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Review of  Corrective Feedback, Individual Differences and Second Language Learning

Reviewer: Christopher D. Sams
Book Title: Corrective Feedback, Individual Differences and Second Language Learning
Book Author: Younghee Sheen
Publisher: Springer
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 22.3654

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AUTHOR: Younghee Sheen
TITLE: Corrective Feedback, Individual Differences and Second Language Learning
SERIES TITLE: Educational Linguistics
YEAR: 2011

Christopher D. Sams, Department of English, Stephen F. Austin State University


‘Corrective Feedback, Individual Differences and Second Language Learning’ is a
book intended for both researchers and teachers in applied linguistics. The
eight-chapter book begins with an introduction that defines and discusses
corrective feedback (CF), focuses on theoretical and other key issues, and
relates CF research to second language acquisition (SLA). Sheen defines
corrective feedback as “any feedback [oral or written, immediate or delayed]
that provides learners with evidence that something they have said or written is
linguistically incorrect” (2). Most of the SLA literature supports that second
language learners require this feedback in order to progress linguistically in
the target language.

In Chapter Two, Sheen examines theoretical issues of CF, looking at universal
grammar (UG) approaches, cognitive theories, sociocultural theories, and briefly
at conversation analysis.

Chapter Three focuses on pedagogical perspectives on CF in both oral and written
grammar correction (e.g. when should errors be corrected, which errors should be
corrected, and how instructors should correct learners’ mistakes). The chapter
provides research questions with corresponding discussions and references. Some
of the research questions include ‘Should written/oral errors be corrected?’,
‘When should written/oral errors be corrected?’, and ‘What are some strategies
for correcting learners’ written/oral errors?’ The terminology used in this
chapter is accessible to all audiences and, like Chapter Two, provides an
overview of the field.

In Chapter Four, Sheen offers much more substance in her survey of the research
on oral CF, and then focuses on a “quasi-experimental” study (something she does
in Chapters Four through Seven) concerning oral CF and ESL learners’ acquisition
of English articles. After walking the reader through her study in terms of
background, research questions, and design (i.e. setting, participants,
instruments and procedures, and data analysis), she provides an in-depth
discussion of the study, its results, and a follow-up study.

Chapter Five examines written corrective feedback research again with a focus on
an experiment by the author aiming to determine the effects of written direct CF
(i.e. where corrections are inserted into the paper without grammatical
explanation) and written metalinguistic CF (i.e. where comments such as “(1) ‘a’
needed: indefinite article. First mention of ‘crow’” (96) are written as numbers
with corresponding explanations as footnotes). The chapter then provides a
brief, yet in-depth discussion of the evidence for and against written
corrective feedback that also draws on other work in the field of CF.

In Chapter Six, Sheen again presents a brief background comparing and
contrasting oral CF, followed by more information on her experimental study.

In Chapter Seven, Sheen not only presents the study she conducted using a
questionnaire about anxiety and language attitudes, but also includes a
reasonably thorough discussion of some of the individual differences between
language learners, such as aptitude, intelligence, language anxiety, and

Sheen then uses the conclusion to provide a summary of the main tenets of the
book, discusses its significance to the field, and devotes several pages to what
the second language teacher needs to know about CF.


I begin with some general comments and then address some more specific aspects
in individual chapters of the book. The two most salient features of the book
are its organization and inclusion of the personal experience of the author. The
book is very well organized with very clear headings and subheadings. Most
chapters end with appendices and all of the charts in the book are easily
readable. The book is easily compartmentalized; that is, a reader can easily
look at the table of contents and know exactly which chapter(s) is (are)
relevant to his or her research. The book has a rather extensive references
section (as well as an index); the author has provided a great service to the
reader here by covering a wide variety of literature and studies (both
theoretical and pedagogical) from SLA, education, English as a Second Language
(ESL), and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL).

