This article aims to review the issues on corrective feedback. After Truscotts claim that error correction should be abandoned because it is both ineffective and harmful, debates on the topic have been one of the most important issues in English Language Teaching. After mentioning about the arguments between Truscott (1996, 1999) and Ferris (1999), I will review the studies related to the effectiveness of error correction. I will give explanations of different types of corrective feedback and also error categories. I will also review the three recent studies by Bitchener et al. (2005), Sheen (2007) and Bitchener (2008). Their researches are in different categories and study different error categories. These studies help the idea that error correction is helpful. Although the evidence related to recent research shows that corrective feedback is helpful, the issue is still open because the area is too broad. It addresses different types of linguistic error categories and feedback types.
Keywords: corrective feedback, error categories, feedback types, meta-linguistic explanation
Corrective feedback on L2 writing is both ineffective and harmful and should therefore be abandoned. (Truscott, 1996) Teachers and learners had been assuming that corrective feedback helped L2 writers improve the accuracy of their writing until this claim is asserted. After this claim of Truscott, there have been prominent debates on the value of providing corrective feedback on L2 writing.
Truscott (1996, 1999) and Ferris (1999) explained (Bitchener, 2008) that there were not enough researches that proved corrective feedback was efficient. From an analysis of studies by Kepner (1991), Semke (1984) and Sheppard (1992), Truscott concluded that there is no convincing research evidence that error correction ever helps student writers improve the accuracy of their writing. (Bitchener et al., 2005)
Bitchener at al. (2005) mention two major reasons for his conclusion. The first reason is that acquiring the forms and structures of a second language is a gradual and complex process and error correction overlooks this process. The second reason is that teachers are willing to give corrective feedback and students are also ready to receive error correction. He also claims that error correction is harmful as it diverts time and energy away from the more productive aspects of a writing program. (Bitchener at al., 2005)
As they mention in their paper (Bitchener at al. 2005), Ferris (1999) was the most championing one who claimed that Truscotts arguments were premature. She also asserted that selective, prioritized and clear error correction can and does help at least some student writers. According to Ferris, the evidence cited in his argument was not always complete. As a response to Truscotts reasons about the teachers willingness, Ferris maintained that the teachers had strong reasons to continue their habit of giving feedback. However she agreed that it is necessary to consider ways of improving the practical issues highlighted by Truscott. (Bitchener at al. 2005)
As a response to Ferris, Truscott (1999) maintained the idea that grammar correction is a bad idea, however he agreed with her that the issue should remain open and he suggested that attention be given to investigating which methods, techniques, or approaches to error correction lead to short-term or long-term improvement and whether students make better progress in monitoring for certain types of errors than others. (Bitchener at al. 2005)
Not many studies found that written corrective feedback was beneficial. Three researches (Ashwell, 2000; Fathman & Whalley, 1990; Ferris & Roberts, 2001) measured improvement by examining learner’s revised texts. They found there was positive evidence of the value of corrective feedback, but in their study, students didnt write new texts, they just revised their first draft (Bitchener, 2008, Sheen, 2007, Bitchener et al., 2005).
Some other studies (Chandler, 2000; Ferris, 1995, 1997; Ferris, Chaney, Komura, Roberts, & McKee, 2000; Lalande, 1982) claimed that corrective feedback is beneficial to students who receive it, but their studies didnt include a control group. (Bitchener, 2008) Their findings might be interesting and indicate that corrective feedback is effective, they can really only be regarded as offering insights into the relative effectiveness of different types of feedback. (Bitchener, 2008)
Types of Corrective Feedback
Direct corrective feedback:
It can be described as the provision of the correct linguistic form or structure above or near the linguistic error (Bitchener, Young, & Cameron, 2005; Ferris, 2003). Some forms of direct corrective feedback can be classified as the crossing out of an unnecessary word/phrase/morpheme, the insertion of a missing word/phrase/morpheme, or the provision of the correct form or structure (Bitchener, 2008).
Under this heading, we can also mention the written meta-linguistic explanation and/or oral meta-linguistic explanation. The previous one can be described as the provision of grammar rules and examples at the end of a students script with a reference back to places in the text where the error has occurred and the latter as a mini-lesson where the rules and examples are presented, practiced, and discussed; one-on-one individual conferences between teacher and student or conferences between teacher and small groups of students (Bitchener, 2008).
Indirect corrective feedback
It indicates that in some way an error has been made. (Bitchener, 2008). This may be provided by the teacher or students might be left to resolve and correct the problem that has been drawn to their attention.
(Bitchener, 2008) classifies the indirect corrective feedback provided by teachers in three ways: They can (1) underline or circle the error; (2) record the number of errors in a given line; or (3) use a code to show where the error has occurred and what type of error it is (Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Robb, Ross, & Shortreed, 1986).
In reviewing some of the studies related to certain types of corrective feedback, Studies by Carroll and Swain (1993), Ellis (1998) and Ellis, Loewen, and Erlam (2006) have reported a significant advantage in L2 production tasks for direct feedback over indirect feedback. (Bitchener, 2008). Chandler, (2003) found that direct correction was superior to other types of indirect correction in producing more accurate writing. She also reported that her ESL students favored direct correction. (Bitchener, 2008).
