The Relevance of Corrective Feedback for the Development of Writing Competences in Secondary Level EFL Classrooms

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

31 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Role of Errors in Second Language Acquisition
2.1 Mistake vs. Error
2.2 Error Analysis: Theoretical Development

3. Types of Errors

4. Written Corrective Feedback in the EFL Classroom
4.1 Research on Corrective Feedback
4.2 Error Treatment and its Significance
4.3 Types of Written Corrective Feedback
4.3.1 Direct vs. Indirect Feedback
4.3.2 Focused vs. Unfocused Feedback
4.4 Efficacy of Written Corrective Feedback

5. Error Correction and Feedback from a Constructivist Perspective

6. Error Analysis and Corrective Feedback in Practice
6.1 Example from a Secondary Level EFL Student
6.2 Analysis of the Student’s Errors
6.2.1 Task 4a: Summary
6.2.2 Task 4b: Stuart’s Future
6.3 Key Sources of Errors
6.4 Explanation and Legitimation of the Applied WCF

7. Discussion and Conclusion

8. References

9. Appendix

1. Introduction

In primary level EFL classrooms young children start learning English as their second language. At this age, English is partially unknown for most of the students, so they begin to learn colours, numbers and very basic vocabulary in order to introduce themselves, describe people or to say what they like or do not like. The didactic approach to teaching English to primary level students is very playful because teachers want to motivate them to get a first feeling for the new language. In most German primary schools English is not a main subject and students do not have to face difficult exams in which their writing competences are strictly tested. At the end of grade four, however, students have to know several English words, grammatical constructions und short phrases to communicate on a very basic level.

Contrary to primary level English learning and teaching, in secondary level EFL classrooms the demand of orthographic and grammatical correctness is much higher as the focus on speaking, reading and writing increases drastically. At this stage, starting from grade 5, mistakes and errors are even more common than in primary school because the students’ competences are still quite basic. Therefore, students need feedback to improve their competences and to become better at speaking and writing English. From a teacher’s perspective, it is important to know how to give feedback effectively because not every student benefits from any kind of oral or written feedback.

The topic of this term paper is the relevance of written corrective feedback in secondary level EFL classrooms with a focus on students’ development of writing competences. To demonstrate that mistakes and errors are a natural part of second language acquisition (SLA), the first part deals with the general role of errors and why it might even be important to make them. The second part continues with different types of errors and shows how possible categorizations of errors can be made. The question if learners’ errors should be corrected in general has been controversial as, for instance, debates between Truscott (1996, 1999, 2007) and Ferris (1999, 2004) describe contrary positions: “Correcting learners’ errors in a written composition may enable them to eliminate the errors in a subsequent draft but has no effect on grammatical accuracy in a new piece of writing“ (Truscott, 1996; cited in Ellis & Sheen, 2011, p. 598). On the other hand, one could argue that it is “not possible to dismiss correction in general as it depend[s] on the quality of the correction“ (Ferris, 1999; cited in Ellis & Sheen, 2011, p. 598). The significance of error correction as well as types and effectiveness of corrective feedback (CF) will be the main focus of the first (theoretical) half of this term paper. To go into more detail, a connection between CF and a constructivist language learning perspective will be made. In that section, the focus is on student-centred techniques of correcting errors and the development of writing competences.

The second half deals with CF in practice. Therefore, errors in a text from a secondary level EFL student (grade 8) will be analysized and corrected, followed by an explanation of the corrections. The main question will be how the teacher’s written corrections help the student improve writing competences. In the conclusion, findings from theoretical research on Error Analysis, CF and Second Language Acquisition are linked with the results of the applied feedback. The following chapter can be seen as an introduction into the study field that describes how languages are learned and how errors are part of this complex process.

