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Review of Corrective Feedback, Individual Differences and Second Language Learning
AUTHOR: Younghee Sheen TITLE: Corrective Feedback, Individual Differences and Second Language Learning SERIES TITLE: Educational Linguistics PUBLISHER: Springer 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 motivation.
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” (173).
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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