According to Ferris (2002) indirect error correction is more beneficial than direct correction because it pushes learners to engage in hypothesis testing, thereby inducing deeper internal processing, which helps them internalize the correct forms. (Sheen, 2007).
Several studies (Ferris et al., 2000; Ferris & Helt, 2000; Frantzen, 1995; Lalande, 1982; Lee, 1997; Robb et al., 1986) report that the indirect feedback leads to either greater or similar levels of accuracy over time (Bitchener et al. 2005).
There are also some surveys (Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Ferris, Cheyney, Komura, Roberts, & McKee, 2000; Komura, 1999; Rennie, 2000; Roberts, 1999) which reveal that both students and teachers have a preference for direct, explicit feedback rather than indirect feedback (Bitchener et al. 2005).
Ferris (1999) classified the errors into two categories:
Treatable errors: verb tense and form, subject-verb agreement, article usage, plural and possessive noun endings, and sentence fragments
Untreatable errors: word choice errors, with the possible exception of some pronoun and preposition uses, and unidiomatic sentence structure, resulting from problems to do with word order and missing or unnecessary words
In her study Ferris (1999) introduced a distinction between these two error categories, suggesting that the former occur in a rule-governed way, and so learners can be pointed to a grammar book or set of rules to resolve the error, while the latter are idiosyncratic and so require learners to utilize acquired knowledge of the language to correct the error (Bitchener et al. 2005).
Bitchener et al. (2005) investigated whether the type of feedback on three error categories (prepositions, the past simple tense, and the definite article) resulted in improved accuracy in new pieces of writing over a 12 week period. In their study they found that the combination of full, explicit written feedback and one-to-one conference feedback enabled them to use the past simple tense and the definite article with significantly greater accuracy in new pieces of writing than was the case with their use of prepositions. They noted that the group taking direct oral feedback in combination with direct written feedback did better than the group taking direct written feedback alone on improved accuracy over time. The study also found that the option with the direct oral feedback and direct written feedback facilitated improvement in the more treatable, rule-governed features (the past simple tense and the definite article) than in the less treatable feature (prepositions).
Sheen, (2007) claimed that Bitchener et al. did not find any statistically significant effect for direct corrective feedback alone (i.e., without metalinguistic comments). He came to the conclusion from these findings that focused metalinguistic feedback serves to improve learners’ grammatical accuracy.
In his research, Sheen (2007) studied ESL learners’ acquisition of English articles and found that written corrective feedback had a positive effect. Another finding he found with this study was that direct correction with metalinguistic comments was superior to direct correction without metalinguistic comments. (Sheen, 2007)
Bitchener (2008) focused on two areas: Does targeted corrective feedback on ESL student writing result in improved accuracy in new pieces of writing? Is there a differential effect on accuracy for different corrective feedback options? Three treatment groups of low intermediate ESL students took part in the study: They all received direct corrective feedback above each targeted error. The study also included a control group. The first group received the feedback as well as written and oral meta-linguistic explanation; group two received the feedback and written meta-linguistic explanation; group three received the feedback without any explanation; and group four was the control group. The research studied two error categories of the English article system (the use of a for first mention and the for subsequent mentions). The study found that written corrective feedback had a significant effect on improving accuracy. The study also found that group one and group three outperformed the control group (group four) who did not receive corrective feedback. However the study found no difference between the control group and group two who received direct corrective feedback above each targeted error and written meta-linguistic explanation. In other words, there was still a significant difference in accuracy between learners who received direct corrective feedback as well as written and oral meta-linguistic explanation and those received only explicit error correction (Bitchener, 2008).
Through this review, I started with Truscotts claim that grammar correction is not helpful, it is also harmful and I mentioned counter-arguments especially starting with Ferris (1999). Both Truscott (1999) and Ferris (1999) agreed that the issue should remain open and researchers should study the issue on different perspectives, such as in terms of the methods, techniques, or approaches used for error correction, short-term or long-term improvement, the error categories, etc.)
There are not many studies related to the effectiveness of grammar correction. And the studies that have been done so far are not enough to give decision about the issue because the area is too broad. Written corrective feedback is complex. It addresses different aspects of writing – content, organization, rhetoric, and mechanics, as well as linguistic accuracy (Sheen, 2007).
I reviewed three recent studies by Bitchener et al. (2005), Sheen (2007) and Bitchener (2008). They made researches in different categories and their studies helped the idea that grammar correction is helpful. However the issue is still open. One can find that it is ineffective with other studies related to different variables: linguistic categories, age, attitudes of teachers or students, writing occasion and also language aptitude of the students.
For further research, following questions should be considered:
Should we give the correction directly or indirectly; with codes or without codes; oral or written; with metalinguistic explanation or not? How many types of error categories can we work on? Can we treat all kinds of errors?
The range of questions can be extended with other ones. For example:
Do the learners improve their language on the teachers corrective feedback or does the time of instruction help them to acquire the language? Can they retain this acquirement for a long term? Further research should then investigate the effects of corrective feedback more longitudinally. Investigations over several semesters would be ideal. Thus, as Bitchener et al. (2005) suggests, there is clearly a need for research that not only compares the effects of receiving corrective feedback and no corrective feedback but also examines the long-term effects of such treatments (Ferris, 2002, 2004; Truscott, 1999).