is then acquired, internalized and eventually becomes part of their TL output.

The key is not just to make our students notice linguistic patterns in the TL. Something that has ‘grasped’ our attention could easily be forgotten after a while. Our goal as teachers is to create the appropriate circumstances in order to raise our learners’ consciousness, to help them successfully acquire this new knowledge and to begin to actively use it by turning input into intake and then into successful TL output.

Noticing mainly has to do with our learners being able to understand and grasp the meaning from the input they receive in terms of a newly introduced structure or grammar point. Successful learning will take place when they notice this ‘gap’ between the target language and their interlanguage and will actively try to incorporate the new structures in their TL output.

‘Noticing’ can be achieved through the use of a listening/reading task in which learners have to first answer some comprehension questions and then listen/read again in order to focus on a grammar point (verb forms for example). They can first learn to discover certain patterns for themselves and then we can guide them towards effective practice and production.

Using concept questions

Concept questions can play a vital role in helping learners grasp the meaning that underlies a grammatical structure in the TL or even a tricky vocabulary item. They raise our learners’ consciousness as they help to clarify certain key points for them. Our learners become more aware of the grammar structures and the rules that underlie them.

Giving hints – promoting active involvement

In order for our feedback to be constructive and to boost the learning process, we must first of all make sure that our learners notice our comments, understand them and work in order to fix their errors or adjust their spoken and written output in the TL. To do this, we could first of all give them hints instead of directly providing them with corrections. For example, when evaluating a writing task, we could just write down ‘check the verb tense’ instead of correcting the verb form for them. Our learners need to be actively involved in this process and to learn to notice and discover for themselves what they need to change and adapt in their TL output.

REFERENCES

Aljaafreh, A., & Lantolf, J. P. (1994). Negative feedback as regulation and second language learning in the zone of proximal development. Modern Language Journal, 78(4), 465–483.

Borg, S. (2003). Second language grammar teaching: practices and rationales. Ila do Desterro, 41(2), 155-183.

Celce-Murcia, M. (1985). Making informed decisions about the role of grammar in language teaching. Foreign Language Annals, 18(4), 297-301.

Chaudron, C. (1977). A descriptive model of discourse in the corrective treatment of learners’ errors. Language Learning, 27(1), 29-46.

DeKeyser, R. M. (1993). The effect of error correction on L2 grammar knowledge and oral proficiency. Modern Language Journal, 77(4), 501-514.

(Edge, J. (1989). Mistakes and Correction. Harlow: Longman.

Johnson, K. (1988). Mistake Correction. ELT Journal, 42(2), 89-96.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. Chapter 10.

Lyster, R. & Ranta, L. (1997). Corrective feedback and learner uptake: negotiation of form in communicative classrooms. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 37-66.

Lyster, R. (1998). Negotiation of form, recasts, and explicit correction in relation to error types and learner repair in immersion classrooms. Language learning, 48(2), 183.

Schulz, R. A. (1996). Focus on form in the foreign language classroom:Students’ and teachers’ views on error correction and the role of grammar. Foreign Language Annals, 29(3), 343-364.

* Schulz, R. A. (2001). Cultural differences in student and teacher perceptions concerning the role of grammar teaching and corrective feedback: USA-Colombia. Modern Language Journal, 85(2), 244-258.

Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann

Ur, P. (1996). A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Published by Joanna Nifli

Greek-Canadian ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

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