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