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ERROR TREATMENT
IN THE ESL CLASSROOM
Jorge Mallén
Mercè Pizà
Irma Rodríguez
Blanca L. Sánchez
Victoria Villarino
Table of contents
1 Theoretical framework and strategies...........................................................................................3
1.1 How does the correction grid work?................................................................................4
2 Where was the grid implemented?................................................................................................5
CASE 1..................................................................................................................................5
Context description.................................................................................................................5
How was the grid implemented?............................................................................................5
CASE 2 .................................................................................................................................6
Context description.................................................................................................................6
How was the grid implemented?............................................................................................6
3 Overall conclusions and further suggestions................................................................................6
4 Bibliography.................................................................................................................................8
1 Theoretical framework and strategies
This paper aims to discuss the importance of error treatment in the ESL class, to review the types
of errors students make and how teachers give feedback and assess them. It will also analyze the
implementation of a grid for students’s self-correction for writings in two different classroom
environments and will present its results as well as students’ reception to this grid as a way to
enhance language learning.
Error correction started to gain importance in ESL classrooms and be a concern of language
teaching in 1950’s and 1960’s. In this period of time, the audio-lingual approach was the
predominent method used for teaching a second or a foreign language. However, this approach
did not tolerate errors in the performance of the language and therefore they had to be corrected
immediately to avoid becoming fossilized. Years later, with the growing of importance of the
communicative methodology, this view of error correction experimented a radical change,
considering it as a natural part of the student’s learning process. It is also important to mention
that error treatment should not be confused with error correction because it may not involve
correction as it is focused on detection of the error and on any kind of attempt to inform students
they have made an error (Chaudron 1977: 29-46)1
.
According to Chastain (1971: 249), the most important attainment of ESL classes is to create an
atmosphere in which students want to talk instead of achieving an error-free speech. However, as
the ESL classroom and error treatment are inseparable, it is important to promote self and peer
correction among students to complement the teacher’s role in error correction. It is a fact that
ESL students make different types of error when learning the target language and they can be
distinguished among slips, which learners can correct themselves, errors, for which learners need
an explanation from the teacher and attempts,which occur when learners try to express
themselves but they do not know the correct way of saying it.
It is also necessary to state that the sources of errors caused by students who are learning a
1
apud Shahin (2011: 207-208).
foreign or a second language are different to the causes of errors that native speakers can make
and therefore this has to be taken into account. The main causes of errors are: L1 interference,
which is produced by the contact of L1 and L2 and which can appear at the level of sound,
grammar and word usage, and developmental errors, which occur when a rule is overgeneralized
by the learner as it has been subconsciously learnt.
Error treatment is useful in order to identify, describe and justify in a systematic way the errors
made by learners. As Sanal (2008) states, second language teachers should seize this analysis
technique as errors provide fundamental feedback —these account for the effectiveness of the
teaching materials and methodologies, and lead teachers to revise what segments of their syllabi
have been unsatisfactorily learned and need additional consideration.
For a better understanding of what this corrective feedback means, Lightbown and Spada (1999)
have described it as “any indication to the learners that their use of the target language is
incorrect. […] When a language learner says, ‘He go to school everyday’, 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.”
Most findings on error treatment in second language acquisition prove that students getting error
feedback from teachers improve in accuracy over time (Liu, 2008). According to El Tatawy
(2014), the latest analyses on this subject show that techniques involving reformulation (e.g.
clarification and comprehension checks) have been more efficient. Chaudron (1988) underlined
that those feedbacks that stimulate self-correction are more likely to make a greater progress in
the process of learning. It is also argued by El Tatawy (2014) that corrective feedback is more
effective when there is the presence of metalinguistic hints.
In this sense, Olajedo (1993) argued that their students’ preferred error treatment technique was
that of the teacher giving relevant remarks that helped them self-correct their oral and writing
productions —other techniques such as pointing out the wrong items without providing the
answers, showing the wrong items and providing the answers or grading their performance
without specifying the errors were less popular.
