Error Correction: A Bridge to Grammatical Accuracy in L2 Writing Ester D.

Jimena, Central Philippine University, Philippines Herwindy Maria Tedjaatmadja, Petra Christian University, Indonesia Meng Tian, Shanxi Teachers University, China To many scholars, error correction plays a significant role in improving learners’ accuracy in language learning especially in L2 writing, which is grammatically demanding. In terms of teachers’ roles in giving correction, the popular misunderstanding overemphasizes teachers’ responsibility in carrying out the task while ignoring learners’ roles in the process of error correction. In fact, learners can make more progress when they are given chances to respond to correction and contribute to the process. However, the decisive job of selecting the appropriate method lies in the hands of the teachers. Teachers need to consider two important factors, learners’ levels and attitudes, which the paper argues to be the basis of teachers’ pedagogic decision in employing the most beneficial error correction methods in L2 writing. In particular, the paper establishes the link between learners’ levels and attitudes and the three correction methods: coded feedback, direct correction and reformulation. Teachers are encouraged to weigh and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of these methods, and adapt their suitability to their teaching context.

Introduction Writing has been one of the most difficult skills for learners to develop. Being a recursive


as Truscot (1996. More specifically. 1994). error correction can be very complicated since all these factors will influence its efficacy. When the focus is on forms. how much. they need feedback and comments to facilitate them to compose an essay with minimal errors as well as maximum accuracy and clarity. Some of learners keep on committing the same errors. hence. teachers should realize the vital role of error correction and treat it carefully. 1995. written feedback is quite essential (Creme & Lea. what errors to correct. Therefore. 2001). However. It is quite obvious that errors are integral parts of language learning and error correction has a significant role in improving learners’ writing accuracy. 2001. 1996. 1992). 1987. cited in Ferris. who. Ferris. and how. learners’ level and attitudes need to be taken into consideration. which is grammatically demanding (Littlewood. it is supposed to help learners to reflect on the wrong forms and finally produce right forms (Krashen.process. In addition. 1987). Hence. During the course. Ennis. 2002. Kroll. 2003: 42) states. there are many issues which need careful consideration such as teachers’ and learners’ roles in error correction. Krashen. 1997. ‘the correction of grammatical errors can help students improve their ability to write accurately’. However. teachers often feel that their effort in giving feedback to correct learners’ work is not effective. and teachers realize that it is an arduous way for learners to achieve accuracy in writing. Stern (1992: 51) includes it as ‘a part of the grammar learning processes. Error correction is ‘a response either to the content of what a student has produced or to the form of the utterance’ (Richards and Lockharts. Stern. it takes several times for learners to revise their writing before submitting their final draft (White & McGovern. 2 . 1996: 188). Harmer.

to be able to make right pedagogic decision to apply particular error correction methods. 1996: 120).  Designers As designers. However. teachers should always concern about what is best and suitable for learners. they should update themselves with what is going on inside their classroom. 1997: 44. and hopefully. to get new ideas on error correction methods. language teachers play several important roles as follows:  Judges As the one being authoritative in the classroom. Teachers should also identify common errors learners make so that they have some thought of what to do next with their teaching methodology (Leech. Scott. Thus.Teachers’ roles in error correction Language teachers hold the authority to correct learners’ errors. This way. Thus. teachers have to adjust their expectation and teaching method to suit the learners’ level. 3 . learners’ level has to be taken into consideration so that they are capable of achieving the expectation (Ferris. teachers are advocated to exchange information and experience with other colleagues to expand their insight. teachers have the right to set the standard of what the learners have to achieve in the writing course (Creme and Lea. Preferably. especially regarding the fact that the learners value and expect teachers’ feedback on their written work. 2003). 1994).

who are equipped with knowledge of the target language. by understanding the source of errors and implementing the “process of simplification” so that they are able to transfer their knowledge in such a clear and simple way to learners at different proficiency level (Leech.• Scholars In order to provide correction to learners. 1994). 1996). Positive comments on their work are also accommodating to motivate learners to pursue more (Wright. That is why teachers have to inspire and convince learners that teachers welcome their questions and worries. it is unpleasant experience to be corrected and some of learners may get frustrated and demotivated because they might not know what to do. Generally. 1987. Motivation is a powerful desire which drives learners to accomplish more. vocabulary and so forth to enable them to provide correction to learners’ writing (Leech. For instance. Teachers are encouraged to give learners more chances to have peer feedback 4 . In addition. teachers have to put themselves on learners’ shoes. teachers must act as scholars. Richards & Lockhart. such as grammar. • Trainers Teachers have to boost learners’ confidence and train them to be more independent in their learning. 1994). • Motivators Learners’ affective side also plays important roles in enhancing their language progress.

