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Impact of recasts on the accuracy in EFL Learners' Writing

Masterarbeit 2011 60 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Pädagogik, Sprachwissenschaft






1.1. Background of the problem
1.2. Purpose of the study
1.3. Problem Statement and Research Question
1.4. Significance ofthe study
1.5. Limitations and Delimitations of the Study

2.1. Present State of Affairs in the Research on Written Feedback in SLA
2.2. Direct vs. Indirect Feedback
2.3. Focused vs. Unfocused Feedback
2.4. Research on Recasts and Reformulations

3.1. Research Design
3.2. Operationalisation
3.3. Participants
3.4. Tasks, treatment and procedures
3.4.1. Baseline
3.4.2. Treatment phase
3.4.3. Post-test
3.4.4. Questionnaire for research questionN 3
3.5. DataAnalysis
3.5.2. Statistical Procedures
3.5.3. Pre-test and Post-test Scores
3.5.4. Qualitative Analysis

4.1. Do Focused Recasts Encourage Learners to Attend to Form and Increase Accuracy?
4.2. Are Some Types of Errors More Affected by Focused Recasts Than Others?
4.3. How Do Learners Perceive Focused Recasts? What Is Their Attitude to Such Kind ofFeedback?




APPENDIX 1. CHART 1. Total scores of errors. Participant J

APPENDIX 2. CHART 2. Total scores of errors. Participant К

APPENDIX 3. CHART 3. Item-based and rule-based errors. Participant J

APPENDIX 4. CHART 4. Item-based and rule-based errors. Participant К

APPENDIX 5. CHART N5. The data distribution. Participant К

APPENDIX 6. CHART N6. The data distribution. Participant J





Olga Degteva MAThesis,

Since the famous Truscott’s “The case against grammar correction in L2 writing class” (1996) there has been an ongoing debate in SLA research about the value of corrective feedback and its different forms. A growing number of empirical research is now investigating the question, and although more and more evidence is obtained against Truscott’s statement, there are still no definite conclusions about whether the feedback should be given, and if yes, in what form.

The present study, designed as a longitudinal single-subject study with two participants, contributes to this research base, investigating one particular form of written corrective feedback - focused recast. During seven weeks thirteen written texts of each participant (first three served as a pre-test, the last one as a post-test) were given feedback in the form of focused recasts and then analysed for errors. All types of errors were targeted in the study. Also item-based and rule- based errors were considered separately to find out whether Ferris’s (2002) assumption about treatable and untreatable errors could be confirmed.

The results showed significant decrease in the number of errors immediately after the baseline, and then steady downtrend throughout the treatment phase up to the post-test. The comparison of the pre-test and post-test scores let to conclude that recasts significantly assisted in increasing accuracy of writing. Quantitative analysis showed that the number of rule-based errors decreased more than the number of item-based errors

Qualitative analysis of the data of one of the participants showed, that item-based errors were treatable. It also brought up the suggestion that item-based features cannot be treated as a group. Each item is a single phenomenon which is not a part of any grammatical system of the language, and unlike rule-based features, no generalization can be applied to item-based features. The study showed that if to take item-based errors as single phenomenon, then both rule-based errors and item-based errors are equally treatable, thus questioning the ground for classifying errors as treatable and untreatable

The study also suggests a direction of the further research on the effect of recasts on the complex feature systems, such as Conditional III or Modal Verbs for expressing possibility in the past. These features failed to be corrected through recasts, but due to their complexity a longer study is needed to investigate the possibilities of recasts

Keywords: EFL writing, corrective feedback, recasts


I would like to express my gratitude to Asst. Prof. Dr. Sonuc Dimililer for her guidance during the term of my candidature and her invaluable assistance and encouragement in completing this work

I would also like to express my indebtedness to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Süleyman D. Göker for helpful comments on my final drafts

Also I owe special thanks to Assist. Prof. Dr. Uzuf Azmun for his essential help and assistance


Table 1. Total scores of errors with mean values (MV), coefficient of variation (CV) and standard deviation values (SD). Participants J and

Table 2. Item-based and rule-based scores of errors with mean values, coefficient of variation and standard deviation values Participant J

Table 3. Item-based and rule-based scores of errors with mean values, coefficient of variation and standard deviation values Participant К

Table 4. Level change evaluation

Table 5. Pre-test and post-test scores

Table 6. Coefficient of variation in the baseline and treatment

Table 7. Pre-test - post-test number of errors in articles, prepositions and tenses. Participant К

Table 8. WS error (RB). Participant К

Table 9. Present and past participles as adjectives (RB). Participant

Table 10. Indefinite pronouns (RB). Participant К

Table 11. Modal verbs, possibility in the future (RB). Participant

Table 12. Participle clause (RB). ParticipantK.