Having said that, corrective feedback strategies have not been always observed as uniformly
effective. It seems appropriate to mention Liu’s study (2008), which explored the extent to which
two types of feedback on three error types (morphological, semantic and syntactic errors) helped
second language learners improve their accuracy: the first type of feedback involved a direct
correction supplied by the teacher, while the second one was an indirect correction that showed
the existence of an error, but no corrections were provided. Both sorts of feedback helped
students self-correct their writings —however, even though direct feedback diminished students’
errors in their second writing, it did not improve their accuracy in a different one. On the other
hand, indirect corrections helped students make less morphological errors than semantic ones
and they proved a higher accuracy in a new text than direct correction could do. Now it is time to
approach how the grid analyzed in this paper performed in terms of reflective learning, which
seems to be the ultimate method to create language awareness in students.
1.1 How does the correction grid work?
The grid is thought to be a reflective tool for the students to improve their writing skills. Given a
correction code (---- model), students will have to correct their own writings. Errors will be only
highlighted and specyfied by their corresponding sign. It will be the student the one who will
have to propose a correction to the error, which means that students will have to go over the
work done in class and reflect on their learning; they will have to use their analytic skills in order
to find an improvement or a correction to their work.
The pocess described above entails a previous training to become effective, but surely promotes
reflective learning, which has been proved by many experts as the best way to enhance learning,
given that language reflection fosters students’ language awareness (meta-knowledge: students
are aware of learning). It is a dual process, being aware of what and how they learn, students
become more effective learners.
This grid is an adaptation from the one used in an L3 class at EOI Santa Coloma de Gramanet.
To this original grid, it was added a column with the marking codes to easy the task of self-
correcting.
2 Where was the grid implemented?
CASE 1
Context description
The second self-correction grid was meant to be implemented in a Vocational Training group
from a school in the outskirts of Barcelona. It was a reduced group of 13 students from ages 17
to 48 in the second year of Mecanització. Their schedule sets English once a week for three
hours with a thirty minutes break after the first two hours. Regarding their level of English, the
vast majority of the students hardly reached A1 and two of them were learning the language for
the first time in their life; therefore, they were complete beginners. However, according to the
contents programmed for the unit, they had to write a Cover Letter to apply for a job. After
working with some models, the students had to produce their own letter following some
guidelines.They were asked to write a first draft where they would get some feedback in order to
reflect and rewrite their final version.
How was the grid implemented?
After working with them for three hours and realizing that their level was lower than expected, it
was decided not to use the grid or the marking codes to provide the feedback. They were
considered too complex for them to understand in the limited time provided. It is not that it could
not be used with students at their early stages but it certainly needs time to be explained in more
detail than when it is used with more advanced students. Instead of using them, when the
students wrote their first draft, problematic structures, misspelled words or wrong words/tenses
were underlined. Then, they were asked to reflect on the underlined pieces and to reflect on the
errors. Most of the students were able to correct some of the errors right away, however, they
were also allowed to use the computers to check wordreference.com or usingenglish.com. Then,
they had to rewrite the letter with the changes suggested.