2. The Role of Errors in Second Language Acquisition

“Historically, error treatment in language classrooms has been a hot topic. In the days of the Audiolingual method, errors were viewed as phenomena to be avoided by overlearning, memorizing, and ’getting it right’ from the start“ (Brown, 2007, p. 273). This attitude has changed over time because L2 acquisition is now mostly seen as a process that includes focus on both form and meaning. In realistic situations, learners need to be able to communicate in their second language, and in such cases the main goal is to be understood by another person (who might be a native speaker). Contrary to form-focused instruction of language, task-based instruction, for example, tries to connect the aspects of form and meaning. From this perspective, using the target language means “to allow learners to use the language for purposes they find worthwhile“ (Müller-Hartmann & Schocker-von Ditfurth, 2011, p. 22). If they communicate with many erroneous expressions, they may be understood by other people, and “a laissez-faire approach to error, under the assumption that natural processes within the learner will eventually lead to acquisition“ (Brown, 2007, p. 273) can be seen as one possible approach of interactional language acquisition. However, this might lead to problems in their writing competences because in pieces of writing learners have to be much more precise. This discrepancy shows that it is not easy to let learners communicate regardless how many errors they make and to focus on orthographic and grammatical accuracy at the same time. A modern attitude towards errors is to regard them as a natural part of SLA as Brown (2007) states that “in language classrooms, learners’ errors should not be classified as undesirable. Linguistic errors are better viewed as natural processes of trial-and-error on the part of learners“ (p. 276). Errors are not only made by students who do not learn effectively but also by motivated learners as Gehring (2010) states that taking risks in a second language means that errors are also made: “Wer sprachlich etwas riskiert, macht auch Fehler“ (p. 55). Before continuing with error categorization, a differentiation between mistakes and errors has to be made in order to understand their significance in SLA and EFL learning and teaching.

2.1 Mistake vs. Error

The main difference between mistakes and errors can be explained as performance versus knowledge. Mistakes, for example, are often made in writing if, for example, students write too fast or if they just ommit certain letters in a word. A distinction by Corder (1967) proposes that “an error takes place as a result of lack of knowledge (i.e. it represents a gap in competence). A mistake is performance phenomenon, reflecting processing failures that arise as a result of competing plans, memory limitations and lack of automaticity“ (p. 161-170; cited in Ellis & Shintani, 2014, p. 253). In contrast to errors, mistakes can be treated directly by students because they can identify and correct them.

If the learner is inclined and able to correct a fault in his or her output, it is assumed that the form he or she selected was not the one intended, and we shall say that the fault is a mistake. If, on the other hand, the learner is unable or in any way disinclined to make the correction, we assume that the form the learner used was the one intended, and that is an error (James, 1998, p. 78).

Refering to James (1998), Saville-Troike (2006) makes a distinction between “systematic errors (which result from learner’s lack of L2 knowledge) and mistakes (the result from some kind of processing failure such as a lapse in memory)“ (p. 39). For EFL teaching, errors are of particular interest because they represent learner’s transitional competence in the context of SLA. In other words: Errors are important because they show how learners test hypotheses about the target language: “This includes testing whether aspects of existing L1 knowledge can be used in the L2“ (Saville-Troike, 2006, p. 39).

2.2 Error Analysis: Theoretical Development

The analysis of errors has been of fundamental interest for decades. Aforementioned errors due to interference of the L1 and the L2 played a significant role in the Contrastive Analysis which was “deeply rooted in behaviourism and structuralism“ (Xie & Jiang, 2007, p. 10). In this theory errors were regarded as bad habits which had to be corrected by mechanical pattern drills. This method was based on the idea that errors are made “when learners cannot respond correctly to a particular stimulus in the second language“ (Xie & Jiang, 2007, p. 10). The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) was later critisized because it predicted that the only reason for the occurance of errors is a lack of transfer from the learner’s first language. Refering to a number of studies on Error Analysis by Richards (1974), Lightbown & Spada (2013), for instance, state that “many errors can be explained better in terms of learner’s developing knowledge of the structure of the target language rather than an attempt to transfer patterns of their first language“ (p. 42).

Contrary to a strict distinction between the linguistic systems of the L1 and the L2, the theory of interlanguage tried to overcome the weaknesses of the CAH and proposed a concept in which interlanguage is a “system that has a structurally intermediate status between the native and target language“ (Xie & Jiang, 2007, p. 11). This system is influenced by the L1 and the L2 but it is separate and reflects creative attempts to produce structures in the target language. Interlanguage is dynamic because as learners receive more input, they test and “revise their hypotheses about the second language“ (Lightbown & Spada, 2013, p. 43). The term Interlangauge was introduced by Selinker (1972) who explained that this language system has characteristics of both L1 and L2. From this perspective, learners’ progress in SLA is achieved by linguistic stimuli (new input). Interlanguage occurs when L2 learners have cognitive maturity that allows them to understand and produce complex utterances; in this case it is possible to infer the mental processes taking place at a specific state of development (Saville-Troike, 2006, p. 19).

For EFL teachers determining the sources of errors is another difficult but important part of Error Analysis. For a general analysis Brown (2000) makes a distinction between interlingual and intralingual transfer processes: Whereas interlingual transfer refers to knowledge about structures from the native language (mainly at early stages of acquisition), intralingual transfer happens within the target language when learners have already acquired parts of the L2; for instance, overgeneralizations such as ‘*Does John can sing?‘ or

‘*He goed‘ can occur (p. 224). In the first example the student already knows that in questions a form of ’to be’ is required. In the second, the suffix -ed for regular verbs is attached to an irregular verb, so an aquired grammar rule is performed incorrectly. As the aforementioned theories tried to explain how and why errors are made by L2 learners, the next section deals with different types of errors and how they can be categorized.