Table 13. Complex object. Participant K.

Table 14. Examples of corrected IB features. Participant K.

Table 15. Examples of IB errors that were used incorrectly in subsequent writings after they had been recasted. Participant К.


1.1. Background of the Problem

Corrective recasts have been studied as a corrective feedback in speaking in more than 60 descriptive, quasi-experimental and experimental studies. As Long (2007) claims, there is mounting support from research in SLA that recasts facilitate language development (p. 76). Studies by Doughty and Varela (1998), M. Ishida (2002), Choi (2000), Ortega and Long (1997) researched recasts in speaking in SLA and obtained results favouring recasts.

Focused recast is a corrective negative feedback that juxtaposes a deviant non-target language form with its correct target-language form without explicit explanation, which allows a learner to contrasts two forms and see an error while attending to meaning thus assisting acquisition as opposed to learning. In speaking focused recasts consist of the repetition of the deviant learner utterance with rising intonation, followed immediately by a corrective recast that is always delivered with falling intonation (Long, 2007).

While focused recasts in speaking have been investigated actively and there is a bigger number of studies that found them quite an effective way of feedback (Iwashita, 2003; Leeman, 2003; Long, Inagaki & Ortega, 1998;) than a number of studies that claimed recasts less effective than other types of feedback (Lyster, 1998b; Lyster & Ranta, 1997), writing recasts unfortunately cannot boast with such flourishing research. However, both writing and speaking being productive skills share much in common. It is quite logical to suppose that what works for the one can as well work for the other.

The efficacy of recasts for promoting language development lies in the immediate juxtaposition of the learner’s error and the correct reformulation provided by the more advanced speaker (Farrar, 1990; Long, 1996; Saxton, 1997, 2005). Unlike direct error corrections, recasts are contextualised, they allow to focus on a problematic item not in isolation, but in a context. Such contextualised focus can lead to acquisition of item-based phenomena (like prepositions, collocations and set phrases) and generalisation of rule-based phenomena (like articles, tenses, etc.).

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), which is actually Internet-mediated communication, has at last attracted attention of SLA researchers to its huge educational potential. Pelletieri (2000) states: "Because CMC fosters negotiation of meaning and form- focused interaction and because students communicating through this medium have more time to process a]nd monitor the interlanguage, I believe that CMC can play a significant role in the development of grammatical competence." ( p. 83). The emergent environment of interactive internet-mediated written discourse is still a largely unexplored pedagogical context for recasts. As Long (2006) notes, there is a need for further research in this area because the written modality is a robust environment for manipulating the degrees of saliency of target items, and findings from this line of research may have important pedagogical implications for teachers and materials developers in distance language instruction programs.

1.2. Purpose of the Study

The present study attempts to investigate the effect of corrective feedback in the form of focused recasts on the development of L2 learners literacy in writing.

The main focus of the study is on learners’ linguistic errors, which are subject to consistent treatment by means of focused recasts and whether such treatment can lead to improved literacy over time. Also a developmental change of each problematic item that comes into contact with a recast is investigated, thus, because the study is contextual, it allows a deeper insight into a process of acquisition.

Also the learners’ attitude and response to such type of corrective feedback is targeted in this study. Attention to the learner’s perspective on corrective feedback is of a primary importance, for it is through comprehension of how a learner processes and uptakes feedback, that a teacher can better understand when a certain type of feedback is more effective and suitable.

The study assumes that the findings might contribute to the improvement of the techniques of teaching writing in an Internet-mediated teaching/learning environment.

1.3. Problem Statement and Research Question

Out of all types of written corrective feedback, recasts alongside with reformulations stand out as the types of feedback that while focusing on errors are also focused on the context.

There is an apparent similarity between reformulation and focused recast, since focused recast is a reformulation. The difference however lies in the focused character of recasts as opposed to indirect reformulation. Reformulations happen at a text level, so that to notice an error a learner has to compare two texts - original and a reformulated variant and find original and reformulated items. Whereas recasts happen at a sentence level. An underlined sentence containing an error is immediately juxtaposed to a correct sentence, and although errors are not directly marked, to find problematic items within an original sentence by comparing it with its recasted variant is easier, thus it is easier to notice and process the errors. Yet, unlike error corrections, which draw attention to a grammatical form as it is, excluding the context, recasts provide the correct form within the context, pointing at interdependence of form and meaning. In the long run continuous written recasts of the same erroneous item in different contexts can enable a learner to generalise about rule-based language items and acquire item-based phenomena. Moreover, like reformulations, recasts allow for native-likeness of style that is especially valued by learners (Santos, Serrano & Manchon, 2010). So preserving all positive sides of reformulations, recasts at the same time should be easier to notice and process.