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SLA Sla final project

  • 1. ERROR TREATMENT IN THE ESL CLASSROOM Jorge Mallén Mercè Pizà Irma Rodríguez Blanca L. Sánchez Victoria Villarino
  • 2. Table of contents 1 Theoretical framework and strategies...........................................................................................3 1.1 How does the correction grid work?................................................................................4 2 Where was the grid implemented?................................................................................................5 CASE 1..................................................................................................................................5 Context description.................................................................................................................5 How was the grid implemented?............................................................................................5 CASE 2 .................................................................................................................................6 Context description.................................................................................................................6 How was the grid implemented?............................................................................................6 3 Overall conclusions and further suggestions................................................................................6 4 Bibliography.................................................................................................................................8
  • 3. 1 Theoretical framework and strategies This paper aims to discuss the importance of error treatment in the ESL class, to review the types of errors students make and how teachers give feedback and assess them. It will also analyze the implementation of a grid for students’s self-correction for writings in two different classroom environments and will present its results as well as students’ reception to this grid as a way to enhance language learning. Error correction started to gain importance in ESL classrooms and be a concern of language teaching in 1950’s and 1960’s. In this period of time, the audio-lingual approach was the predominent method used for teaching a second or a foreign language. However, this approach did not tolerate errors in the performance of the language and therefore they had to be corrected immediately to avoid becoming fossilized. Years later, with the growing of importance of the communicative methodology, this view of error correction experimented a radical change, considering it as a natural part of the student’s learning process. It is also important to mention that error treatment should not be confused with error correction because it may not involve correction as it is focused on detection of the error and on any kind of attempt to inform students they have made an error (Chaudron 1977: 29-46)1 . According to Chastain (1971: 249), the most important attainment of ESL classes is to create an atmosphere in which students want to talk instead of achieving an error-free speech. However, as the ESL classroom and error treatment are inseparable, it is important to promote self and peer correction among students to complement the teacher’s role in error correction. It is a fact that ESL students make different types of error when learning the target language and they can be distinguished among slips, which learners can correct themselves, errors, for which learners need an explanation from the teacher and attempts,which occur when learners try to express themselves but they do not know the correct way of saying it. It is also necessary to state that the sources of errors caused by students who are learning a 1 apud Shahin (2011: 207-208).
  • 4. foreign or a second language are different to the causes of errors that native speakers can make and therefore this has to be taken into account. The main causes of errors are: L1 interference, which is produced by the contact of L1 and L2 and which can appear at the level of sound, grammar and word usage, and developmental errors, which occur when a rule is overgeneralized by the learner as it has been subconsciously learnt. Error treatment is useful in order to identify, describe and justify in a systematic way the errors made by learners. As Sanal (2008) states, second language teachers should seize this analysis technique as errors provide fundamental feedback —these account for the effectiveness of the teaching materials and methodologies, and lead teachers to revise what segments of their syllabi have been unsatisfactorily learned and need additional consideration. For a better understanding of what this corrective feedback means, Lightbown and Spada (1999) have described it as “any indication to the learners that their use of the target language is incorrect. […] When a language learner says, ‘He go to school everyday’, 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.” Most findings on error treatment in second language acquisition prove that students getting error feedback from teachers improve in accuracy over time (Liu, 2008). According to El Tatawy (2014), the latest analyses on this subject show that techniques involving reformulation (e.g. clarification and comprehension checks) have been more efficient. Chaudron (1988) underlined that those feedbacks that stimulate self-correction are more likely to make a greater progress in the process of learning. It is also argued by El Tatawy (2014) that corrective feedback is more effective when there is the presence of metalinguistic hints. In this sense, Olajedo (1993) argued that their students’ preferred error treatment technique was that of the teacher giving relevant remarks that helped them self-correct their oral and writing productions —other techniques such as pointing out the wrong items without providing the answers, showing the wrong items and providing the answers or grading their performance without specifying the errors were less popular.
