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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES

The goal of this study was to determine whether learner beliefs regarding corrective feedback mediate what is noticed and learned in the language classroom. The participants were four groups of high-beginner college-level francophone English as a second language learners and their teachers. Each teacher was assigned to a treatment condition that fit his corrective feedback style, and each provided feedback in response to errors with the past tense and questions in the past. Participants (= 197) completed a beliefs questionnaire, and half (= 99) took part in the intervention that followed. Beliefs were probed using a 40-item questionnaire, and average belief scores were calculated for each learner. These were then correlated both with the noticing reported on an immediate recall measure and with the test scores on picture description and spot-the-differences tasks. The results reveal four common beliefs, two of which mediated the noticeability of the supplied feedback, but none of which impacted the learning outcomes.

Individual differences (IDs)—such as intelligence, language aptitude, motivation, risk taking, and beliefs—are thought to influence and even to predict second language (L2) learning success (Breen, 2001; Dörnyei, 2005; Fox, 1993; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1992; Horwitz, 1985, 1999; Sawyer & Ranta, 2001). However, little is known about their effect on the processes of L2 acquisition and, more specifically, about their impact on the ways learners process language instruction (Sheen, 2011). Corrective feedback (CF) is an integral part of language study and allows teachers to provide information about the grammaticality of a learner's oral and written production. In particular, CF is said to facilitate learners' noticing the difference between their incorrect utterance and the target form, leading to L2 development (Schmidt, 1990, 1995). For feedback to be effective, however, learners need to recognize its didactic focus (Carroll, 1997) by understanding that the teacher's correction is targeting the form, and not the meaning, of an ill-formed utterance. As such, it makes sense to question whether IDs influence the noticeability and thus the effectiveness of oral CF.

Studies on the impact of IDs on the effectiveness of oral CF have considered differences in learners' age (Mackey & Oliver, 2002); proficiency (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Philp, 2003); and attention, memory, and language aptitude (Ammar & Sato, 2010; Mackey, Philp, Egi, Fujii, & Tatsumi, 2002; Trofimovich, Ammar, & Gatbonton, 2007), though these investigations are scarce (Russell & Spada, 2006). Together, they suggest that age, proficiency, and a number of cognitive factors affect learners' ability to notice and, as a result, profit from oral feedback, more specifically from recasts, that is, a CF technique that provides the target form in response to an error. In terms of age, children between 8 and 12 years old are able to respond to feedback on questions in dyadic interactions with adults and to benefit from it sooner (leading to more immediate changes in their restructuring and interlanguage) than their adult counterparts (Mackey & Oliver, 2002). As for proficiency, high-level learners tend to notice and benefit from recasts more readily than low-proficiency learners (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Philp, 2003). Finally, it has been demonstrated that learners with a large working and phonological memory (Mackey et al., 2002) as well as a broad attention span (Ammar & Sato, 2010) are more likely to notice recasts than prompts (i.e., CF techniques that cue the problem in the learner's utterance and encourage self-correction).

Only two affective variables, anxiety and learner attitudes, have been investigated in relation to CF effectiveness, but not to its noticeability (Sheen, 2008, 2011). These two variables, along with analytical ability (a cognitive factor), were examined in relation to both oral and written feedback. The results show that although all three factors mediated the effectiveness of different types of CF, their impact depended on the mode in which the feedback was delivered and on the specific CF type. Of the affective factors, anxiety proved to be a variable in oral feedback, but did not play a role in written feedback. Learner attitudes towards CF, on the other hand, figured much more in the case of written than oral feedback. These attitudes measured the degree to which the participants were willing to accept feedback and whether they saw it as helpful and important; their perceptions towards grammatical accuracy were also investigated. In terms of CF type, learners with lower anxiety outperformed those with higher anxiety in the case of oral metalinguistic CF (operationalized as the teacher's provision of the correct form following the error, together with a metalinguistic explanation; Sheen, 2011), but anxiety was not a factor in the effectiveness of oral recasts (defined as “a teacher's reformulations of a student's erroneous utterance, without changing the meaning of the student's original utterance in the context of a communicative activity”; Sheen, 2011, p. 62). Similarly, learner attitudes mediated gain scores for the learners in the oral metalinguistic group, but not for those in the oral recast group. These findings suggest that affective variables influence the effectiveness of CF in the classroom, but it is still not clear whether they impact the noticeability of oral feedback. With this in mind, the current study was designed to determine whether the noticeability and benefits of feedback are dependent on differences in learner beliefs about corrective feedback.

