Volume 12, Issue 1 (2021)                   LRR 2021, 12(1): 43-80 | Back to browse issues page


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Saeedakhtar A, Abdi R, Akbari A. The Effect of Focused and Unfocused Written Corrective Feedback on the Accuracy of Iranian learners’ Simple Past Tense. LRR. 2021; 12 (1) :43-80
URL: http://lrr.modares.ac.ir/article-14-27521-en.html
1- Assistant Professor, Department of English Language Teaching, Faculty of Humanities, Mohaghegh Ardabili University, Ardabil, Iran , a.saeedakhtar@ut.ac.ir
2- Associate Professor, Department of English Language Teaching, Faculty of Humanities, Mohaghegh Ardabili University, Ardabil, Iran
3- M.A student , Department of English Language Teaching, Faculty of Humanities, Mohaghegh Ardabili University, Ardabil, Iran
Abstract:   (1535 Views)
The present study investigated the differential influence of direct focused and unfocused written corrective feedback on the intermediate learners’ accuracy of simple past tense. To this end, 60 Iranian EFL learners were divided randomly into two experimental groups (focused and unfocused) and a control group. All groups were required to perform a story-writing task and deliver it to the teacher for four sessions. The focused group received feedback on regular and irregular simple past tense errors. The unfocused group received feedback on all types of errors. The control group received no feedback on their writing. Results revealed that the performance of the focused group was better than the unfocused and control groups on the immediate posttest. Results of the attitude questionnaire showed that learners preferred the focused feedback more than the unfocused one.

1. Introduction
Developing the writing skill in second language (L2) is a big challenge for learners (Zacharias, 2007) since they fail to use accurate sentences in their writings. In order to help them overcome such problems, teachers are recommended to provide written corrective feedback (WCF) on their errors (Hyland, 1990). Focused and unfocused corrective feedback are two common types of WCF provided on learners’ errors. In focused feedback, only one or two types of errors (e.g., only past tense) are corrected while in unfocused feedback all errors related to grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. are corrected by the teacher. Proponents of focused feedback (e.g., Bitchener & Knoch, 2010a) claim that it can decrease the learners’ cognitive load and can facilitate mastering those forms. However, the advocators of unfocused feedback (e.g., Bruton, 2010) argue that focused feedback can delay developing the writing skill and can lead to fossilization. So far, a large body of previous studies have compared the role of focused and unfocused corrective feedback in improving the writing skill (e.g., Ellis et al., 2008; Marefat & Pashazade, 2016). However, the inconclusive results of the previous studies urge more future studies to shed light on the superiority of one type over the other. 
Analyzing the literature demonstrates that most previous studies have compared the effect of focused and unfocused feedback on structure-based errors which are easily corrected by consulting with a dictionary or grammar book including the article a and the (e.g., Ellis et al., 2008; Sheen et al., 2009), the prepositions (e.g., Marefat & Pashazade, 2016), and regular past tense (e.g., Frear, 2010). However, only a limited number of studies have addressed item-based errors which cannot be corrected relying on the information provided in books and are in need of teacher intervention and explanation such as conditional sentences (e.g., Marefat & Pashazade, 2016; Shintani et al., 2016) and passive voice (e.g., Palizvan, 2018). The present study intends to compare the influence of focused and unfocused feedback on a structure-based (i.e., regular past tense) and an item-based (i.e., irregular past tense) error. It also attempts to elicit learners’ attitudes towards these two types of feedback. The following research questions are formulated:
  1. Do focused and unfocused corrective feedback influence learning regular and irregular past tense differently?
  2. What are learners’ attitudes towards focused and unfocused corrective feedback?      
 