  • 5. Having said that, corrective feedback strategies have not been always observed as uniformly effective. It seems appropriate to mention Liu’s study (2008), which explored the extent to which two types of feedback on three error types (morphological, semantic and syntactic errors) helped second language learners improve their accuracy: the first type of feedback involved a direct correction supplied by the teacher, while the second one was an indirect correction that showed the existence of an error, but no corrections were provided. Both sorts of feedback helped students self-correct their writings —however, even though direct feedback diminished students’ errors in their second writing, it did not improve their accuracy in a different one. On the other hand, indirect corrections helped students make less morphological errors than semantic ones and they proved a higher accuracy in a new text than direct correction could do. Now it is time to approach how the grid analyzed in this paper performed in terms of reflective learning, which seems to be the ultimate method to create language awareness in students. 1.1 How does the correction grid work? The grid is thought to be a reflective tool for the students to improve their writing skills. Given a correction code (---- model), students will have to correct their own writings. Errors will be only highlighted and specyfied by their corresponding sign. It will be the student the one who will have to propose a correction to the error, which means that students will have to go over the work done in class and reflect on their learning; they will have to use their analytic skills in order to find an improvement or a correction to their work. The pocess described above entails a previous training to become effective, but surely promotes reflective learning, which has been proved by many experts as the best way to enhance learning, given that language reflection fosters students’ language awareness (meta-knowledge: students are aware of learning). It is a dual process, being aware of what and how they learn, students become more effective learners. This grid is an adaptation from the one used in an L3 class at EOI Santa Coloma de Gramanet.
  • 6. To this original grid, it was added a column with the marking codes to easy the task of self- correcting. 2 Where was the grid implemented? CASE 1 Context description The second self-correction grid was meant to be implemented in a Vocational Training group from a school in the outskirts of Barcelona. It was a reduced group of 13 students from ages 17 to 48 in the second year of Mecanització. Their schedule sets English once a week for three hours with a thirty minutes break after the first two hours. Regarding their level of English, the vast majority of the students hardly reached A1 and two of them were learning the language for the first time in their life; therefore, they were complete beginners. However, according to the contents programmed for the unit, they had to write a Cover Letter to apply for a job. After working with some models, the students had to produce their own letter following some guidelines.They were asked to write a first draft where they would get some feedback in order to reflect and rewrite their final version. How was the grid implemented? After working with them for three hours and realizing that their level was lower than expected, it was decided not to use the grid or the marking codes to provide the feedback. They were considered too complex for them to understand in the limited time provided. It is not that it could not be used with students at their early stages but it certainly needs time to be explained in more detail than when it is used with more advanced students. Instead of using them, when the students wrote their first draft, problematic structures, misspelled words or wrong words/tenses were underlined. Then, they were asked to reflect on the underlined pieces and to reflect on the errors. Most of the students were able to correct some of the errors right away, however, they were also allowed to use the computers to check wordreference.com or usingenglish.com. Then, they had to rewrite the letter with the changes suggested.
  • 7. The act of rewriting one's own production is sometimes considered as something dull, however, as they were told that they had to write a first draft before the final version they did not feel they were rewritting it. Furthermore, it seemed that they were motivated to correct their own errors as any time someone could corrrect something without checking it in the computer we could hear: Oh! Claro!, Toma!, Es verdad!. It turned out to be something which improved their autonomy and their self-esteem. Finally, by their comments, there was a feeling that the task was seen as a chance to get a better mark and this seemed to motivate them as well. It cannot be predicted what whould have happened if the grid had been implemented. However, the marking codes, with the proper explanation, would have been of a great use because they would have been a guide for the type of error to be corrected. CASE 2 Context description L5 EOI Santa Coloma de Gramanet enrolls students within a broad range of backgrounds, previous educational experiences, interests, motivations and levels of prior knowledge and skills. In many instances, this diversity is manageable and, if handled skillfully, can provide substantial benefits to the educational context of the classroom. Adult learners, such as the ones at EOI’s L5, are often guided by instrumental motivation, meaning that they already know what they want to get out of their language learning. Due to this fact, adult learners can be critical of teaching methods they are not familiar with. However, adults can be less reluctant to feedback and error correction, given precisely to their instrumental motivation. Students at EOI, for example, aim for an official certificate which will give credit of their langauage proficiency. That is why, in most cases, they are interested in learning and often see errors as an opportunity to learn. As to add a motivational ingredient to the grid, we decided that every “improvement” made by students in the grid, would represent a 0,1 points to the final mark on their writing, in the case that they were correct.