Xiang. Learners can take notes of their errors and correction. possibly by expressing their problems in writing and how they want to be corrected. on their notebook or error awareness sheet. They are expected to help teachers set expectations of the classroom. Thus. This way. they help teachers to make the right pedagogic decision on error correction methods. learners have to involve themselves in the error correction process by playing the following roles: • Active participants in the class Having good interaction between teachers and learners is crucial to establish conducive learning atmosphere. Learners’ roles in error correction Teachers’ effort will be less effective unless learners want to give right responses. It is not an easy task for teachers to identify and acknowledge each language problem of their learners. for instance. 2002. Thus. thus. thus learners’ cooperation is needed. they can always review what they have read so 5 . learners will be equipped to learn how to self correct their writing (Ferris. Teachers should also help learners to identify their individual errors. • Attentive monitors of their own progress Learners are encouraged to monitor their progress by paying more attention to their common errors. 2004). they have to pay more attention to those errors.session so that they will go through the process of correcting others’ work. Then.

This step will lead them to be autonomous learners that are able to self correct their written work (Gower. Furthermore. whereas indirect feedback involves both teachers and learners in the error correction process. 1995: 165. The following will be devoted to the explanation of coded feedback and direct correction. learners need to be engaged in the error correction process because it will enhance their language acquisition. Phillips. Coded feedback and 6 . direct and indirect feedback constitute the most important dichotomy (Ferris 2002). as the title notes. Xiang. 2004). in which teachers indicate the errors and it’s learners who correct them (Ferris 2002). the necessity of adopting reformulation for the sake of learners’ improvement in writing skills is also explored. & Walter. • Coded feedback VS direction correction Among the methods used in error correction. requires the teacher’s responsibility to offer the correct forms to learners. Direct feedback. Error correction methods Knowing teachers’ and learners’ roles in giving feedback to learners’ writing is only the beginning to ensure correction efficiency. but also on their own. So. It is crucial for teachers to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of correction methods according to the learners’ real situation. • Autonomous learners Learners’ progress depends not only on the teachers’ effort.that they can ask their teachers for help or further practices.

Coded feedback ‘does not only indicate where errors are located. 1991: 84). 1995). it arouses learners’ responsibility in correction and improves their writing accuracy in the long run (Ferris 2002). but also types of mistakes by using a correcting code’ (Bartram and correction are two strategies which can respectively reflect the main features of indirect and direct feedback. is implemented through underlining the errors and providing the right forms in the learners’ written work. the codes are designed according to learners’ common errors as a class group. coded feedback is threatening and hard to be self-corrected for low proficiency learners (Ferris. since codes just cover the common errors and limited. However. In real pedagogical situation. In real pedagogical situation. Besides. Also. as one common form of direct feedback. Phillips & Walters. those individual errors may be ignored. the codes are designed according to learners’ common errors as a class group. vocabulary and spelling. Meanwhile. This is quite understandable since ‘errors are usually made by individual students’ (Gower. this method involves learners in the self-correction process and helps them learn more effectively (Gower. one point teachers and learners must bear in 7 . Phillips & Walters. 1995:168). In our teaching experience our error codes serve to indicate learners’ common errors in grammar. when coded feedback is used. Direct correction. 2001). 2002). Coded feedback makes correction much neater due to the simple and systematical codes (Harmer. The definitions show that both of the correction methods indicate learners’ errors but differ in how to indicate errors and who to correct them. In addition.

