Research Paper (undergraduate), 2010
20 Pages, Grade: 1,0
2. Materials analysis
3. My beliefs
4. Pre-course and self-study tasks
4.1. Pre-course autobiography: my experience of grammar
4.2. Pre-course concept map
4.3. Article review
4.4. The main challenges of teaching English grammar in the Austrian secondary school context and possible ways of addressing them
Write about 1000 words on the following: Discuss different strategies teachers can use to respond to L2 learners’ spoken grammatical errors in the classroom and assess the effectiveness of these strategies with reference to your own learning and teaching experience and the literature.
According to Truscott (1999: 453-454), the easiest, fastest and most effective response to L2 learners’ spoken grammatical errors is to avoid corrective feedback: it does not have lasting effects on learners’ performance, and may even cause negative feelings. Judging from my own learning and teaching experience, I share Ur’s (1996: 246-247) and Scrivener’s (1994: 110-111) position: the appropriateness and effectiveness of error correction largely depends on the type of speaking activity. Constant correction during fluency work can be irritating and demotivating, ultimately hindering intake and fluency development, while accuracy activities lose their main purpose if correct language use is ignored. Yet, the contextual gravity of the error has to be taken into account too. For example, I always appreciated the correction of serious recurring errors (e.g. use of present tense for past events), even during fluency work – otherwise they would probably have fossilized. Conversely, correcting my learners’ trivial mistakes not hindering comprehensibility (e.g. one-off use of past simple instead of progressive) would possibly distract their attention from the task’s grammatical or communicative focus.
So whereas error correction basically does have its benefits, successful learner uptake and intake also depends on the corrective strategy. For Scrivener (1994: 113) explicit correction by the teacher (e.g. “You should say ‘was’”), is sometimes the fastest, most adequate and most profitable method. However, Lyster & Ranta (1997: 56) and Celce-Murcia (1985: 5) regard student-generated repair (i.e. self- or peer correction) as more effective. My own learning and teaching experiences reflect this opposing view: some pupils welcome and profit from a direct and unmistakable way of correction. Others (including myself) are frustrated, because they are denied the opportunity for self-correction via cues. For them, a more implicit, discovery approach to correction is perhaps more fruitful: it “might help [them] make inferences and formulate concepts about the target language, and […] fix this information in their long-term memories” (Hendrickson 1978: 393).
Lyster and Ranta (1997: 56-57) assert that comparatively implicit feedback types involving the negotiation of form (i.e. grammatical accuracy), like clarification request, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation and repetition, are most effective. They are unambiguous, enhance uptake, self- or peer-correction, the conscious reflection on errors, and the revision and proceduralization of explicit grammatical knowledge. As a learner, I enjoyed self- and peer-correction, and found them highly beneficial. They are challenging and allow for learner autonomy and cooperation respectively. Borg’s (2003: 178) study also shows that “self-correction generated a sense of achievement in students and made the correction more memorable.” In addition, when teaching I do not have the impression that negotiation of form necessarily interrupts the communicative flow (as maintained by Nicholas et al. 2001: 734-735). On the contrary, it even implies student involvement in interaction (as stated by Lyster & Ranta 1997: 57-58).
Of course, the individual strategies also have their disadvantages. For example, clarification requests (e.g. “What do you mean?”), elicitation (e.g. “Can you say that differently?”) and the literal repetition of the ill-formed utterance can be rather ambiguous and miss their point. I have had students who do not recognize them as negotiation of form, but as negotiation of meaning. Especially repetition is often considered as a superfluous echo of an utterance, making the students feel ridiculed. Moreover, they offer only indirect or vague allusions to the type and location of the error, which Celce-Murcia (1985: 5) assesses as ineffective. Yet, especially repetitions can become more salient via cues like rising intonation, stress, gestures (such as finger correction) and/or facial expressions (like frowning) highlighting the corrected item.
By contrast, metalinguistic feedback, i.e. comments or questions including grammatical terminology (e.g. “Tense?”), indicates directly and exactly where which correction is needed. Establishing a contrastive link between explicit knowledge of the correct target form and its implicit, yet wrong use, it “promotes the cognitive comparison that aids learning” (Ellis et al. 2006: 364-365). However, metalinguistic feedback only makes sense if learners know the terminology. I have made the experience that explaining the terms can distract their attention from the error and the activity.
 “Uptake […] refers to a student’s utterance that immediately follows the teacher’s feedback and that constitutes a reaction [...] to the teacher’s intention to draw attention to some aspect of the student’s initial utterance […].There are two types of student uptake: (a) uptake that results in ‘repair’ of the error on which the feedback focused and (b) uptake that results in an utterance that still needs repair (coded as ‘needs-repair’)” (Lyster & Ranta 1997: 49).
 “Repair […] refers to the correct reformulation of an error as uttered in a single student turn and not to the sequence of turns resulting in the correct reformulation; nor does it refer to self-initiated repair” (Lyster & Ranta 1997: 49).
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