These assumptions form the foundation of the present study.

This study considers the following research questions:

1. Do focused recasts encourage learners to attend to form and increase accuracy?
2. Are some types of errors more affected by focused recasts than others, or not?
3. How do learners perceive focused recasts? What is their attitude to such kind of feedback?

The first two questions deal with the effect the recasts may or may not have on the development of L2 literacy. To put it simpler, the questions imply whether focused recasts can lead to a change of L2 knowledge, and of what kind this change can be.

The second question was prompted by the Ferris’s (2002) argument that if a grammatical feature is clearly rule-based, it is more treatable than when a feature is item-based.

The third question deals with the learners’ reaction to recasts. It probes into learners’ response to such kind of feedback, what kind of response it is and whether this response facilitate learning

1.4. Significance of the Study

The significance of the study lies in its attempt to discover a new way of teacher’s response to learners’ writing which can render help in improving L2 learners accuracy.

It seems especially relevant now, when the vast and unceasing argument is carried on between supporters and opposers of a form-oriented written feedback, while teachers- practitioners are seeking ways to deal with grammar illiteracy in their writing classes. There is also no agreement among the supporters on which types of feedback are more effective. So, a deep study into a less researched forms of written feedback can bring results of a great practical value.

There is also another important issue to be taken into consideration. In the modern world of electronic communication forms of language teaching/learning are being reconsidered. With the appearance of Internet-mediated teaching/learning appropriate teaching methods are demanded in different spheres including writing. The findings of the present study contribute to the development of teaching/learning writing via Internet communication.

1.5. Limitations and Delimitations of the Study

Limitations of the present study come with the chosen design. Single subject research may produce results that have strong internal validity, when all internal validity threats are addressed. However, due to the small number of study participants, single subject research tends to have poor external validity, limiting the ability to generalise the findings to a wider audience. Indeed, the results of the study may reveal positive effect of a treatment for a particular subject, but the same conclusion cannot be made for all L2 learners.

However, a single subject study involves careful examination and description of participants and conditions, as well as detailed definition of a target behaviour (in our case accuracy in writing) and a used treatment. The assumption is that under the same conditions (Internet-mediated teaching/leaming environment) other subjects of the same proficiency level and with the same level of motivation can achieve the same results if the same treatment is applied.

Moreover, the study can be replicated under different conditions to investigate whether the same treatment proves to be effective for example in a classroom setting.

On the whole, the research is cumulative. More studies of the same nature will provide opportunity for wider generalisation.


Perhaps of all the four skills that are taught in ELT writing is the most challenging due to many factors influencing literacy development in L2. However, the importance of writing as a language skill is difficult to overestimate and over years the interest of researchers to writing has increased. The present chapter is reviewing some of the most interesting studies on written feedback in SLA.

2.1. Present State of Affairs in the Research on Written Feedback in SLA

The question of corrective feedback in SLA for years has been one of the most confusing problems both for students and teachers due to the contradictory attitude to error correction. The opinions stay divided into two main streams: against corrections (Krashen, 1982; Truscott, 1996; 2007) vs for thoughtful appropriate corrections (Chandler, 2003; Bitchener & Knoch, 2008; Sheen, 2007). Within the second group the research on different types of feedback is flourishing to discover what thoughtful appropriate corrections actually are.

The attitude to writing has always been as to "a secondary form of language - highly dependent upon the more primary oral forms (listening and speaking) (MacArthur, Graham, & Fitzgerald, 2006, p. 171). Also students’ writing has been always interpreted as either a finished product to be evaluated by a teacher (product-oriented approach) or a series of drafts each commented by a teacher on form, vocabulary, organisation and content ideally leading to creating a good balanced written composition (process-oriented approach) (Ferris, 2003, p. 20). Hence, the two lines of discussion about the role of teacher’s feedback and how it can affect (if it can) the development of writing skills: discussion about content feedback and error feedback (or corrective feedback on form).

