Cooperative Learning Groups Involved in a Written Error-Correction Task A Case Study in an Italian Secondary School
Error correction is a classroom activity that rarely interests the students. When students are given back their written tests they are interested in the mark earned—not the errors made. This case study used cooperative learning as a technique for correcting students’ errors in order to motivate them, raise their attention, and encourage them to learn from each other. Two parallel classes in an Italian secondary school were involved in this experiment: one was corrected through traditional methods, the other through cooperative learning, so that data could be compared over time and differences (if any) highlighted. In particular, this paper presents the students’ scores in a pretest, test, and post-test; the students’ opinions about the activity; and the communicative exchanges, which occurred within cooperative groups. Cooperative learning applied to error correction, which is a rather new match for research, seems to be effective: the students who experienced the cooperative activity on error correction had better results than the ones corrected through traditional methods, especially in the long term (six weeks after the correction activity). The cooperative correction activity was also enjoyed and perceived as useful by the students themselves. Written error correction is a common school practice. Students regularly receive corrective feedback by the teacher when class tests or written homework are Sara Servetti graduated in foreign languages and specialized in didactics at the University of Torino (Italy), where she also obtained a Ph.D. in applied linguistics. She teaches English in Italian secondary schools and Italian as a second language. She was a member of the advisory board for the International Conference ICERI (Madrid, Spain) 2009 and she is a member of the Scientific Committee for the IASK (International Association for Scientific Knowledge) Conference 2010. Address for correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org. 7
returned. However, research has not found an agreement as to its effectiveness: several studies show its usefulness (e.g., Ashwell, 2000; Cardelle & Corno, 1981; Chandler, 2003; Fathman & Whalley, 1990; Ferris, 2003; Ferris & Hedgcock, 1998; Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Lee, 1997), as the learners who received error correction show a certain improvement over time, but some other studies (e.g., Polio, Fleck & Leder, 1998; Truscott, 1996) show no particular evidence that error correction helps students improve accuracy in writing. One reason for this disagreement lies in the extreme heterogeneity of the studies on error correction, which use very different designs, research questions, sample sizes, length of the studies, first and second languages involved, and contexts. Research agreement converges on students’ strong belief in error correction and its efficacy (e.g., Ferris, Chaney, Komura, Roberts, & McKee, 2000; Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Grami, 2005; Leki, 1991; Servetti, 2009a). Learners want and expect to be corrected because they think correction can help improve their writing. In fact, research shows the absence of correction may result in a lack of motivation and confidence in learners (Ferris, 1999; Ferris & Hedgecock, 1998; Frantzen, 1995), and even frustration (Brice & Newman, 2000). This potential negative outcome may not be easily overcome. In all probability, students perceive the moment during which they are given written negative feedback as useful for their learning because it is a moment in which they can reflect on their own written output. Error correction represents a chance for students to focus on linguistic forms, noticing the gap between their output and...