Giving Corrective Feedback on Spoken Language Production

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By Melissa J. Enns

Recently, guest contributor Yerim Lee shared an insightful post on giving effective written feedback (you can read it here). Today, I’d like to continue in that vein and discuss verbal corrective feedback.

Written feedback has its challenges, but it also has the benefit of premeditation; we can take time to put some thought into what to say and how best to communicate in order to help students identify and correct errors and generally improve their writing. Errors in spoken language, however, must be corrected (or ignored) on the spot, with little or no time to contemplate the best response. Teachers’ decisions about whether or how to give feedback tend to be influenced by concerns about interrupting the activity or damaging students’ self esteem and motivation, which can result in a reluctance to provide corrective feedback (Lyster, Saito, & Sato, 2013). Despite the fact there is some validity to those concerns, providing little or no corrective feedback (CF) may not be beneficial to students.

Lyster, Saito, and Sato (2013) discuss the findings of several studies on teachers’ and learners’ preferences regarding corrective feedback. First of all, they found that learners are often more eager to receive CF than teachers are to give it. The amount of CF preferred by learners surveyed in the studies varied from group to group, with some groups expressing a desire for all errors to be corrected, while others felt that constant correction would inhibit the flow of communication. Furthermore, learners’ preferences appeared to be influenced by their proficiency and learning context. For example, a study by Brown (2009) showed that university learners with higher proficiency preferred to be given a chance to identify and correct errors on their own if it was within their ability to do so (i.e. if the structure in question was known to them), in contrast to learners with lower proficiency.

The studies cited by Lyster et al. are not comprehensive, but what their summary suggests is that, first of all, students view CF favourably and often express a desire to receive more than they do. Secondly, since many factors play into students’ preferences in receiving feedback, teachers might do well to discuss the topic of corrective feedback with our students to discover their preferences and expectations. After all, we want to provide them with feedback that they will find salient and useful in improving their target language competence. Indeed, Lyster, Saito, and Sato state that “CF plays a pivotal role in the kind of scaffolding that teachers need to provide to individual learners to promote continuing L2 growth” (p. 1). Having established the importance of corrective feedback, I will now describe two categories of CF and some of the ways they are used.

Ranta and Lyster (2007) divide different types of corrective feedback into two broad categories. The first category is reformulations, or CF in which the teacher provides the learner with a reformulated structure or form. Lightbown and Spada (2013) summarize Lyster and Ranta’s earlier work to explain that reformulations may entail explicit correction, such as telling the student, “Taked is not a word; you mean took.” The other type of reformulation is recasts, or repetitions of the students’ utterance with the mistake corrected (Lightbown & Spada, 2013); if a student says she taked a picture, the teacher would simply repeat the same utterance using took. It’s important to note that recasts may be given with no particular emphasis, or alternatively, the teacher might use intonational stress to draw the student’s attention to the correction: “You took a picture” (Lyster et al., 2013).

The second category described by Ranta and Lyster (2007) is prompts. Prompts include “signals that push learners to self-repair,” or self-correct their errors (Lyster et al., 2013, p. 3). Again, Lightbown and Spada (2013) summarize Lyster and Ranta’s earlier work to describe four types of prompts. The first is elicitation, which entails asking questions to cause the student to supply the correct form (“How do we say that?”) or repeating the utterance up to the error and then pausing. If a student said “My friend is very strong because he exercise a lot,” I might respond by saying “because he…?” Metalinguistic clues are another type of prompt. These entail comments like “You need to use the past tense” or “Water is a non-countable noun.” A third way to prompt is by repetition of the utterance with special emphasis on the error: “He exercise a lot?” Finally, clarification requests, during which the teacher pretends that the message has not been understood, are the fourth type of prompt. In other words, I might pretend that I cannot understand what the student’s friend does because of the error: “Excuse me? He does what a lot?

This is a lot of information, and so I’m going to leave it here for this post. In an upcoming post, I will go on to discuss some merits and drawbacks of prompts and reformulations, but for now, I encourage you to reflect on your own feedback-giving habits. How frequently do you offer corrective feedback on students’ errors in speaking? What factors contribute to your decisions to offer or not offer it? Looking at the different kinds of corrective feedback outlined above, do you identify any that you use more or less frequently? Which of the feedback strategies do you feel would generally be more/less effective in scaffolding learners’ L2 development in your context?