By the end of the last century feedback on form was widely unpopular "due no doubt to the prominence of the process-writing paradigm in ESL writing classes at the time with its consequent de-emphasising of sentence-level accuracy issues" (Ferris, 2003, p. 42). Many writing teachers were discouraged to focus on form, persuaded by Krashen’s Natural Approach which stated that if students’ content were emphasised, appropriate form would follow naturally, as it does in children’s L1 oral acquisition (Krashen, 1984). Perhaps the most severe opponent to corrective feedback on form, or grammar correction, has been John Truscott. In his review article " The Case Against Grammar Correction in L2 Writing Classes" (1996) he straightforwardly calls to teachers to totally abandon grammar correction, because: " (a) Substancial research shows it to be ineffective and none shows it to be helpful in any interesting sense; (b) for both theoretical and practical reasons, one can expect it to be ineffective; and (c) it has harmful effects" (p.328). The author argues precisely against grammar correction as "correction of grammatical errors for the purpose of improving a student’s ability to write accurately" (p. 329). His conclusion is that no matter what form or type of grammar correction a teacher uses, it will not have any positive effect on literacy improvement.

However, with time it became more and more obvious that such content-oriented approach in writing was not resulting in disappearance of students’ errors, that students’ lack of accuracy might well be held against them in various academic and professional contexts, and that students themselves were frustrated by the lack of grammar feedback instruction.

That has brought teachers and researchers back to the issue of corrective feedback on form.

A number of studies on the effect of corrective feedback have suggested that the form- focused feedback can be effective (Fatham & Walley, 1990; Ferris, 2002; Chandler, 2003), and even desired by learners (Grami, 2004). Also now researchers have been looking at different types of feedback to evaluate each of them. The findings about traditional types of feedback on form are contradictory.

There are four main types of traditional corrective feedback that have been studied: explicit correction (the error is fully corrected by a teacher), marking mistakes without explanations (the problematic issue is underlined, no explanation is given), number of errors per line in a margin (no explanation or location of the errors is given), and correction codes (special signs to indicate different types of mistakes, e.g W. W stands for a wrong choice of word), that label an error, but do not correct it, so that a learner has to correct them himself.

In the study by Robb, Ross and Shortreed (1986) all four types were tested. The students were assigned to four groups with different types of feedback and were told then to rewrite their essays. No group showed significant improvement. Some authors therefore have drawn a conclusion that corrections in writing do not work (Grey.R, 2004). Others say that grammar feedback that indicates the place but not the type of errors (marking mistakes without explanation) give better results (Fathman & Walley,1990) or that only written feedback coupled with student-teacher conferencing is effective (Brender, 1998).

Therefore, taking into consideration the two contradictory conclusions that corrective feedback is necessary, but traditional types of error feedback do not always show significant impact on the improvement of literacy, there has obviously been a need for investigation of other types of corrective feedback that could be helpful in literacy development of L2 students.

2.2. Direct vs. Indirect Feedback

However, not all researchers and teachers are so categorical about corrections.

Indeed, despite the fact that the feedback on form was severelyjudged and "found guilty" of uselessness and even causing harm, most teachers do use corrective feedback in class as well as most students expect them to do so (Zacharias, 2007).

The supporters of corrective feedback are now actively investigating the effect of different types of correction on L2 learners accuracy. Especially big attention is drawn to direct vs indirect feedback research. The findings are controversial, from "research in general has not demonstrated that direct correction of errors by teachers is effective in helping students improve either the accuracy or substance of their writing... indirect techniques such as noting the location of errors helps students improve their overall accuracy, both on subsequent drafts of the same paper and later assignments" (Ferris & Hedgcock, 1998, p. 127) to the conclusion that direct error corrections lead to improved accuracy in immediate revisions and subsequent writing (Chandler, 2003).

In the quasi-experimental study Bitchener and Knoch (2010) investigated the extent to which written corrective feedback can help advanced L2 learners, who already demonstrate a high level of accuracy in two functional uses of the English article system and the extent to which there may be a differential effect for different types of feedback on any observed improvement. Sixty-three advanced L2 learners at a university in the USA formed a control group and three treatment groups: (1) those who received written meta-linguistic explanation; (2) indirect circling of errors; and (3) written meta-linguistic feedback and oral form-focused instruction. On three occasions (pre-test, immediate post-test, delayed post-test) the participants.



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Girne Amerikan Üniversitesi
EFL writing feedback written recasts written feedback error correction in EFL



Titel: Impact of recasts on the accuracy in EFL Learners' Writing