The Effect of Timely Interference of English Language Teachers on the Improvement of Learners’ Oral Performance

Corrective feedback or error correction techniques are two terms interchangeably used to mean the interfering of language teachers to correct errors committed by their students. The issue has been controversially debated over the time. Many teachers

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    International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature   ISSN 2200-3592 (Print), ISSN 2200-3452 (Online) Vol. 2 No. 6; November 2013 Copyright © Australian International Academic Centre, Australia The Effect of Timely Interference of English Language Teachers on the Improvement of Learners’ Oral Performance Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Faki Wadi Al-Neel University-Sudan King Abdu-Al-Aziz University – KSA Ahmed Gumaa Siddiek (Corresponding Author) Shaqra University P.O.Box 18 - Community College Dawadami - KSA 11911 Tel: +966 536 872 406 E-mail: Received: 04-07-2013 Accepted: 18-09-2013 Published: 01-11-2013 doi:10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.2n.6p.222 URL: Abstract Corrective feedback or error correction techniques are two terms interchangeably used to mean the interfering of language teachers to correct errors committed by their students. The issue has been controversially debated over the time. Many teachers support the view of immediate  interference to correct learners’ error. These are the old disciples of teacher-based theory in education, while others defend the idea of student-centered education. This paper aims to pool the efforts of both  schools; but the researchers prefer the timely  interference of the instructor to correct his/her student’s error. The researchers believe that, this may be the practical way to modify learners’ oral language errors. The word timely  should be relatively  understood to simply mean that teachers should decide the well-timed moment to get involved in the learning process. The teacher is the master of the place and time of the whole teaching environment, so s/he will have to soundly judge their interference by considering: 1. The vitality of the text 2. The degree of the criticality of the context. 3. The sound calculation of the possibility of loss OR gain if the interference is not well-timed. Keywords : corrective error, feedback, teacher interference, ELT 1. Introduction There has been an increasing interest in investigating corrective feedback role in second language acquisition over the last decades and several definitions have been provided since then. The terms negative evidence  and corrective feedback   are interchangeably used by some researchers. However, the former is used mainly in the field of language acquisition, whereas the latter is preferred in language teaching. Long (1996), views feedback as both: negative evidence as well as a positive one. Feedback is said to be positive evidence when we provide learners with grammatical, acceptable models in the target language; and negative evidence is when we provide learners with direct or indirect information of what is unacceptable. Lightbown and Spada (1999) see corrective feedback as any indication to the learners that their use of the target language is incorrect. For the sake of convenience, in this paper the term corrective feedback and error correction techniques are used interchangeably in this sense, however, the abbreviation (CF) will be used to represent the former. The role and the importance of CF have been debated on theoretical and pedagogical grounds. Whereas some language acquisition theories and second language teaching methodologies question the use of CF, there are others which favour its use and see it as beneficial. Teachers of second or foreign languages, however, sometimes are unaware of these issues and their views towards corrective feedback and, consequently, their practice in the classroom can be affected by the lack of knowledge as reported by Méndez (2013), that the lack of knowledge can be seen in the mismatch between teachers’ preference and what learners really want their teachers to use in the classroom. It can also be seen in misuse of these techniques which may result in unenthusiastic students. Some identified problems, regarding teaching foreign languages and the uses or lacks of corrective feedback are due to the inconsistency, ambiguity, and ineffectiveness of teachers’ corrections (Chaudron, 1977; Long,). According to Lyster and Mori (2006), many teachers have been found to adopt ambiguous and unsystematic corrective feedback techniques or approaches. Sometimes they accept errors for fear of interrupting the communicative flow, and at other times they correct the same errors many times. Lyster and Ranta (1997) also observed that the teachers’ correction targeted on a wide range of learner error leading to an overwhelming linguistic data in the form of corrective feedback, which means an overload for learners’ cognitive capacities. Therefore, teachers are encouraged to systematize the use of CF. This study therefore aims at investigating the types of oral corrective feedback that English language teachers use at different  IJALEL 2 (6):222-235, 2013 223   levels of schooling, comparing their attitudes about corrective feedback techniques and their actual performance in their classrooms. 