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Please note that the Ramblings of a Linguaphile site is currently being used for thesis research. Between June 14, 2017, and November 30, 2017, any comments made on posts to this site may be used for research purposes. The identity of the person who posted the comment will be kept anonymous. For more information about the study, please see the About page. By commenting, you consent to participate.

 

References:

Brown, A. (2009). Students’ and teachers’ perceptions of effective foreign language teaching: A comparison of ideals. The Modern Language Journal 93(1), 46–60.

Lightbown, P. & Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned (4th ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lyster, R., Saito, K., & Sato, M. (2013). Oral corrective feedback in second language classrooms. Language Teaching, 46(1), 1-40. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0261444812000365

Ranta, L. & R. Lyster (2007). A cognitive approach to improving immersion students’ oral language abilities: The Awareness–Practice–Feedback sequence. In R. DeKeyser (ed.), Practice in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 141–160.

Image:

Marks, J. (n.d.). Langwich Scool. Retrieved from http://www.langwichscool.com/2teachers.html.

 

11 thoughts on “Giving Corrective Feedback on Spoken Language Production

  1. For oral CF, in pre-intermediate’s classes, I generally do prompts by repeating the utterance and emphasising the error to be corrected; thus, involving the whole class in the correction of the mistake. With beginners though, as they are still consolidating the basics of the target language,I prefer to repeat the utterance and emphasize myself the correct expression/word to use… sometimes even with the written support on the blackboard. Anyway, whatever the level of the student is, I would t make a huge fuss about it but to draw their attention to the correct use of the language. As it was remarked on your post, we don t want to undermine our students self confidence or motivation.
    Also, if I notice that many of the students produce the same kind of mistakes, I will prepare an activity (written and/or oral) to tackle the issue. If it is an isolated case, I will then have a one-on-one casual conversation with the student to fix it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the way you make sure learners’ attention is drawn to the problem area so that they can notice the mistake, Maria. Both attention and noticing are key components of language learning according to many researchers. I also agree that it’s effective to prepare an activity for the whole class if you see that many learners are making the same mistake. I’ve done it myself, and I find it’s a nice way to avoid throwing the spotlight on any one person or interrupting the activity.

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  2. Glenda

    Thanks for introducing such a pertinent issue. My colleagues and I find our Quebec college students are arriving from high school with better and better fluency but little accuracy. The problem for me is how to address the error most efficiently (with 35 students, so much to cover….) When listening to small group conversations, I too tend to prompt students to repeat the utterance, then explicitly show the correction, either written (if the situation permits) or orally and then ask the student to repeat it correctly. However lately, I’ve been wrapping up discussion activities with a quick CF session. I have the advantage of mostly homogenous L1 groups, so the same errors pop up systematically. I enumerate 5-6 common errors I overheard in their discussions using intonational stress and we correct and repeat them together.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Glenda. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the research of Roy Lyster, but high fluency and low accuracy has been found to be a very common issue in communicative language settings, such as immersion schools. Lyster recommends that such schools should begin to integrate a somewhat higher amount of explicit linguistic instruction (or metalinguistic instruction, as discussed in my two posts on metalinguistic knowledge) into communicative approaches.

      However, since that recommendation has yet to be enacted, I think your strategy of choosing several recurring errors and discussing them with the class is an excellent solution to the problem of providing CF to multiple groups.

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  3. Patrice

    I too teach in Québec, but at the high school level (mostly secondary 5) where classes are anything but homogenous! Some students speak fluently, others lack accuracy but have good vocabulary (thanks to video games, Netflix, etc.) and some others just don’t feel good about their ability. That said, I only give feedback when my students are in small groups (3-4). They then tend to be more open, especially if they are with a friend, to CF. While the feedback fellow students give is often accurate, when in doubt, students automatically turn to me to ask what the proper word or form should be. The students correct each other directly, while having the social savvy to wait until the student has finished speaking (usually vocabulary). I will offer corrections after the message has been delivered. I often note certain errors made during a conversation and point out one or two particular errors that I want them to concentrate on (explicit explanation). Other times I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear and ask a student to repeat. The student, or a member of the group, sometimes finds the error and the correction is made.

