Is Grammar Corrective Feedback Effective?

College of Languages of Sultan Agung Islamic University (UNISSULA) Semarang
Programs available: English Education S1 & English Literature (both are accredited)

Though responding to students’ writing as providing feedbacks certainly is a very tiring and a time-consuming task (Kroll in Celce-Murcia, 2001), many writing teachers keep doing it since they believe that it is essential to help the students recognize their linguistic shortcomings (Ferris, 2003). The argument in support for this is the belief that if a teacher points out to a student a grammatical error he has made, and then he provides, indirectly or directly, the correct form, it will help the student to understand the mistakes or errors he has made, learn from them, and his ability to write accurately hopefully will improve. It is also widely felt that if teachers do not correct their students’ grammatical errors, the errors may fossilize. When errors are fossilized, it will become very difficult to later eliminate them (Gray, 2004).

The continuing practice of error correction is also based on the argument that writing -as Seow (Richards & Renandya: 2002), Harmer (2004 & 2007)- involves 4 stages, namely planning, drafting, revising, and editing. Teachers’ feedback – together with peers’ – is important input for students so that they can improve their writing. At this revising stage, students usually look back at what they have put on papers and see whether they have communicated their ideas effectively to the readers. Comments, corrections and the like from readers represented by the teachers and peers will be very helpful in completing a good writing work.

In writing, revision is necessary because of at least two reasons. First, unlike oral communication, writing tasks do not allow for an ongoing negotiation of meaning through interlocution. Therefore, the intended meaning must be expressed accurately to the readers. Second, the written medium is often reserved by society when important ideas need to be formalized, standardized or made more permanent. Thus, formal writing carries with it certain expectations of clarity, precision, quality and durability.

It is, therefore, very often we see writing teachers are very busy struggling with piles of students’ papers both at school and at home. They read, review, and provide correction and comments with their red pens till late at night. These activities will, consequently, reduce their time for preparing and developing the courses due to the following day since they are too much occupied with activities of locating errors and providing correction. Failing to prepare and develop the course makes writing teachers –when they are in the classroom for teaching writing- simply refer to the work that the students did previously, point out and elaborate the so many grammatical mistakes and errors, and the corrections for them. Other aspects of writing as content development, flows of ideas, logics and styles will likely be neglected.
However, the hard work and sweat of writing teachers in finding errors and providing corrections on students’ writing, sometimes doesn’t work as it is supposed to do since students do not really learn from them. My personal experience as a writing teacher confirms that very often the corrected papers completed with the appropriate linguistic version just go to garbage bin as waste. What the teacher expects to happen doesn’t always come to happen. The already corrected errors appear again and again in the following students’ writing.

It is not surprising, then, when Truscott (1996) claimed that grammar correction should be eliminated from L2 writing classes. Truscott argued that the provision of corrective feedback on ESL student writing was ineffective and harmful, and that it should, therefore, be abandoned. Truscott is of the opinion that corrective feedback may lead to stress and anxiety of committing the same errors in the future writing. While, he maintained that there was no empirical evidence to show that the practice was worth continuing. In his study Truscott reviewed previous work as from Knoblauch and Brannon (1981), Hillocks (1986), Krashen (1984) and Leki (1990) which found that correction had little or no effect on students’ writing ability. It made no difference who the students were, how many mistakes were corrected, which mistakes were corrected, how detailed the comments were, or in what form they were presented, the corrections had no effect.

In response to Truscott, Ferris (1999) argued that the research base Truscott was drawing upon was too limited and conflicting in its finding. Truscott may have been a bit hasty in his conclusions and that error correction has helped some students in limited contexts. Ultimately, Ferris and Truscott agreed that further research was needed to help them better understand some of the potential effects of error correction on L2 writing. They suggested that studies should examine whether particular approaches to corrective feedback lead to greater accuracy and whether such approaches will result in greater performance with certain grammatical forms than others (Ferris, 1999; Truscott, 1999).



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