1.1 Statement of the Problem The problems stems from our observations of  some  EL teachers in the field, doing unsatisfactory language teaching. Their teaching practice has- consequently - yielded poorly-trained language users; with clear weaknesses in oral communication. We often notice the poor performance of these language users - in the Arab region - in their oral interaction with others. We can often notice the tangible weak performance of our graduates when communicating in English or handling business issues with foreigners in many places or when they are situationally obliged to interact with visitors at airports, in hotel receptions, bank transactions or simply making telephone calls. Through our long teaching experience with teachers in classes, we notice that there is too much  or too little  interference of teachers in correcting students' errors. Both techniques may have negative results on the learner. Now we are tackling this subject by referring to literature and previous studies carried out by many researches in the field of language teaching and learning. These researchers believe that learners can benefit if the correction is given in appropriate amount and it will surely contribute positively to students' learning (Carroll & Swain, 1993; Han, 2002; Richards & Lockhart,1994; Sinclair & Brazil, 1982; Tsui, 1995; White, 1993). Moreover, Lyster & Ranta, 1997; Harmer, 1991),  believe that certain number of oral corrective feedback techniques common to the language classroom practice. The researchers aim by these efforts to raise awareness among language teachers and provide information about various oral corrective feedback techniques; that can be used by teachers to correct their students' immediate speaking errors in the classroom. 1.2 Research Questions This research aims to find answers to the following questions: 1.   What types of oral correction techniques do English teachers usually implement in different teaching environments? 2. Is there any discrepancy in teachers’ attitudes about oral corrective feedback and their actual practice? 3. What types of oral corrective feedback do students usually expect from their teachers? 1.3 Objective of the survey English Language teachers use different techniques of oral correction to boost students' learning. One of the objectives of this paper is to examine these types of oral correction techniques, those English Language teachers in - general - use at different teaching situations. We are keen to find out if there is any relationship between teachers ’beliefs and their oral corrective feedback, compared with their actual practice in the classroom. In addition, we also aimed to identify the types of oral corrective feedback that students mostly prefer to be used by their instructors. 1.4 Significance of the Study EL teachers all over the globe often spend a significant amount of the class time giving oral corrective feedback. This time is expected to be spent in the wisest   possible way. For this to happen, teachers should not be left to their own intuitions or discretion, as  some  of them lack enough experience to judge the right   time and  place  to interfere in their student's learning process. Such teachers should be given advice to do their daily routine in principled manner. Many teachers currently follow the same inherited techniques of teaching from their old teachers and they vehemently defend this practice. But in order for things to change to the better, it is important to make these understand the situation by assimilating the new trends in language education and language acquisition. Based on this understanding, they can make sound decisions. We hope the result of this survey will improve the environment of interaction between teachers and students. Furthermore, we will pay attention to students to make them understand the reasons their teachers sometimes need to interfere in their oral communication. It is assumed that, without teachers’ correction, students will not realize if their utterances are correct; and that, this correction is intended to gradually lead them to use better English in the future. 1.5 Methodology This is a historical and analytical survey intended to review eff  orts of theorists, educators and teachers in corrective feedback. This review  practically entailed a wide range of reading to navigate many places and consult many authoritative references by referring to many articles and research in books, periodicals and theses to collect evidence to enrich this discussion. 2. Discussion: Defining Feedback Many terms are used in identifying errors and providing CF in the SLA literature. Among the most common are corrective feedback, negative evidence, and negative feedback. Because of possible confusion arising from the use of this terminology, brief reviews of the definitions of terms and of the different types of feedback are presented below. Chaudron (1988) stated that that the term corrective feedback incorporates different layers of meaning. According to him, the term “treatment of error” may simply refer to “any teacher behaviour following an error that minimally attempts to inform the learner of the fact of error” Lightbown and Spada (1999) define corrective feedback as:  IJALEL 2 (6):222-235, 2013 224    Any indication to the learners that their use of the target language is incorrect’’. This includes various responses that the learners receive. When a language learner says, ‘He go to school every day’, corrective feedback can be explicit, for example, ‘no, you  should say goes, not go’ or implicit ‘yes he goes to school every day’, and may or may not include metalinguistic information, for example, ‘Don’t forget to make the verb agree with the subject’. (p. 171-172) According to Schachter (1991), corrective feedback, negative evidence, and negative feedback are three terms used respectively in the fields of language teaching, language acquisition, and cognitive psychology. Different researchers often use these terms interchangeably. The feedback can be explicit (e.g., grammatical explanation or overt error correction) or implicit. Implicit correction includes, but is not limited to, confirmation checks, repetitions, recasts, clarification requests, silence, and even facial expressions that express confusion. Long (1996) offers a more comprehensive view of feedback in general. He suggests that environmental input can be thought of in terms of two categories that are provided to the