Are you the type of teacher who corrects every single linguistic error in your students' writing or rather the one who offers lots of comments but none of your learners takes the time to read them? Even though there is no magic recipe indicating which correcting strategy works best, I believe the type of corrective feedback employed should depend on your pedagogical intention. However, to render corrective feedback effective, learners should be required to respond to the provided corrections.
Let us look at the different types of corrective feedback.
Direct Corrective Feedback
Direct corrective feedback explicitly points to the error and may take different forms such as:
crossing out an unnecessary word, phrase, or part of the sentence
inserting a missing word
writing the correct form above or near the error made
This type of corrective feedback does not require students to correct linguistic errors; therefore, it is a good strategy to use with low proficiency-level learners. However, as students minimally process the types of errors when rewriting their texts, direct corrective feedback may not contribute to long-term learning.
Indirect Corrective Feedback
When using indirect corrective feedback, the teacher does not correct the error but locates it in students’ text. This type of feedback encourages learners to reflect on linguistic forms and calls upon their problem-solving skills.
Pointing to the linguistic error in learners’ work may be done by:
a) Providing some metalinguistic clue
When using metalinguistic corrective feedback, teachers offer their students some explicit comments about the nature of the error either by using error codes - coded feedback - or by providing metalinguistic explanations of the students' mistake.
b) Focusing on specific types of errors or correcting a variety of errors
When teaching specific skills, targeting one or two types of linguistic errors might make more sense than correcting all of them. For example, if you teach the Simple Present tense, it is more beneficial to concentrate on the mistakes made in the usage of present tense than indicating all the other grammar errors. Overall, the goal is to help students correct and improve one specific skill before moving on to the next grammar concept. However, corrective feedback addressing a variety of errors may be effective at the end of units or when writing longer essays, so learners also develop their proofreading skills while revising, correcting, and editing their text.
c) Offering electronic feedback
Electronic feedback is a practical tool to improve students’ writing. When using this type of corrective feedback, the teacher indicates the error and provides a hyperlink to examples of correct usage of the linguistic error. Thus, students can compare their work with the illustrated examples to self-correct. Of course, the teacher may also insert short metalinguistic comments in the margins. Another strategy I find extremely useful is giving learners mentor texts and sentences when electronic feedback is not possible.
d) Reformulating learners’ texts or part of their texts
Reformulation is a type of corrective feedback where the teacher reconstructs the learners’ text or part of their text that contains linguistic errors. Personally, I rarely use this strategy, but when I do, I mostly focus on sentence structure in short paragraph writing activities. When teaching around 160 high school ESL learners, it is impossible to reconstruct part of my students’ texts. Instead, I locate the most critical errors such as sentence fragments and run-ons and address them in class so that all students practice identifying and correcting these types of errors.
How to Make Sure Students Read Your Comments
To promote a more accurate language use, students' response to the provided corrections is an important part of corrective feedback. One way to make sure that learners read the teacher's comments is asking them to correct and improve their texts based on the feedback provided. For instance, instead of writing lengthy comments, I prefer using error codes to locate students' mistakes. Then, I require them to correct and revise their written productions.
Nevertheless, teachers should not only point to linguistic errors in students’ texts, but they should also offer feedback on the development, pertinence, and organization of ideas. Although accuracy of writing is crucial to convey a clear message, we should not forget that feedback on content and style is equally important to help students master writing skills.
To provide metalinguistic corrective feedback on my students’ writing, I often use the following Colour-Coded Error Correction Code and Feedback Tools, a resource that is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. In addition, my ESL Assessment Tools Bundle offers a plethora of practical tools to monitor learners' progress and evaluate their performance.
Another useful resource is my Single-Point ESL Rubrics that you might find a practical formative assessment tool when using corrective feedback. You may also read more about single-point rubrics here: Using Single-Point Rubrics in the Secondary ESL Class to Support Learning
What are your favourite error correction strategies to improve your ESL/ELA learners writing skills? Please share your tips.
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Bitchener, J., at al. "The Effect of Different Types of Corrective Feedback on ESL Student Writing", Journal of Second Language Writing. 14, 191-205, 2005, DOI:10.1016/j.jslw.
Ellis, Rod. “A Typology of Written Corrective Feedback Types”, ELT Journal. Volume 63/2, Oxford University Press, 2009, DOI: 10.1093/elt/ccn023.