Written Corrective Feedback in the EFL Classroom. Types and Usage

Seminar Paper, 2020

26 Pages, Grade: 1

Sven Frueh (Author)


Table of contents:

1 Introduction

2 Direct written corrective feedback:
2.1 Effectiveness of direct written corrective feedback

3 Reformulation and reconstruction

4 Indirect written corrective feedback:
4.1 Indirect written CF- Example Analysis
4.2 Effectiveness and usage of indirect written corrective feedback

5 Metalinguistic written corrective feedback
5.1 Effectiveness of metalinguistic written corrective feedback:

6 Focused and Unfocused CF

7 Electronic written corrective feedback

8 Types of written corrective feedback

9 Conclusion

10 Appendix

11 Literature

1 Introduction

Corrective feedback (CF), hence, the way educators provide feedback on the second language (L2) learners’ errors in hopes of helping them improve their accuracy, has been a highly contested area of research that brings about a phenomenal level of interest from both teachers and researchers alike (Bitchener, 2008, p. 102). Regardless of the interest and research into this field, many questions central to L2 development are yet to be answered unequivocally. Therefore, educators around the world still have to rely on experience, intuition, and expectations of students and parents for the production of written corrective feedback. Ellis (2008, p. 97) argues that the biggest hurdle for researchers is designing written CF studies that investigate the effectiveness and impact of different types of CF systemically. Nevertheless, identifying and evaluating written CF options is an important element for reasonable decision making in the L2 classroom.

Therefore, this paper explores the types and the effects of written corrective feedback in the EFL classroom. Moreover, illuminative examples of written CF will be presented and discussed based on the findings. The examples are taken from a corpus of a variety of texts written by EFL students attending a prevocational school in Austria.

2 Direct written corrective feedback:

Direct corrective feedback, or sometimes called direct correction, is done by explicitly correcting mistakes made by students. Not only is the error pointed out - typically by crossing out erroneous words and phrases, patterns, morphemes, etc. - but a solution to the specific problem is provided. In most cases, the solution is written right above, or next to the element in question (Ellis, 2009, p. 99). In figure 1, an example taken from the corpus is shown:

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Figure 1: Example of direct written corrective feedback

2.1 Effectiveness of direct written corrective feedback

Despite direct CF being one of the most commonly used types of CF, it has considerable downsides. For educators, finding a suitable solution for every single error in a long exercise, which is handed in by a whole class of more than twenty students, is remarkably time-consuming. Additionally, teachers find themselves frustrated when the same mistakes are repeated by one or more students frequently, and therefore, must be corrected in the same way over and over again (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012, p. 148). In figure 1, the learner directly translated the German expression “es gibt” to “it gives , twice. This exemplifies how correcting systematic mistakes with direct CF can be straining for educators, especially when the error persists after being directly corrected repeatedly.

Likewise, students receiving “corrected” texts and exercises riddled with crossed-out words and phrases in red ink can be off-putting by triggering embarrassment in the writers and a loss of confidence in their writing skills. Another noteworthy aspect is the lack of differentiation of mistakes, hence, the unsystematic nature of direct CF (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012, p. 149); in Figure 1 it is apparent that grammar, spelling, and word usage mistakes are corrected in the same fashion. This may prevent the learners from spending sufficient time with a specific issue to reflect on their mistakes and acquire the correct structure.

However, Brown (2012, p. 862-863) points out that some L2 learners may not be proficient enough to correct mistakes by themselves even if pointed out by the educator. Therefore, direct written CF can be a viable option for lower--achieving, as well as younger learners. Furthermore, studies indicate that direct written CF is especially effective for specific error types such as idiomatic lexical issues (e. g. prepositions) and as the last part of a writing process when a text has been revised by the student and graded by the teacher. As the last step of a writing task, direct CF helps to raise the learners’ awareness for remaining issues, providing them with the necessary scaffolding to work on them in the future.

An important distinction for evaluating the effectiveness of direct written CF is to be made between a learning context focusing on writing skills, which entails developing students’ self-correction strategies, as opposed to pure language acquisition. For the latter, using direct CF in a focused and selective way may be an effective tool to help pupils master individual structures in a short period. To foster self-editing skills, educators should refrain from direct written CF (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012, p. 149).

As far as the usage of direct CF in figure 1 is concerned, the educator was not focusing on the development of self-correction strategies but rather general writing skills, as indicated by the low language level of the task. Since the errors were low in numbers and limited to lexical issues and spelling mistakes, the usage of direct written CF is appropriate.