learners about the target language (TL): positive evidence and negative evidence. Long defines positive evidence as providing the learners with models of what is grammatical and acceptable in the TL; and negative evidence as providing the learners with direct or indirect information about what is unacceptable. This information may be explicit (e.g., grammatical explanation or overt error correction) or implicit (e.g., failure to understand, incidental error correction in a response, such as a confirmation check, which reformulates the learners’ utterance without interrupting the flow of the conversation—in which case, the negative feedback simultaneously provides additional positive evidence, and perhaps also the absence of the items in the input. (p. 413) McNamara (1999) and Ur (1996) define ‘feedback’ as ‘’passing some information to the students about their  performances’’. It is also defined as the comments or other information that students receive from their teachers or from other people concerning their success in learning (Coulthard, 1992; Tsui, 1995; Cameron 2001). This could be after each response, in a spoken discourse for example, ‘’Well done’’ ‘’Yes’’, ‘’Good’’ for correct answer or by ‘’Try Again  , ‘’Ok, but …’’ or ‘’Sorry that is wrong’’, for the wrong answers. Littlewood (1981) and Lewis (2002) point out that feedback means telling students about their progress and showing them their errors in order to guide them to areas for improvement. In addition, Harmer (2001) mentions that oral feedback should not only be correcting our students’ errors but should also be offering them how they can correct these errors. Askew and Lodge (1997), cited in Askew 2000, go further than that as they believe that feedback is much wider than that as it includes any kind of communication that helps learners in every learning experience. Askew and Lodge's definition seems to be more comprehensive. Important things like gestures and facial expressions could be included under this definition and these are, in many speaking events, very vital in making successful interactions. Overall, we could say that feedback is the message that students receive from their teachers on their oral or written work. This message could be oral or written to show their errors/mistakes and at the same time help them to overcome the error/errors they have made in the future, in a supportive learning environment. 2.1 The Importance of Oral Feedback The Oral feedback has been debated in language acquisition theories and language teaching. The role of CF in the different theories of language acquisition is not the same and this is reflected in pedagogical implications in the language classrooms. Many writers such as (Littlewood, 1981; Lightbown & Spada, 1999; Lewis, 2002; Richards, 1994; Ur, 1996) discuss the importance of oral corrective feedback, considering different areas which can be taken into account. It seems that all these writers agree on some issues like the purpose of oral feedback and its effects on teaching and learning. The following is a brief demonstration of these two areas: 2.1.1 Purpose of Oral Feedback Different writers look at the purpose of oral feedback from different perspectives. For example, Lewis (2002) summarizes the purpose of oral feedback in four points: (1) it provides students with advice about learning and it also helps them to acquire some kind of language input as they might learn new vocabulary and structures in context, (2) it  provides information for both teachers and students as it paves ways for teachers to describe their students’ language. From students’ perspective it is a kind of assessment which is more precise than marks or grades; (3) it is a form of motivation as it can encourage students to study and do their best, and (4) it is one step forward towards self-reliance as students may start detecting their own mistakes. Moreover, oral feedback could play a key role in helping students improve their English (Askew & Lodge (1997), cited in Askew, 2000; Lightbown&Spada, 1999). Researches in which students were given considerable amounts of practice in certain skills and never given oral feedback show fossilization in students’ performance (Perrott, 1982). Littlewood (1981) adds that, good oral feedback might help students to define their purpose and focus as it tells students how successful they were and determines the criteria for success. Furthermore, oral feedback usually aims to help students understand the target performance and to help them compare the target and the current performance i.e. do they say what is expected from them? (Richards, 1994 & Ur, 1996). In the language classroom, it might direct our students towards the accuracy of what they say. This could happen when teachers correct the errors that should be corrected directly. Students here could notice their errors in order to avoid them next time (Richards, 1994). Feedback might also help students to close the gap between the target and the current  performance in order to produce the target responses. Perrott (1982), states that without oral feedback no improvement can be noticed in the students’ performance. As one of the primary functions of teachers is to motivate students in their learning, Lewis (2002) says that oral feedback might motivate students and encourage them to use the language to the best of their abilities taking into  IJALEL 2 (6):222-235, 2013 225   account whatever the teacher knows about the students’ abilities. Richards (1994) agrees with view that as he writes that oral feedback might enhance the motivation of the students through creating an encouraging classroom atmosphere. Lewis (2002) goes further by indicating that teacher’s oral feedback plays a key role in providing the students with a very significant wealth of linguistic information. This might happen when the teacher’s words in spoken discourse illustrate how language is used in one to one communication. Schachter (1983, cited in Lynch 1996), believes that feedback might help students to convert the necessary input into actual language learning. Finally, feedback provides teachers with information about individuals and the whole class as well. Moreover, it highlights the strengths and the weaknesses of each student (Lewis, 2002). Thus, as Brown, McDowell, & Race (1998) indicate, teachers then could provide their oral feedback according to their students’ individual feeling in order to correct their weaknesses or to applaud good students when they provide correct answers. 