Independent Error Correction Sheet

This essay supports the stand by Ferris (1999) that effective error correction which is selective, prioritized, and clear would certainly help some student writers. This essay outlines the benefits of metalinguistic use of error codes and how feedback on content in Singapore secondary schools help student writers. Some of the shortcomings of feedback from students and teachers’ point of view will also be discussed in this essay.

Schmidt (1993) highlighted that provision of metalinguistic feedback helps in increasing the awareness of the language rules and noticing is an essential component of language learning. It offers students information about the errors in their writing and they are given opportunities and guidance to think about the structures they have used and at the same time, they take responsibility for their own learning. Metalinguistic use of error code has been a common strategy followed by many English Language Teachers in Singapore secondary schools.

In my school, teachers use a standard list of abbreviated error types to identify the grammar errors on students’ writing such as T (tense), SP (spelling error), A (article), NF (noun form) and WF (word form). Once the students have received the feedback, they are given an independent error correction sheet. This sheet is adapted from one of the methods drafted by Kelly Gallagher in his book, Teaching Adolescent Writers. (see Appendix A). Students write the sentence with errors in the first column. They re-write the error-free sentence next to it in the second column. The last column is for them to circle the type of error. This sheet does not only enable them to re-write the sentences, but it also gives them an awareness of the types of errors they make in their writing. One freedom student has, is that he/she can choose any 6 errors from his/her work. In this way, the students can choose to focus on selected type of errors they have made. Even though Truscott (1996) argued that the acquisition of a grammatical structure is a gradual process and not a sudden discovery, I believe that students at one point need to get started on the gradual process. Hence, the independent error correction method, to some extent, helps students to acquire the language step by step.We cannot expect students to attain mastery level immediately just after one round of error correction. However, corrective feedback plays an important role in second language writing and it needs time and repetition for students to become linguistically competent.

Goldstein and Conrad (1990) found that only those students who negotiated meaning successfully in conferences were able to carry out extensive and better revisions to their writing.It is certainly not an easy process for students to understand the feedback given by teachers. Just because it is complicated and difficult, it doesn’t mean that they should neglect feedback as well. As teachers who are in fact facilitators in class, we can help and guide them on how to negotiate meaning and eventually see them become better writers.

In my school, students use the STAR strategy- substitute, take out, add, rearrange (see Appendix B), which is adapted from the book written by Kelly Gallagher. This feedback method has been executed in class to point out the ways to improve on the content in their essays. During the face-to-face consultations with the students, the teachers use the STAR strategy and students take note of the parts that they need to work on. The students then revise their paragraphs based on the given feedback. Truscott (1996) stated that development of interlanguage involves complex learning processes and that teachers can easily lose sight of the process and adopt a simplistic view of learning. I would rather look at it as not a simplistic view of learning, but a simple learning strategy for the students.

On the other hand, it is evident that teachers in my school struggle with students who keep repeating the same grammatical errors. I have heard teachers complaining about how students do not just get the past tense form even in their 4th year which reflects that correction is typically done in isolated points and without reference to the processes by the learner’s current developmental stage (Truscott, 1996). In addition, teacher-student relationship is a crucial factor and it has not been taken into account in many studies. Students listen to the teachers that they trust more. This impacts students’ responses to the given feedback and how they use the feedback to develop their writing. Teachers respond to students in their comments as much as texts, and experienced teachers often tailor their feedback to suit each student, considering their backgrounds, needs and preferences as well as the relationship they have with them and the ongoing dialogue between them (Ferris et al. 1997; F. Hyland 1998, 2001b). Furthermore, focus on content and its oral feedback given by teachers worked better with high-ability students in my school. They were able to ask questions and if even more, motivated to learn from their errors. In a similar study by Patthey-Chavez and Ferris (1997), it was suggested that with less able students there is more danger that conferences will involve appropriation rather than intervention.

One solution to overcome students’ inhibition and boost their confidence to ask question is to do peer-feedback. The peer feedback is a more anti authoritarian pedagogy which is known to be student-centered approach that makes students feel more comfortable to criticise peers’ work and to receive the same from their peers.Peer comments enhance a sense of audience, raise learners' awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, encourage collaborative learning, and foster the ownership of text. This suggests that even for L2 learners who are less mature L2 writers, peer comments do play an important part (Ng & Tsui, 2000). Along with independent error correction sheet method, students can do reflective writing on why they made the errors and what they would do in the next writing to avoid the same grammatical errors. This might be another way to avoid pseudo-learning of grammar correction. Pennington (1992) stresses how language students can benefit from conscious attempts to improve their effectiveness through consideration not only of learning outcomes but also of the strategies they use to achieve these outcomes.

Though it is arguable whether grammar feedback and instruction will be consistently effective for all L2 student writers, it seems clear that the absence of any feedback or strategy training will ensure that many students never take seriously the need to improve their editing skills and that they will not have the knowledge or strategies to edit even when they do perceive its importance (Ferris, 1999). In conclusion, as a teacher, feedback on L2 writing is something that I would carefully look at and consider possible ways for learners to adapt effective grammar correction and reflective writing strategies.