3 Reformulation and reconstruction

A sub-category of direct written CF is reformulation, which stands for rewriting sections of a learner’s text while preserving the intended meaning to bring it closer to resembling a native writing style in terms of lexis and grammatical structures. It may provide learners with direct corrective feedback on incorrect structures, alternatively, the educator may give stylistically more sophisticated options for correct structures (Santos et al., 2010, p. 135). The main difference between direct written corrective feedback and reformulation is how the correction is presented. While direct correction provides directly corrected letters, words, or other structures the student has produced, reformulation provides the learner with new and different structures.

If a whole text is reformulated by educators, the term reconstruction is used; learners are not corrected per se and may choose which options provided by the educator they want to incorporate into a revised version of their texts.

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Figure 2: Example of Reformulation

The corpus did not contain an example of reconstruction, although, in figure 2 an example of reformulation is present. In the seventh line the student’s “after that time it delete from self” is reformulated by the teacher to “at that time it will be deleted automatically”. It seems as if the educator attempted to use direct feedback whenever possible, however, when a produced structure is exceptionally flawed, the teacher resorts to using reformulation.

Both reformulation and reconstruction have been proven to be viable tools for increasing students’ long-term accuracy. Furthermore, “reformulation is a technique that is not restricted to assisting students with their surface-level linguistic errors; it is also designed to draw attention to higher-order stylistic and organizational errors (Ellis, 2008, p. 104).” However, considering only gains in accuracy, reformulation is not the most effective type of written corrective feedback, while stylistic decision-making is fostered most effectively from reconstruction and reformulation.

4 Indirect written corrective feedback:

Indirect CF refers to indicating students’ errors, typically by using symbols hinting at the type of error, or underlining, circling, or marking the section or word where an error has occurred (Frear & Chiu, 2015, p. 26). In the corpus there were only isolated instances of indirect CF to be found:

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Figure 3: Example of indirect written corrective feedback

4.1 Indirect written CF- Example Analysis

In this example, the educator chose various forms of written CF for different types of errors, all but one can be identified as indirect written CF. The exception was made for a word that was not written in capital letters despite being the first word of a sentence. Presumably, the educator assumed that it was an accidental mistake, rather than a lack of knowledge, therefore the direct correction was made. The first error, however, was just indicated by an upside-down cross and not corrected. The intention may be that the student is believed to be capable of finding the solution to the problem without further guidance. The phrase, “my favourite dish is”, is a very common expression and can be looked up easily in coursebooks, the internet, or other readily available sources of information. The nature of the first error is that the phrase “my favourite dish is” will not change whether it is followed by a plural or singular noun because “is” will refer to a kind of dish which is singular by nature. The consecutive errors, “make it” and “makes it”, are closely related to the first one; instead of “make them” and “makes them”, the teacher wants the student to use “make it” and “makes it”, again referring to a dish and not to the noodles themselves. However, technically the first mistake is in breach with grammatical rules, hence the upside-down cross symbol, whereas the consecutive structures are grammatically correct, hence, the waved underlining. Comparing this text with others from the corpus, it stands out as comparably free of crucial errors. Therefore, the educator may have chosen the indirect written corrective feedback because of the higher proficiency level of this particular learner.

4.2 Effectiveness and usage of indirect written corrective feedback

Among educators, indirect CF is often preferred to direct CF due to the belief that it may foster problem-solving skills or self-guided learning abilities. Furthermore, it gives the learners a chance to reflect on linguistic forms, hence, it is a long-time learning approach. To make students engage more deeply, the educator may choose not to reveal the exact location of errors, which has been shown to be more effective in fostering students’ linguistic development than pointing out the exact locations. This can be done by giving only the number of errors in each line of a text, however, learners have been shown to be less able to correct mistakes that are not already located for them (Ellis, 2009, p. 100). However, a short-term-study by (Frear & Chiu, 2015, p. 33) has shown that an increase of accuracy with indirect WCF is barely noticeable. Nevertheless, self-editing skills of relatively advanced L2 learners able to proofread most of their texts with minimal assistance have increased significantly (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012, p. 150). In terms of the example in figure 3, the educator may have chosen the right type of written corrective feedback for this comparably proficient L2 learner.


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Written Corrective Feedback in the EFL Classroom. Types and Usage
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Written Corrective Feedback in the EFL Classroom, corrective feedback, corrective, EFL, classroom, Reformulation, reconstruction, indirect written corrective feedback, ESL, metalinguistic corrective feedback, metalinguistic feedback, focused corrective feedback, unfocused corrective feedback, electronic written corrective feedback, electronic corrective feedback, analysis, education, language learning, Error code system, self-editing skillsm, spell-checkers, grammar-chechers, prevocational school
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Sven Frueh (Author), 2020, Written Corrective Feedback in the EFL Classroom. Types and Usage, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1002051


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