Direct correction gives learners right answers beside the marked errors. Although teachers can let learners revise their writing. Ferris 2002). Our learners all looked relaxed when we required them to rewrite their writing marked with direct correction. coded feedback is too limiting because not all errors are meant to be coded and some errors are too complicated for codes. Otherwise chaos may occur due to the misinterpretation of the codes. learners can just mechanically copy the ready-made correction without figuring out the reasons. thus direct correction is necessary to create the convenience. be consistent with and accustomed to the codes (Bartram & Walton 1991. learners especially those with low proficiency find direction correction less threatening and thus helpful before they have acquired the ability to correct their own errors (Ferris 2002). Nevertheless. • Reformulation as a supplementary method 8 . To make full use of the advantages of coded feedback and direction correction and avoid their disadvantages.mind is that they must understand what the codes mean. teachers can consider combining them together. The learning results through direct correction are worse than coded feedback to some extent. the dangers of its spoon-feeding effect are that learners overlook their own role in the correction process and may become passive (Hedge 2000). For instance. but learners who got coded feedback looked confused about how to correct and asked for a lot of help from their classmates and teachers. They seldom asked us questions about how to correct.

That is to say. However. teachers normally focus on correcting the wrong use of basic vocabulary. learners with a certain level in the target language have the intention to produce natural target language writing and have a stronger desire for evaluation on this aspect. Reformulation. Nevertheless. the personalized feedback can motivate learners to pay much attention to and benefit form it. but also want to know how to rework their expression to make it sound natural (Bartram & Walton. then reconstruct it to make it reflect what they mean to say based on a teacher’s or a native speaker’s comment. but ignores the ‘higher-level’ style. They are not satisfied with their errors being corrected. 1991). reformulation is primarily for intermediate and advanced L2 learners because they have acquired the ability to learn form it. Also. And the reformulator should be reminded not 9 . Cohen (1990) suggests that learners should revise their writing until its well formed in grammar and mechanics. grammatical forms. Actually. such as appropriate word dictions. Cohen (1990: 117) claims that the evaluation is ‘partial’ since it mainly focuses on the ‘low-level’ accuracy. as another form of indirect feedback.When giving feedback to learners’ written work. Learners are expected to be exposed to native-like expression for the same idea and thus improve their writing skills as they compare the reconstructed and the reformulated version. spelling and punctuation to make the written work acceptable. learners who receive only corrective feedback still need to go a long way to improve their target language writing style. native-like organizations of the whole writing. and finally learners can ask a competent native speaker to reformulate the entire reconstructed writing or part of it. can meet learners’ need.

Of course. As Krashen (1987: 74) says that they are inevitable and plentiful as learners learn and experiment the use of the language they are learning. Error correction touches not only the cognitive skills. therefore. As Raimes (1998) points out the tremendous impact of feedbacks and their potential to influence students’ attitude in writing. As Corder (1967. teachers should make great efforts to improve their L2 level to help learners as much as possible. it is. but also the 10 . So. Developing learners’ positive attitudes towards correction in L2 writing In order to achieve an effective error correction method. necessary for teachers to reflect on the manner for which corrections are given. it is predictable that there is still a gap of realizing some of the stylistic subtleties of the language between a non-native teacher and a native speaker (Cohen. 1990). hence it should be viewed with openness and acceptance especially during their early stage of language learning. teachers should try to offer learners chances to know some native speakers or help them ask for help through the pen-pal channel through twist the original meaning of the writing so that learners can really recognize the gap between their acceptable writing and the stylistic one produced by a native speaker. More importantly. errors are inherent to learners’ works and the feedback teachers give to their works play a vital role in developing their writing skills. they may ask their nonnative L2 teachers with high proficiency to do the job. 1995: 22) explains that errors are learners’ way of testing their hypothesis about the nature of the language they are learning. students’ responses to these corrections should be taken into consideration. For learners who can not find a native reformulator. it is very important for teachers to have a clear understanding of the nature of errors. cited in Cook. However. In short.

& Cathcart and Olsen. Arnold and Brown.affective aspects of language learning. especially when corrections are given without explanation. Therefore. Lane and Lange. but with the right and businesslike approach it can be overcome in due time. 1987. 1976. There could be various reasons for this attitude and they require 11 . • Resistance It is based on the learners’ belief of what is right and wrong. However. which include feelings and attitudes (see Bates. 1993: Krashen. Also. cited in Ellis. the following negative reactions frequently manifest in L2 writing correction. • Passiveness This is a difficult reaction to deal with. 1999. it depends on their level of proficiency and previous knowledge. In terms of language learning. 1994). comments like “what’s this?” or “I don’t understand what you are saying here?” are harmful to learners’ self-esteem. it is a must for teachers to know learners’ level and previous knowledge to avoid this reaction. which need to be understood by writing teachers: • Discouragement Learners who lack the confidence about their L2 knowledge will likely to be discouraged with correction feedback. This attitude comes from fear of not knowing what to do with the correction given by the teacher.

