By Melissa J. Enns
In my last post, I emphsized the importance of providing language learners with oral corrective feedback (CF) and described two broad categories of feedback, prompts and reformulations, and their different types. I asked you to reflect on which strategies you use when giving CF. A few of you commented that during group work you often offer explicit CF on a few points that recur among the groups, which I think is a very practical strategy!
At some point, I have used all types of CF. I use a lot of prompts in cases where I know the students have already learned the correct form or rule (if an intermediate learner says, “He go to school,” I am more likely to use any form of prompting than to supply the correct form). As for reformulations, for the purposes of this discussion, we are going to separate recasts (repetition of a student’s utterance with the error corrected) and explicit correction. I usually use recasts if I am trying to keep the activity moving and sometimes in cases where the error is well beyond the student’s current level. Explicit correction is a fallback if a student does not pick up on the error after prompting.
We’ve considered our own practices, but what is the relative frequency with which teachers in general use prompts and recasts? What are the merits and drawbacks of each?
Lyster, Saito, and Sato (2013) investigated these questions by examining a large collection of research. The collective findings of twelve observational studies in different language learning contexts revealed that recasts were the most frequent form of CF in seven contexts. Explicit correction was used least frequently in all but one, and prompts often fell somewhere in the middle. This suggests that many teachers lean more on recasts than prompts. Of course, this is dependent on context and individual style, but knowing that recasts are common in language classrooms makes it prudent to also consider their efficacy in drawing students’ attention to their mistakes and supporting better learning outcomes.
Lyster et al. consider the merits and drawbacks of different types of CF by examining classroom studies assessing the effects of the different types of CF in different contexts. I can’t overemphasize the context-dependent nature of this assessment, which means that, although the discoveries of these studies can provide useful ideas and starting points in giving feedback in our classrooms, there is no universal set of rules.
Before delving in, we should consider that both recasts and different kinds of prompts can be implicit or explicit to varying degrees. For example, if I recast a student’s incorrect utterance with no emphasis, the CF is implicit and the student may not perceived it at all (Lyster, Saito, & Sato, 2013). Conversely, if I recast and emphasize the problem area by saying I took a picture after a student has said she taked one, my tone draws her attention to the correction, and is thus more explicit. Prompts are typically considered fairly explicit, especially metalinguistic clues, as in “You need to use past tense.” However, some prompts can be rather implicit, as with clarification requests–the student might believe you actually haven’t heard him rather than realizing that he has made a mistake (Lyster et al., 2013).
With that in mind, Lyster et al. extrapolate some general trends. For one thing, more explicit CF (prompts and/or metalinguistic feedback) consistently resulted in better outcomes than implicit CF. Recasts generally seemed to be more effective if given after repetition of the error (a type of prompt) than given alone. Lyster et al. conclude that recasts (especially shorter ones with fewer changes) are beneficial to learners, but prompts may well be more beneficial in that they draw learners’ attention to the mistake and push them to modify the utterance. Furthermore, Lyster et al. suggest that the variety of prompts available adds to their effictiveness and that employing various forms of CF, sometimes in combination, may be even more effective. Thus, teachers might do well to avoid relying too heavily on recasts, especially unemphasized ones, and employ a variety of types of CF.
However, there were certain cases in Lyster et al. (2013), where groups receiving prompts performed similarly to groups receiving recasts. This was the case with young French immersion students’ oral production (Lyster, 2004) and undergraduate students’ performance with irregular past tense verbs (Lyster & Saito, 2010). Upon further examination, Lyster et al. conclude that, among other factors, the linguistic aspect targeted by the CF and students’ age and proficiency play into whether or not prompts will be more effective than recasts. For example, prompts may to be more effective for regular or simpler grammatical rules, such as English past tense -ed in Yang and Lyster (2010), whereas both prompts and recasts may be effective with more difficult forms such as irregular past tense verbs. Similarly, Lyster et al. (2013) suggest that younger learners may be more sensitive to CF than older learners.
These findings offer plenty of food for thought. How do you think they can help teachers develop their practices in giving oral CF? How could we gauge the effectiveness of prompts and recasts on a particular language point in our own classrooms? How can we tell whether or not students are “getting it” when we give CF?
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Lyster, R. (2004). Differential effects of prompts and recasts in form-focused instruction. Studies in Second
Language Acquisition 26(3), 399–432.
Lyster, R. & K. Saito (2010). Oral feedback in classroom SLA: A meta-analysis. Studies in Second Language
Acquisition 32(2), 265–302.
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
Yang, Y. & R. Lyster (2010). Effects of form-focused practice and feedback on Chinese EFL learners’
acquisition of regular and irregular past tense forms. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 32(2), 235–