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    1. Thank you, Patrice. I am glad that you brought up peer-initiated feedback. Although it is not always 100% accurate, it is a very useful tool that I think teachers don’t always exploit to its full potential, especially when, as you say, students will typically turn to the teacher if they are unsure. The largest potential issues is when they think they know but are not on the right track. I know in my case, I’ve found it a bit hard to relinquish control and trust that student-intitiated feedback won’t get too far off track–but that’s a great time to circulate the classroom, add input if needed, and address any recurring issues that groups don’t sort out for themselves.

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  4. Pingback: The Efficacy of Oral Corrective Feedback – Ramblings of a Linguaphile

  5. Rasha

    I have always found that providing corrective feedback on oral production is very challenging. You try to help your students identify their mistakes without interrupting the flow of the conversation. Some students tend to lose their train of thought once they get interrupted, and it becomes difficult for them to stay focused, while others feel a bit demotivated to speak. When I first started teaching adults, one of my students told me that correcting her every time she made an oral mistake made her feel that I wanted to press my hand on her mouth to make her stop speaking. Thus, I find it necessary to keep a balance between correcting the errors and keeping the flow of the conversation. I sometimes take notes while the learners speak and then provide the feedback after. Other times, I record my students while speaking, and then ask them to listen to the recording and autocorrect themselves. I find this last technique very useful because the learners become more aware of their mistakes when they correct themselves. I also use color coded cards that I raise when the learners make a mistake. However, I explicitly correct the learners’ mistakes when those mistakes are errors that the learners could not identify due to their lack of knowledge.
    Providing CF also depends on the learner’s motivation, attitude towards language learning, and his/her characteristics. DeKeyser (1993) found that error correction did not have an overall effect on student proficiency in the L2 but that it did interact with learner variables. Thus, for example, learners with low extrinsic motivation did better on oral tasks after error correction whereas those with high extrinsic motivation did better on oral tasks without error correction. DeKeyser’s study highlighted the fact that instructional treatments such as error correction may interact with learner characteristics and contextual features in complex ways. Moreover, research discovered that a high percentage of the errors go unnoticed when the teachers recast those errors. However, I still use this technique with all the other CF techniques, though I find that I tend to use prompts more often with my adult learners. Lyster found that when combined with form-focused instruction, prompts were more effective than recasts for learners’ acquisition of rule-based representations of grammatical gender. Similarly, Panova and Lyster (2002) found that students who received prompts achieved greater accuracy in subsequent language processing than those who received recasts. I think that even if the learners prefer to be frequently corrected, it still doesn’t mean that we should correct every mistake they make.
    To conclude, I always tend to primarily correct the errors that might impede understanding. When it comes to certain grammatical mistakes in oral production, I do not correct those errors that are counted as insignificant or common native speaker’s mistakes. The other thing that I find very important is that the teacher should understand each learner’s needs and learning style to be able to know how to effectively correct his/her mistakes. I also incorporate all the CF techniques and I use the one that fits the student’s needs and the context. Finally, I think it’s vital for teachers to become aware of the current practices and feedback techniques that they use in their classrooms.

    References:
    DeKeyser, R. (1993). The effect of error correction on L2 grammar knowledge and oral proficiency. Modern Language Journal, 77, 501–514.
    Lyster, R. (2004). Differential effects of prompts and recasts in form-focused instruction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26(3), 399–432.
    Panova, I., & Lyster, R. (2002). Patterns of corrective feedback and uptake in an adult ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 36(4), 573–595.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rasha! I think your examples really illustrate the importance of discussing our corrective feedback giving practices with each group of students we teach, asking their preferences, and setting clear guidelines at the outset of the class so that our CF doesn’t take anyone by surprise. There is a need for flexibility, as you say. As an interesting side point, Lyster et al. (2013) cite a study by Vasquez & Harvey (2010), in which graduate student teachers who participated in a research replication of a classroom study shifted from voicing concerns about giving CF (in terms of potential negative effects on self-esteem and motivation) to being much more favourable toward it as they “‘became aware of other variables associated with corrective feedback’, which included ‘the relationship between feedback and uptake, the interaction between error type and feedback, understanding the differences between various feedback
      moves that supply learners with correct responses versus those feedback moves that do not’” (Lyster, Saito, & Sato, 2013, quoting Vasquez & Harvey, 2010, p. 437). In other words, learning appropriate ways to use CF strategies is a key part of providing successful CF. I think one important step is to communicate with our classes, so that we can provide CF that is tactfully given and sensitive to their preferences.

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