The consideration of learner beliefs in general is important because they “have been recognized as learner characteristics to count with when explaining learning outcomes” (Dörnyei, 2005, p. 214) and have been empirically shown to be constant among learners and consistent across different language groups (Horwitz, 1985, 1987, 1988). Investigation into learner beliefs about CF in particular is necessary because, to date, no published studies have considered learners' perceptions of what feedback is, how it is best delivered, and the factors that make it effective. Although learner beliefs have been claimed to underlie many aspects of learner behaviour and learning outcomes, no studies have looked into learner beliefs about CF independently from other language-related constructs; rather, they have allotted the concept secondary importance (e.g., Loewen et al., 2009; Schulz, 1996, 2001). In fact, Loewen et al. (2009) show that learners view grammar instruction and CF as distinct categories and call for future research to consider this differentiation. Finally, there have been a number of calls for second language acquisition (SLA) research to consider IDs as mediators of what CF is noticed and consequently learned from in the classroom (e.g., Lyster & Saito, 2010; Russell & Spada, 2006). Russell and Spada (2006) observe that

few studies have investigated the impact of individual learner factors in relation to CF … [and that] until more studies are done to isolate these variables and investigate them in a series of studies in classrooms and laboratories, they remain compelling arguments without adequate supporting evidence. (p. 155)

Research that has considered the noticeability of CF has primarily focused on recasts, suggesting that the learners' ability to recognize their corrective intent is limited by error type (Mackey, Gass, & McDonough, 2000), length (Philp, 2003) and explicitness of the recast (Ammar & Sato, 2010); proficiency level (Philp, 2003); working memory capacity (Mackey et al., 2002); and attention-switching ability (Ammar & Sato, 2010). Comparisons of noticing between recasts and prompts are rare; only two studies have broached the subject (Ammar, 2008; Mackey et al., 2000). Although an early attempt of this evaluation was inhibited by an unbalanced distribution of the techniques (Mackey et al., 2000), Ammar's (2008) systematic comparison of recasts to prompts reveals that the latter is more noticeable than the former. Yet it is not clear whether beliefs affect learners' ability to notice CF.

The effectiveness of recasts and prompts seems to be context specific. Although early laboratory studies (e.g., Leeman, 2003; Mackey & Philp, 1998) found that recasts facilitate L2 grammar learning, investigations that compared recasts to other feedback types either found recasts more effective (Long, Inagaki, & Ortega, 1998; Mackey & Philp, 1998) or yielded no differences between the CF types (e.g., Lyster & Izquierdo, 2009; McDonough, 2007). In the classroom-based studies, however, prompts yielded the most gains (e.g., Ammar & Spada, 2006; Ellis, Loewen, & Erlam, 2006; Lyster, 2004; Yang & Lyster, 2010). The fact that recent laboratory studies have failed to differentiate the effectiveness of the CF techniques suggests that recasts and prompts differ in the type of learning opportunities they afford (Lyster & Izquierdo, 2009; Lyster & Saito, 2010). That is, whereas recasts provide correct reformulations of the ill-formed utterance and invite learners to infer the corrective intent, prompts overtly signal the presence of an error, cue its location, and push students to self-correct. Still, there is no indication of whether learner beliefs about CF impact what is learned in the classroom.

In light of this, it is necessary to examine learner beliefs regarding CF and to determine whether differences in learner perceptions mediate their ability to notice and learn from the feedback they receive in the classroom. If beliefs influence L2 learning, then there could be a link between beliefs and noticing and between beliefs and learning. Hence, this study poses the following research question: Do learner beliefs about CF mediate their noticing and learning of L2 norms?

METHODOLOGY

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES

Participants

Three highly experienced English as a second language (ESL) teachers and their 197 high-beginner college students (mean age: 20.75 years old), who came from intact classes and spoke French as their first language, participated in this study. All 197 participants completed a beliefs questionnaire (see the Learner Beliefs subsection in the Data Collection Measures section for details), and 99 from six intact classes took part in the intervention to ensure experimental comparability. Table 1 breaks down the number of learners across groups and teachers. The participants' prior exposure to ESL instruction amounted to 120 hours in primary school and 670 hours in high school. The college English classes they were enrolled in met once a week for 3 hours, 2 of which were spent in the classroom and 1 in the language laboratory. The courses were taught by the same teachers for the entire term.

Table 1. Participants Across Groups and Teachers
GroupTeacher n
RecastAlbert31
PromptBrian25
Mixed (Recasts & Prompts)Charles23
ControlResearcher 120

The teachers, bilingual in English and French, were observed and interviewed prior to the investigation in order to identify if and how each provided CF. The three teachers addressed most of the learners' errors but did so using different methods. Whereas one teacher (Albert) responded to errors primarily with recasts, another (Brian) showed a clear preference for prompts. The third teacher (Charles) consistently alternated between recasts and prompts. Because it was not possible to find another teacher from the same college who provided no feedback, the first author taught the control group.