2.1.2 The Effect of Oral Feedback on Teaching and Learning Oral feedback given to students can be a two edged sword i.e. it may have some pros as well as some cons. According to Brown et al (1998) it is the teacher who can maximize its benefits and minimize the possible dangers. Here is a brief illustration of some of these pros and cons in terms of value and limitation. 2.1.3 The Value of Oral Feedback & Oral Correction Oral feedback can have many advantages. It might have a very strong effect on learning as it is one of the important ways through which teachers usually assess their students’ performance and from which students may benefit (Askew, 2000). Furthermore, it might be more beneficial for the students as it may provide more information through the help of other tools like facial expressions and body language (Brown et al, 1998). In addition, if the teacher asks the students to think again and have another try this, as Fanselow (1987) writes, ‘’is a way to help them test their own thoughts and hypotheses which might improve their learning strategies.’’ On the other hand, Ohta (2001) takes a further corrective feedback a step by showing that if the correct form is  provided, learners may have the chance to compare their own production with that of another. In this way, corrective feedback may stimulate hypothesis testing, giving the learner the opportunity to grapple with form-meaning relationships. Corrective feedback that does not provide the correct form, on the other hand, may force the learners to utilize their own resources in constructing a reformulation. In either case, corrective feedback may facilitate L2 development. Finally, an advantage of oral feedback could be that teachers can see the effect of their feedback on his students and their performance and so can take any action he\she feels necessary as a follow up (Brown et al, 1998). 2.1.4 The Limitations of Oral Feedback Although oral feedback, as discussed earlier as a number of advantages, it could have a number of limitations too. For example, Lewis (2002) and Brown et al (1998) assert that teachers should be careful when giving oral feedback as students may misunderstand their message and so their feelings might be affected. Another point to consider here is that when giving oral feedback we should avoid spoon-feeding our students to encourage them to be autonomous (Lewis, 2002). Finally, giving the wrong feedback or even the teacher’s failing in considering the task level or students’ abilities, might lead to a learning problem. Chambers (1999) explains that although feedback giving is not an easy job, what is more difficult is deciding what feedback should be given bearing in mind the difficulty of the task and the students' abilities. 2.1.5 Corrective Feedback and Types of Errors As explained earlier by Ellis (1994), Corder (1967) distinguished between “errors” and “mistakes.” An error takes place as a result of lack of knowledge (i.e., it represents a gap in competence). A mistake is a performance phenomenon, reflecting processing failures that arise as a result of competing plans, memory limitations, and lack of automaticity. Burt (1975) suggested that teachers should focus on “global” rather than “local errors.” Global’’ errors are errors that affect overall sentence organization. Examples are wrong word order, missing or wrongly placed sentence connectors, and syntactic overgeneralizations. Local errors are errors that affect single elements in a sentence (for example, errors in morphology or grammatical functions). Krashen (1982) argued that Corrective Feedback should be limited to features that are simple and portable (i.e., “rules of thumb”). Others, including (Ellis 1993), have suggested that CF be directed at marked grammatical features or features that learners have shown they have problems with. When correcting, it is important to identify the type of error the learners make because it is not always the case teachers want or need to correct everything. Errors have been categorized Yoshida, (2008) as: ·   Morphosyntactic error. Learners incorrectly use word order, tense, conjugation and particles. ·   Phonological error. Learners mispronounce words (or we suggest it could also include suprasegmental errors). ·   Lexical error. Learners use vocabulary inappropriately or they code-switch to their first language because of their lack of lexical knowledge. ·   Semantic error. Misunderstanding of a learner’s utterance, although there is not any grammatical, lexical or  phonological error. 2.1.6. Types of Oral Feedback Different writers classify the types of oral feedback differently. Some classify it into formative and summative while others distinguish between feedback on the content of what students produce and on the form. Others see them as  positive and negative oral feedback. In addition, there are writers who classify feedback into explicit feedback and implicit feedback. Finally, there are some writers who may try to be more precise when they make a distinction between  IJALEL 2 (6):222-235, 2013 226   three types of oral feedback: corrective, strategic and evaluative feedback. The following part is an illustration of these different types with a focus on oral corrective feedback: 2.1.7 Formative and Summative Feedback Hamp-Lyons &Heasley (1987), and Tsui (1995) suggest two types of oral feedback through which teachers make a  judgment about their students' oral work; ‘’the Formative’’ and ‘’the Summative’’ feedbacks. Formative assessment  provides feedback and information during the instructional process, while learning is taking place, and while learning is occurring. Formative assessment measures student progress but it can also assess your own progress as an instructor. Summative assessment takes place after the learning has been completed and provides information and feedback that sums up the teaching and learning process. 