Feedback

Lyster and Ranta (1997 – see below) identified six feedback types in primary school, content-based French immersion classrooms in Canada.

  1. explicit correction (the teacher said ‘that’s wrong’ and stated the correct form)
  2. recasts and reformulations (teacher states the correct form, perhaps in response: I gived my pen to Lucy….oh, you gave your pen to Lucy)
  3. clarification requests
  4. metalinguistic feedback
  5. elicitation
  6. repetition: the error was repeated, but intonation used to raise a question over it.

Types 3,4,5 and 6 can be classified as prompts. The teacher (or a more advanced learner) prompts the learner to figure out the correct form. Lyster and Ranta found that type 2 (recasts and reformulations) were by far the most common form of feedback, accounting for 60% of all feedback. However, they also found it to be the least effective in learner uptake, in the sense that they were the least likely to lead to self correction. They suggested this was because in a content-based lesson, learners (especially younger children) were focussed on content and meaning, not language, so tended to ignore recasts and reformulations.

However, when there is an explicit focus on form, recasts and reformulations may be more effective and an experimental study (Mackey and Philp 1998) found that recasting was beneficial for learners when they were ‘developmentally ready’

Other studies have suggested that while teachers tend to favour recasts, when learners engage in conversation, they are more likely to receive and give clarification requests and confirmation checks. Empirical evidence shows that learners receive negative feedback regularly in interaction, and that learners regularly make use of it. Lyster (1998) found that:

  • lexical errors led to clarification requests
  • grammatical errors led to recasts
  • phonological errors led to recasts

and he found that recasting was only effective with phonological errors (60% uptake); with grammatical errors there was only a 22% uptake [but ther was an uptake, so there was an effect].

He concluded that while recasts provided useful negative feedback for learners, they were rarely under any pressure to make use of the feedback; therefore feedback that led to some kind of interaction was likely to be more effective in moving a learner’s interlanguage on. [You could also argue that since learners were under no pressure to use the feedback, more output and extended discourse would also ensure that learners used the feedback.]

Rhonda Oliver recorded interactions between NS and NNS and found that more than 60% of errors by NNS received some form of negative feedback from the NS and that about 10% of feedback resulted in modifications to NNS utterances immediately afterwards.

Research on the effectiveness of negative feedback is still quite inconclusive. But what seems to count is how much attention learners pay (or need to pay). Which may mean that feedback is useful within the context of interaction and output.

My own view is that providing learners with formative feedback (by which I mean corrective feedback that children can then make use of) is the most powerful tool in language teaching. The emphasis is on feedback that children can make use of: simply giving feedback, such as in the form of recasts, is a waste of everyone’s time; children need to use the feedback, such as in written work or extended discourse.

Implicit and Explicit Corrective Feedback and the Acquisition of L2 Grammar, Rod Ellis, Shawn Loewen and Rosemary Erlam

see also Oliver, R. (1995), Negative feedback in child NS-NNS conversation. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 17:459-481

Hence Pauline Gibbons emphasises use of recasts within teacher guided reporting, partly as a way of bridging discourse between everyday conversation and academic writing (Talk to Writing), but also (I think) to correct errors.

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