Chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing, by Dana Ferris and ESL Writers, Chapter 9 (see earlier blog for Chapter 10)
There is great controversy about whether error-correction is effective with ESL (and NES) writing students. (Note: Ferris mainly focuses on error-correction of ESL students in this text). Although there recently has been a resurgence of interest in error correction among ESL teachers, there still remains a cadre of teachers who believe that error-correction is not only useless, but harmful to students.
In contrast to what many teachers believe, students value error-correction from their teachers, and believe that it helps them become better writers. Ferris agrees. She argues that “… instructors need to work at finding the best ways to help their students become ‘independent self-editors’ of their own work” (2002, p. 9). Furthermore, argues Ferris, “Writing instructors surely have some responsibility to arm their students with the knowledge, strategies, resources they will need to function effectively outside of the ESL writing classroom” (2002, p. 9). Ferris concedes that more research needs to be done in order to discover the best way to help students become effective writers in self-editors. However, avoiding addressing students’ errors is guaranteed to stymie students’ writing development.
Ferris (2002) argues that it is not necessarily error-correction that is problematic, but rather the following issues:
- Inadequate error correction – How do teachers go about correcting students’ errors? Perhaps a checklist can help us understand how teachers correct errors, and what is effective.
- Limited, non-representative samples – Many other studies cited by those who argue against error correction are small and limited. Can we really draw conclusions about error-correction based on such limited information?
In addition, argues Ferris, a lack of error correction has a negative impact on students. When these students leave school for the “real world,” if they haven’t had effective grammar instruction, then they will end up being marginalized by their lack of proficiency in the English language.
In this chapter, Ferris addresses the anti-error-feedback arguments of other scholars. She first addresses the argument that teacher feedback is often confusing, inaccurate, and otherwise flawed. In Ferris’s own studies, she and her colleagues found that 89% of teachers’ feedback was accurate. Ferris also mentions that other scholars’ studies have shown similar results. In short, Ferris found that the assertion that ESL teachers “… Misread student texts, are inconsistent in their reactions, make arbitrary corrections, right contradictory comments… [and] overwhelmingly view themselves as language teachers rather than writing teachers…” (Zamel qtd. in Ferris 2005, p. 13) is false.
But what about the assertion that students ignore teachers’ feedback? Ferris mentions that overwhelmingly, evidence shows the contrary: Ferris and her colleagues found, through a number of studies, that the vast majority of students respond to teachers’ error corrections. For instance: “In the study by Ferris et al. (2000), students made successful edits of about 80% of the errors marked by their teachers. Finally, in a recent study by Ferris and Roberts (2001,) 53 university ESL writers who received error feedback were able to self-correct 60 to 64% of the errors marked during a 20-minute in-class editing session” (Ferris 2002, p. 15). Clearly, Ferris’s studies have shown that teachers’ error-correction has a positive effect on students’ writing skills.
Another issue Ferris addresses is the argument that teachers’ error-correction fails to provide any long-term benefits for writing students. Unfortunately, there are few studies comparing students who have received teacher feedback to those who haven’t. However, the few studies that have been completed show that teacher feedback improves students’ writing long-term. Indirect feedback, in particular particular, has been shown to be very effective for helping students improve their writing.
Another important point that Ferris brings up is this: error-feedback need not solely exist as red marks on students’ papers. Teachers can also incorporate student-teacher conferences, error logs, and short grammar lessons into their instruction.
Teacher feedback is important, but it must be well-constructed and not limited to marks on students’ papers. For instance, Ferris suggests selective error correction – instead of marking every single error on students’ papers, teachers should mark patterns of errors. Ferris also suggests that teachers focus mainly on errors (specifically, global, rather than local errors), rather than stylistic issues. Teachers should also note that ESL writers often make different types of errors than NES writers. However, even though this is the case, it is important for teachers not to make generalizations — each student is different, and therefore may have different patterns of errors, regardless of whether they are ESL or NES students.
Interestingly, Ferris suggests that teachers address errors earlier in the writing process, rather than later. Instead of waiting until the final draft to address grammar and spelling issues in ESL students’ writing, Ferris suggests that teachers take as many opportunities as possible to address these issues, as these are teachable moments. While Ferris does not suggest overloading students with corrections, she does suggest that teachers write comments on earlier drafts, such as, “Keep an eye out for [issue] as you continue working on this paper. I have circled some examples…” This will help students avoid fossilizing errors.
Also, indirect feedback — which encourages students to reflect on their own writing, rather than transcribing the teachers’ corrections — is much preferred over direct feedback. In rare circumstances, direct feedback may be the best choice. For instance, teachers may use direct feedback in order to address word choice issues. Also, teachers may use direct feedback when they want to help a student correct an error, but not spend a lot of time on it in lieu of spending time working on something else. Excessive use of direct feedback may lead to appropriation of students’ texts.
Questions I have about the reading:
When and why did error-correction become so controversial? And, what do process-focused scholars suggest teachers do instead of providing feedback, particularly when a student produces writing that is riddled with errors?
Chapter 9, by Sharon K. Deckert
ESL writers commonly misuse articles, and this misuse is often neglected by tutors in favor of higher-order writing concerns. However, L2 writers are often very concerned with articles, and are interested in making their writing sound more like L1 speakers’ writing. Dana Ferris argues that it is important to address this issue, since “… what evaluators view as typical ESL errors may negatively affect the grading of second language (L2) writers’ work” (105). So, how should tutors address this issue?
- Tutors should read their students’ work aloud; after all, as tutors read, they may stumble over certain areas of students’ papers, which may indicate to students that articles are missing.
- Student should read their work aloud to tutors. This is especially effective for students who remember to say articles as they speak, but forget to write them.
Why do ESL students often find articles so challenging? First of all, articles are incredibly frequent in the English language. There are three types of determiners in English (e.g., articles, such as “a,” “an,” and “the”; possessive determiners, such as “my,” “our,” etc.; and demonstrative’s, such as “this/these” and “that/those”). That’s a lot of information to keep up with!
ESL writers may also find it difficult to master English articles because different languages use articles differently. Furthermore, it is a challenge to learn the various count nouns, non-count nouns, proper nouns the English language has to offer — this is especially the case when a student’s home language uses non-count and count nouns differently from how they are used in English.
Questions I have:
I found this chapter to be very comprehensive, so I don’t have any questions right now.
**Note: I wrote about Chapter 10, “Editing Line-by-Line,” in a previous blog entry.**