The notebook will contain error entries and corrections made. • Encourage learners to keep an error correction notebook. Given these negative reactions. This will also give them the chance to see for themselves if they could cope with the chosen correction method. Perhaps the teacher could check the notebook once in a while or may complement it with a journal entry after two or three writing assignments. The following are our suggestions: • Conduct an error correction orientation/workshop before implementing a particular method. The orientation will familiarize the learners with the method of correction to be used. This will give learners the chance to reflect on their errors and 12 . The relevance of the error correction notebook will depend on how the teacher will use this in helping learners become independent. Both teachers and learners have to be willing to embrace the journey of transforming the negative reactions to positive outlook. the effectiveness of a particular error correction depends on its implementation. give the learners the chance to evaluate the method based on their capacity to self-correct. In the orientation or workshop. coded feedback which requires self-correction. that is. Teachers must provide the necessary assistance. The important thing here is for the learners to build up their confidence in responding to their own errors through the error correction method used in class. This will help learners monitor their errors and review the corrections made. for example.teachers’ generosity to spare their time and effort in order to identify them.

A teacher’s response of ‘This is wrong! Rewrite it!’ will not encourage a learner. This is face saving for learners whose errors will be highlighted because it will console them that they are not alone in making those errors. & R. give remedial session highlighting learners’ recurring errors to develop learners’ awareness of common errors. In short. L. perhaps you would like to revise it. “Do you mean this?’ or “This is not clear. a comment like. and vocabulary. & E. M. Just make sure that no names are mentioned when highlighting the errors.) Affect in Language Learning. spelling. London: LanguageTeaching Publications. Bartram. The positive comments will neutralize the negative emotions created by the corrections on grammar. What do you think?’ or something like ‘I like what you’ve written here. D. but rather will discourage him/her. the feedback should be for clarification of the learners’ ideas and meanings rather than for confrontation purposes. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.. On the other hand. Bates. Lange (1993) Writing Clearly. J.’ Or ‘this is interesting’ and so on will boost learners’ morale. Arnold (ed. Lange. References: Arnold. J. “A Map of the Terrain” in J. • Lastly. Boston: Heinle & Heinle 13 . • Give positive comments and acknowledge learners’ progress in L2 writing. Walton (1991) Correction.hopefully avoid or lessen them. and H. Brown (1999). This self-evident suggestion touches on learners’ motivation and willingness to improve.

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H. W. Oxford: Oxford University Press Xiang. H. Wright. (1994) Writing. (2004) Encouraging self monitoring in writing by Chinese Students. Raimes. (1996) Rethinking Foreign Language Writing. Alan Tonkyn and Eddie Williams. 58/3: 238-246 Biographical Statements: Ester D. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd. (1991) Out of the Woods: Emerging Traditions in the Teachingof Writing. TESOL Quarterly. A. 25/3: 407–430. Stern. 15 . Jimena is an English lecturer at Central Philippine University. motivation. Philippines. reflective teaching. and D. (1987) Roles of Teachers & Learners. Anthology Series 35: 421-434.Grammar and The Language teachers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. T. Her research interests are error analysis. New York: Heinle & Heinle Publishers. V. R. Scott. White. (1992) Issues and Options in Language Teaching. Littlewood. ELT Journal. and learners’ autonomy in language teaching. Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd. (1995). edited by Martin Bygate. M. McGovern. Writing and reading as a joint journey through ideas. W. Herwindy Maria Tedjaatmadja is an English lecturer at Petra Christian University.

Her present research interests are language learning strategies. China. Her main research interests are group dynamics. Meng Tian is an English lecturer at Foreign Languages Faculty in Shanxi Teachers University.Indonesia. EFL writing and language teaching methodology. 16 . fluency and creative writing.

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