  • 8. How was the grid implemented? In the case of Santa Coloma de Gramanet EOI the grid was implemented as an additional tool to to a writing task. Students had to do a “for and against” essay over a given topic. In previous sessions the grid was introduced and the correcting code explained. They were told to write their essays, and once they would have been assessed (the correcting code would be used), they would have to use the grid. As for the second case, the grid was implemented in two Level 5 classes of 30 students each, at EOI Santa Coloma de Gramanet, but only 15 students handed out their grids back, so the sample is even lower than expected. As we are talking about a sample of 10 individuals out of 55 (taking into account the ones who did not attend), this means that only a 5,5% of the students were interested in using the grid. It is known that most adults have problems with coping with taking time aside for the course tasks, therefore, teachers at EOI are warned not to push students too much with loads of homework. Another case to be considered here is that students might have not liked the grid, or understand it properly, so we would like to think that just one try is not enough to get students used to exerting a new item. 3 Overall conclusions and further suggestions. After having dealt with error treatment with this paper, we realized several things that shall be noticed as to conclude. Firstly, and very important, corrections need to be constructive in order to be meaningful. “Constructive correction” means specific corrections, that somehow reflects on their previous work and their development and progress in their language learning process. Also, it is important to bare in mind to be consistent with marks and comments. Teachers need to take corrections and error treatments seriousl so that students take it seriously, too.
  • 9. Secondly, as it has already been mentioned, it is important to get the students to correct themselves in order to increase self-awareness of their language improving, but there are also some behavioural tips for teachers that should be taken into account, such as the avoidance of “mistake” or “error” and the use of “good tries” or “attempts” instead; approaching errors as a natural and necessary evidence of the students’ learning process; and, finally, focusing on correcting errors that interfere to the meaning of a whole sentence, not just tiny minor errors or points. Regarding to the conclusions of the two already presented practical cases, it could be said that the first case is a great example of what happens when students are able to correct their own mistakes. In that case, they knew what was wrong and just needed to look for the right option. They felt like they were learning without any specific mark, and it kept them engaged and motivated. The second case, however, is a little bit different. Students used a grid to correct themselves and 7 out of 10 said that it had been useful, whereas 2 said that it had not been that much help and only 1 student said that he preferred written feedback. Nevertheless, it is worth saying that all the 10 students of the sample came out with very interesting solutions, and most of these solutions were right - or almost right. Moreover, those 7 students claimed that knowing the kind of mistake made it easier for them to provide new solutions, which they had never done before, and therefore they would probably remember the mistake. However, we can state that we need a larger sample and more time to come to relevant conclusions, but the grid has proved to be a reflective tool for 7 out of 10 students and that is a positive sign - needless to say that it is still not representative. All in all, we could say that the improved grid with the correcting codes on it allows students to reflect more about their mistakes and solutions provided, given that currently students are improving their corrections and are asking about feedback of them, so more grids have been handed out during this time.
  • 10. 4 Bibliography — Chastain, K. (1971). ‘The Development of Modern Language Skills.’ Theory to Practice, Philadelphia: Center for Curriculum Development, Inc. — Chaudron, C. (1988). Second language classrooms: research on teaching and learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. — El Tatawy, Mounira (2014). Corrective feedback in second language acquisition. — Lightbown, P. M. & Spada, N. (1999). How languages are learned. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. — Liu, Yingliang (2008). The effects of error feedback in second language writing. Arizona Working Papers in SLA & Teaching, vol. 15, p. 65-79. — Oladejo, James (1993). Error correction in ESL: learners’ preferences. TESL Canada Journal/Revue TESL du Canada, vol. 10, n. 2. — Sanal, Fahrettin (2008). Error-analysis based second language teaching strategies. — Shahin, Nafez (2011) Error Treatment in TESOL Classrooms. J. J. Appl. Sci.: Humanities Series 13 (1): 207-226.