2. Literature Review
            To date a vast number of studies (e.g., Bruton, 2010; Ellis et al., 2008; Farrokhi & Sattarour, 2011; Frear, 2011; Lee, 2004; Sheen et al., 2009; Van Beuningen, 2010) have compared the role of focused and unfocused feedback on L2 writing. However, controversial findings have been achieved. Some (e.g., Bitchener & Knoch, 2008; Farrokhi & Sattarpour, 2011; Sheen, 2007; Sheen et al., 2009) have found the superiority of focused feedback while some others (e.g., Ellis et al., 2008; Frear, 2010; Karimi & Fotovatnia, 2012; Rouhi & Samiei, 2010) have not found any significant difference between focused and unfocused feedback.
       The inconclusive results of the previous studies might be attributed to four main reasons. The first reason refers to the difference among the target forms which have been investigated. Some studies (e.g., Ellis et al., 2008; Shintani & Ellis, 2013) have examined the role of feedback in improving structure-based errors. While some others (e.g., Marefat & Pashazade, 2016; Palizvan, 2018) have investigated item-based errors. Frear (2002, 2003) argued that structure-based errors, which result in less cognitive load, improve more than item-based errors which need more cognitive processing. Since previous studies have investigated the role of focused and unfocused feedback on different structure-based and item-based errors, they have found different results.
       The second reason that can play an important role in the effectiveness of feedback is learners’ level of proficiency. High proficient learners can easily overcome the form-meaning competition (Van Patten, 2004) and pay attention to form more than low proficient learners who rely more on meaning. Different studies have compared the role of focused and unfocused feedback in the accuracy of low intermediate (e.g., Bitchener, 2008; Bitchener & Knoch, 2008, 2010a), intermediate (e.g., Sheen, 2007; Sheen et al., 2009), and even advanced learners (e.g., Rummel, 2014; Truscott & Hsu, 2008). Relying on the poor capacity of low proficient learners’ attention to language forms (Van Patten, 2004), those studies who have recruited low proficient learners are expected to result in little gains.
       The third reason goes for the degree of the salience of the focused or unfocused feedback for learners. Some studies have adopted direct feedback (e.g., Bichener & Knoch, 2008; Frear, 2012; Stefanou Revesz, 2015) in which errors are underlined or crossed out and the correct forms are written above.  Other studies have used indirect feedback (e.g., Rouhi & Samiei, 2010; Truscott & Hsu, 2008) in which errors are underlined but the correct forms are not provided. Studies which have compared the effect of direct and indirect feedback on L2 accuracy (e.g., Sheen et al., 2009; Van Beuningen et al., 2008) have found that direct feedback improves L2 accuracy more than indirect one. However, proponents of indirect feedback (e.g., Ferris, 2003) purport that it can result in more L2 accuracy since it urges learners to self-correction.
       The last reason refers to some methodological problems associated with previous studies. Ellis et al. (2008), that found no significant difference between focused and unfocused feedback, reported that the focused group was exposed to more feedback than the unfocused one. Sheen et al. (2009), that found focused feedback superior to unfocused one, explicitly stated that the unfocused group received feedback irregularly. Although a huge number of studies have compared the influence of focused and unfocused feedback on the accuracy of L2 writing, more future studies are needed to remove such controversies. The present study intends to compare the role of focused and unfocused corrective feedback on the accuracy of regular and irregular past tense among Iranian intermediate learners of English.
 
3. Methodology
            A total of 60 (39 female and 21 male) Iranian intermediate learners were recruited in an eight-session study. In the first session, all learners were given a proficiency test (Preliminary English Test) to ensure their homogeneity. They were then randomly divided into two experimental and one control group, 20 in each. In the second session, learners were given a pretest to measure their initial knowledge on past tense. In a four-session treatment, learners completed a written picture-description task and were required to embed as many past tense sentences as they could. The next session, they received the teachers’ feedback on their errors under three different conditions: The first experimental group received focused feedback on their regular and irregular past tense. The teacher had underlined their errors and had written their correct form using a red pen. The second experimental group received unfocused feedback on all types of errors. The teacher also had underlined and written their correct form using a red pen. The control group did not receive any feedback. The experimental groups were required to look at their corrected paper carefully for five min and give it back to the teacher. Then learners did the second picture-description task. They received the same treatment in the next two sessions. In session 7, learners took an immediate posttest. They were also given a Likert-scale attitude questionnaire to elicit their opinions on the treatment. Three weeks later, in session 8, they took a delayed posttest. 
      
4. Results and Discussion
                        Results of a one-way ANOVA run on the data obtained showed that the focused group outperformed the other groups significantly in producing more accurate simple past tense on the immediate posttest. Results of the present study are in line with some studies (e.g., Bitchener & Knoch, 2010a, 2010b; Ellis et al., 2008) which have concluded the positive influence of focused feedback on L2 writing. However, such a gain was not maintained on the delayed posttest in which there was not a significant difference between the focused and unfocused groups. Results of the delayed posttest are supported by previous studies (e.g., Frear, 2010; Marefat & Pashazade, 2016) which found the similar effect of focused and unfocused feedback on learners’ writing skill.
The unfocused group of the present study who was overwhelmed with a large number of red-pen corrections failed to benefit from unfocused feedback due to high cognitive load. The outperformance of the focused group can be attributed to Schmidt’s (1990) noticing hypothesis. The focused group, who was provided with feedback on past tense only, paid more attention to the accuracy of past tense. Consequently, such a noticing and attention improved the accuracy of their past tense. Results of the questionnaire indicated that learners preferred focused corrective feedback over unfocused one. Results of the questionnaire are on a par with the results of one-way ANOVA. However, they are contrary to some studies (e,g., Lee, 2004, 2005; Oladejo, 1993) which found learners’ positive attitudes towards unfocused feedback.
As an implication of the study, results recommend language teachers to use more focused feedback, especially for intermediate learners’ written errors. Future researchers are commended to compare the role of focused and unfocused feedback on other item-based errors. Also, they are suggested to investigate the probable difference between the improvement of regular and irregular past tense under the influence of focused and unfocused feedback
           
 
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Article Type: مقالات علمی پژوهشی | Subject: English language
Published: 2021/03/21

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