English Language Teaching Unit
University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
In countries where English is taught as a second language or a foreign language (ESL / FL), the shift from a teacher centered classroom to a learner centered one has been a great challenge. This happens because the teacher, obviously, a person of superior linguistic skills is expected to impart as much knowledge as possible within a limited number of hours. Confirming this, Tsui (1985) in a study where she observed two ESL classrooms found that teacher talk took up more than 80% of the total talk time. This practice creates teacher dependent learners who are not actively involved in the learning process. It also creates individuals who know a great deal about the language but, lack actual application skills. If learners feel what is taught in the classroom has no or little relevance in the real world, they will not be motivated to learn. Since the ability to communicate is the ultimate target of learning a language, it is of crucial importance that the teacher explores new avenues which would help the learner tackle the linguistic challenges he / she may encounter in the world outside the classroom. This paper discusses how a shift from the traditional technique of providing explicit negative paper based feedback on written work to a group of adult ESL learners has helped create learners who would reflect on the teacher’s feedback, identify the mistakes and rewrite till they produce a piece of writing which satisfied both the teacher and the learner. Theoretical Background
Role of feedback
Feedback is widely seen in education as crucial for encouraging and consolidating learning (Anderson, 1982, Brophy, 1981, Vygotsky, 1972, cited in Highland and Highland, 2006). It is defined as ‘information that is given to the learner about his or her performance of a learning task, usually with the objective of improving their performance” (Ur, P. 1996. p.242). In the same vein, Lightbown and Spada (2006, p.197) define corrective feedback as “any indication to the learner that his or her use of the target language is incorrect” According to researchers such as Long & Robinson (1998, cited in Sauro, 2009), DeKeyser, (2005, cited in Sauro) corrective feedback plays a valuable role in facilitating the acquisition of certain target language forms, which may be difficult to learn through input alone, including forms that are rare, low in perceptual salience, semantically redundant, do not typically lead to communication breakdown, or that lack a clear form-meaning relationship (Sauro, 2009, p. 96).
Elaborating this, Harmer (2001, cited in McDonough and Shaw, 2003, p. 166) claims that “feedback given to students is formative – concerned with a developmental process – as well as summative – the evaluation of the end product”. The role played by the teacher is pivotal where feedback on learner performance is concerned. Confirming this, Harmer (2001, cited in McDonough and Shaw, 2003, p. 166) ‘regards the teacher as a ‘motivator’ and a ‘feedback provider’. Alroe (2011) claims that error correction of second language learners’ texts is assumed to be an important and beneficial practice by both teachers and students, specially in Asian countries. Thus, it is apparent that teachers are expected provide continuous feedback on learners’ performance in order to help them become competent users of the target language.
Feedback on students’ writing
There is a variety of corrective feedback techniques available for teachers in relation to students’ writing. Corrective feedback can both be explicit and implicit and may or may not include metalinguistic information. The table below illustrates the different categories of written corrective feedback.
Categories of Written Corrective Feedback (adapted from Ellis, 2009)