2.1.8 Feedback on the Content and on the Form Richards & Lockhart (1994) and Harmer (2001) emphasize that teachers tend to focus their oral feedback on how students say something, i.e. the form (correctness of grammar or pronunciation), rather than on the meaning of what they say i.e. the content. According to Richards & Lockhart (1994), oral feedback should not only be used to let students know how well they have done something but it should also be used to increase students' motivation and build a supportive classroom atmosphere. Lewis (2002) &Wragg and Brown (1993) support Richards & Lockhart's point of view and they advise teachers to concentrate their oral feedback on students’ communicative abilities as well as the form of what they say. Richards & Lockhart (1994: 189) mention seven strategies teachers often use to give feedback on the content of what students say: Acknowledging a correct answer; indicating an incorrect answer; praising; expanding or modifying a student’s answer; repeating; summarizing; and criticizing. 2.1.9 Positive and Negative Oral Feedback A number of writers classify oral feedback into ‘’positive’’ and ‘’negative’’. For example, McNamara (1999) and  Nunan (1991) note that teachers use both techniques in the classroom as an attempt to reinforce good performance and to help weaker students to perform better in their next tries. Nunan (1991) adds that positive oral feedback serves two functions: to draw students’ attention that they have done well and to motivate them through praise. Askew & Lodge (1997), and Lewis (2002) agree with Nunan as they mention that positive oral feedback could be very beneficial for students as it supports learning through making students more motivated and thus work harder to produce correct utterance.  Negative oral feedback, on the other hand, might enhance or hinder learning. This depends on how teachers use this type of oral feedback. Carrol& Swain (1993) and Forta (1986), cited in Nassaji and Swain (2000), report that negative oral feedback tends to be more effective when it provides the student with detailed information about the errors he/she has made rather than when it only gives him/her some clues and leaves a space for student’s inference. Lewis (2002) goes further than that stressing the risky impact that negative oral feedback could cause as he believes that students who always receive negative oral feedback become frustrated which may result in weak performance. 2.1.10 Explicit and Implicit Oral Feedback Oral feedback is also classified into two types according to the way it is delivered to students: explicit and implicit. Loewen (2005) writes that teachers, during focus-on-form instruction, attempt to draw students’ attention to language in  both ways: implicitly and/or explicitly. Explicit oral feedback occurs when teachers give students clear indications that errors have been made and so students get clear messages of what exactly was wrong in their utterance (Ellis, Loewen, &Erlam, 2006). On the other hand, implicit oral feedback can have the form of facial signals, paraphrases, and recasts (Han, 2002a; Ellis, 1999). 2.1.11 Strategic, Evaluative, and Corrective Oral Feedbacks Some writers classify oral feedback used by English teachers in the classroom into these three types of feedbacks (Gattullo, 2000 & Harmer, 2001). This classification could be an attempt to explain, in some detail, what teachers of English usually do when interacting with their students i.e. teachers usually correct and evaluate their students’ oral work and they provide them with techniques to help them overcome the obstacles in their spoken discourse. Here is an overview of some of their viewpoints: 2.1.12 Oral Strategic Feedback Oral strategic feedback includes advice from the teacher to the students on how to get over a problem. In other words, teachers try to provide channels through which they might help their students to overcome their mistakes independently. For example, to help a student say the definite article ‘’the’’ the teacher might say to the student “Look at my tongue-  put your tongue on your teeth- the”. Tsui (1995) suggests that using oral strategic feedback can enhance learning as it might help students to be self-reliant as they may start thinking of ways through which they can overcome their own  problems following the model of their teacher. In addition, Lewis (2002) thinks that good oral feedback can be given on students’ strategies to encourage them  promote these strategies to overcome the possible learning problems they might face. For example, McDevitt (1989)  points out those students are unable to identify incorrect sentences they might produce while reading. He suggests that getting them to read their sentences aloud is a technique that may help them realize where the errors are. Moreover, we might also, as Lopes (1998) suggests, develop some other techniques to help our students improve their strategies to tackle the errors they might make. For example, having a card in which a big ‘’S’’ is written (representing the third  person singular ‘’s’’) to flash when a related error is spotted. The researcher thinks that Lopes' suggestion could be very  practical as it might improve students' abilities in detecting their own errors as well as the errors made by their
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