The other salient feature is the personal experience of the author, Younghee
Sheen. In the preface, she explains her own experiences with ESL, being a
non-native English speaker herself. She makes comments and observations of her
personal experiences throughout the book, both in the text and in footnotes. For
example, when writing about CF and its relevance for language teachers in the
classroom, she adds the following, from her own personal experience: “I used to
believe that error correction can be discouraging, useless, and even detrimental
during the communicative activities. However, I now think that I should consider
developing systematic error correction strategies for the common student errors”

Moving to more specific observations of each chapter, in the introduction, Sheen
does an outstanding job of defining CF, explaining its types, presenting key
issues in the field, and offering an appendix with key terms used in CF
literature and transcription devices. This is something all readers, especially
ones new to CF literature, are likely to appreciate. A key distinction that
Sheen makes is between oral and written feedback; this distinction is one that
she clearly maintains throughout the book, and is rather important, as I have
come across teachers and researchers in the field who view them as the same
when, as Sheen points out, they are quite different in terms of theoretical and
pedagogical considerations.

One of the downsides of this book is that it is primarily an outline; the
information is often laid out in very broad terms without much room for
discussion, such as the information in Chapter Two on theoretical issues with
CF. However, the author packs the explanations with a plethora of references so
that the reader does receive an overview of the field. Chapter Three is one of
the most valuable chapters in the book, with its organization based around
common research questions. It is especially valuable for teachers in the field
because it addresses key issues without going into theoretical debate that many
non-linguists, and even linguists not familiar with SLA and CF literature, would
have difficulty following.

The way Sheen walks her readers through the setup and methodology of her study
in Chapter Four would be rather helpful to students as they begin to develop
their own experiments. While most of the chapter’s material is straightforward,
in her explanation of test reliability, the author uses very technical
statistical jargon that some researchers may find somewhat inaccessible, such as
“...was estimated using Cronbach’s alpha; (M=5.17, SD=3.59, N=80) and alphas of
0.83 and 0.91...” (67). She does provide some information on how to interpret
the information, though: “An alpha of above .70 is generally considered
acceptable as reflected in a number of published studies...” (67). This occurs
in subsequent chapters as well. The book could have benefited from an appendix
to assist readers who are not familiar with statistics in following her
methodology. In Chapter 4, Sheen does an excellent job of integrating a
discussion of computer-mediated second language learning, which is on the
cutting edge of the field. However, by concluding the chapter with a very brief
look (a page or two) at studies based in sociocultural and
conversation-analysis-based theories, it feels quite unbalanced. In the
conclusion of the book (as well as in the preface), Sheen addresses this fact:
“First, the bulk of the CF research that I have examined in this book has been
grounded in cognitive-interactionalist SLA theories. It should be noted that the
aim of the book was not to provide a comprehensive overview of the research on
CF, but to bring insights into the roll that different types of oral and written
CF play in L2 acquisition...To this end, I have drawn extensively on my own
experimental research” (159). She herself acknowledges the narrow scope of the
research presented and this clearly shows a bias in coverage of material,
although Sheen does, as I mentioned above, provide references for those
interested in approaches other than cognitive-interactional.

Chapter Six could have been quite substantial, but receives a mere twelve pages,
most of which are dedicated to charts and Sheen’s study, in which she sets out
to determine whether ESL learners get more benefit from oral corrective feedback
or written corrective feedback and concludes that written direct correction was
more effective than oral recasts. This chapter could have benefited from a much
more extensive discussion of both Sheen’s findings and other CF literature.
Chapter Seven’s discussion of some of the individual differences between
language learners would be valuable for teachers of other languages as is very
accessible. This discussion is then followed by another asset to the reader, the
conclusion, which covers a great deal of information that the second language
teacher needs to know about CF.

Overall, I would recommend the book to beginning SLA researchers, as it contains
a starting point into a large field by providing a broad overview and extensive
references for the reader. I believe students would also benefit from the manner
in which Sheen explains step-by-step how her scientific studies were conducted.
I’d also recommend Chapters Three and Seven for use in courses that contain
pedagogy for teachers of other languages. More advanced researchers who are
already familiar with the references used in the book may not find the book
beneficial unless they are seeking more information on the
cognitive-interactionist theoretical viewpoint.

Christopher Sams earned a Ph.D. in Spanish Language and Literature (Hispanic Linguistics Specialization) from SUNY Buffalo. He has taught courses in Spanish, Italian, English, and linguistics. His research interests include second language acquisition, Romance linguistics, linguistic typology and universals, historical linguistics, and forensic linguistics.

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