3. Types of Errors

In the context of EFL learning both teachers and students have to deal with errors in written compositions in order to improve learners’ writing competences. As mentioned above, a distinction between interlingual and intralingual errors can be drawn: The former type happens due to mother-tongue influence. According to James (1998), these errors occur when “nonstandard dialect features get transferred to L2“ (p. 179). Similarly, Richards (1971b) had already stated that they “occur as a result of the use of elements from one language while speaking another“ (p. 10). Ignoring the fact that, for instance, word order is different in the L2, negative transfer leads to erroneous expressions that violate grammatical rules of the target language. In the course of hypotheses testing, learners inevitably make interlingual errors because in many cases they cannot know all the features and rules of the L2. Negative L1 transfer can be seen as a recurring type of errors in EFL classrooms as James (1998) further emphasizes that “they are a significant subset of all errors, though estimates and counts vary between 3 percent and 25 percent of all errors“ (p. 181). Tum sum, interlingual errors are based on negative transfer from L1 to L2; linguistic features are divergent in terms of pronunciation, lexis, grammar or idiomology:

Fehler im Sinne von interlingualen Interferenzen (d.h. negativem Transfer aus der Erstsprache) entstehen dort, wo die beiden Sprachen divergierende Strukturen bezüglich Aussprache, Wortschatz, Grammatik, Idiomatik usw. aufweisen. Lerner erleben in diesem Modell ihre Fehler also als Warnschilder, die auf Kontraststellen zwischen der Muttersprache und der Fremdsprache hinweisen (Macht, 2011, p. 355).

On the other hand, intralingual errors occur when a learner has internalized a certain rule (e.g. that in present progressive tense the suffix -ing is added to the verb) and uses it in a sentence where another tense is needed. Processes of overlearning or overgeneralization can lead to errors, such as: * I am always going to school by bike. The student has correctly produced the verb to go in present progressive tense, however, the signal word always as an indicator for simple present tense has been ignored; this is an example of overgeneralization. As Macht (2011) presents other examples, he says that in every case of overgeneralizations, intralingual interference is the reason for an error: “In allen Fällen der Übergeneralisierung einer fremdsprachlichen Struktur entstehen Fehler durch intralinguale Interferenz“ (p. 361).

Errors caused by intralingual interference can be further subdivided into global and local errors. In the EFL classroom these two types are particularly important because they can be seen as a helpful indicator for students’ L2 proficiency. Ellis (2009) describes global errors as “errors that affect overall sentence organisation (for example wrong word order). They are likely to have a marked effect on comprehension“ (p. 964), whereas local errors “affect single elements in a sentence (for example, errors in the use of inflections or grammatical functors [sic]“ (p. 970).

These two types of errors are particularly important in EFL classrooms because in both oral and written activities, teachers have to decide if and how to correct global and local errors. Contrary to oral tasks, where some errors do not have to be corrected instantly because certain erroneous utterances are still comprehensible, in writing, both global and local errors are indicated in delayed feedback. Therefore, in the next section the focus is on the question how to deal with above-mentioned types of errors in students’ pieces of writing.

4. Written Corrective Feedback in the EFL Classroom

4.1 Research on Corrective Feedback

Since Truscott (1996) argued against the necessity of grammar correction, many researchers started investigating corrective feedback (CF). In response, different studies on the role of CF in L2 acquisition and its efficacy have been conducted to show that CF plays an important role in SLA and EFL learning and teaching. However, “in SLA research and theory, there has been disagreement over the decades about the role of WCF [written corrective feedback] in language acquisition, with some arguing for its effectiveness in improving learners’ writing accuracy whereas others claiming its ineffectiveness and even harmfulness“ (Wang & Jiang, 2015, p. 111). Ongoing debates show that the question if WCF actually improves students’ writing accuracy is still not fully answered.


Excerpt out of 31 pages


The Relevance of Corrective Feedback for the Development of Writing Competences in Secondary Level EFL Classrooms
University of Kassel  (Institut für Fremdsprachenlehr- und Lernforschung, Interkulturelle Kommunikation)
Hauptseminar: Error Analysis
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1432 KB
Feedback, Error, Mistake, Writing, EFL, Classroom
Quote paper
Kevin Salzmann (Author), 2015, The Relevance of Corrective Feedback for the Development of Writing Competences in Secondary Level EFL Classrooms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Relevance of Corrective Feedback for the Development of Writing Competences in Secondary Level EFL Classrooms

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free