Corrective Feedback Conditions

The CF conditions were operationalized in accordance with the CF types documented by Lyster and Ranta (1997) and Sheen (2004). Recasts were operationalized as the teacher's reformulation of a learner's incorrect utterance. The Recast teacher was allowed to react with a full, partial, interrogative, or integrated reformulation. For example, in response to a student's utterance *He go to the movies yesterday, any of the following approaches could be adopted:

Full reformulation: Okay. He went to the movies yesterday.

Partial reformulation: (He) Went.

Interrogative reformulation: Where did you say he went yesterday?

Integrated reformulation: He went to the movies yesterday. Did he go alone or with someone?

Prompts were defined as techniques that elicited the correct form from the learner. These techniques included (1) repetition, where the teacher repeated the student's incorrect utterance, either as a whole with rising intonation or partly by zooming in on the error while withholding the correct form; (2) elicitation, where the teacher repeated part of the learner's utterance and paused at the error to provide a clue as to the problem, as well as to invite the student to self-repair; and (3) metalinguistic information, where the teacher provided metalinguistic clues but did not provide the correct form, thus pushing the learner to self-correct. Hence, the Prompt teacher could adopt any of the following in response to *He go to the movies yesterday:

Full repetition: He go to the movies yesterday?

Partial repetition: Go yesterday? Go?

Elicitation: He what [stressed] yesterday?

Metalinguistic information: It happened yesterday. So what should we say? (How do we form the past in English?)

The Mixed group's teacher was asked to alternate between recasts and prompts as equally as possible during the activities. The need for a combination of techniques stems from Lyster and Ranta's (1997) early observation that language teachers regularly use combinations of feedback types to address learners' errors. As such, the use of a mixed group is warranted not only to provide pragmatically justified evidence for the noticeability and effectiveness of CF types, but to also answer the call of “moving away from dichotomous comparisons of CF strategies that isolate CF from other relevant instructional variables and towards an examination of combinations of CF types that more closely resemble teachers' practices in classroom setting” (Lyster, Saito, & Sato, 2013, p. 30).

Linguistic Targets

The past tense and questions in the past were chosen as the linguistic targets for the current study because both (1) are problematic for ESL learners, regardless of first language (L1); (2) represent different levels of complexity (DeKeyser, 1998, 2005); (3) are subject to L1 interference (Ammar, Sato, & Kartchava, 2010; Collins, 2002); (4) occur frequently in the input (Doughty & Varela, 1998), facilitating their elicitation during communicative tasks (McDonough, 2007); and (5) have been shown to be good candidates for learner improvement when they are targeted with CF (for questions, see Mackey, 2006; Mackey & Philp, 1998; McDonough, 2005; for past tense, see Doughty & Varela, 1998; Ellis et al., 2006; Yang & Lyster, 2010). Research has also shown that the noticing of CF leads to language development, though this largely depends on the technique employed and on the nature of the error (Ammar, 2008; Ammar & Sato, 2010; Mackey et al., 2000).

Intervention

The treatment consisted of two 120-minute sessions, during which the participants (= 99) engaged in a communicative task designed to promote the use of both linguistic targets (adapted from Gatbonton, 1994). For each task, the students worked in groups to create accounts of their whereabouts (activity 1) or those of an accident victim (activity 2); these were then questioned by the whole class. Corrective feedback was provided during the student-fronted portions of the activities, which were video-recorded. No instruction on the two targets was given prior to the intervention.

Data Collection Measures

Learner beliefs

To uncover learner beliefs about CF, a two-part questionnaire was created. In Part 1, demographic information on the participants was gathered, including their linguistic background. For each of the languages spoken, the participants then indicated (1) where they learned it (i.e., classroom, home, other); (2) the number of years they had been speaking it; and (3) how well they spoke, wrote, listened, and read in each using a scale of poor to excellent. Part 2 of the questionnaire consisted of 40 statements about CF, which were based on theoretical and empirical findings in the CF literature (e.g., Horwitz, 1988, 1999; Mohamed, 2011; Schulz, 1996, 2001). Specifically, the statements, the rationale for which is described next, centered on the (1) importance and (2) expectations for feedback; the (3) mode, (4) timing, and (5) amount of CF; as well as (6) recasts, (7) prompts, and (8) the manner in which and (9) by whom the CF should be delivered. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 =  strong disagreement and 5 =  strong agreement) the participants indicated the degree to which they agreed with each statement. The questionnaire was written in French, and the items were randomized prior to the administration during Week 1 of the term.

Rationale for the questionnaire statements

Researchers (e.g., Long, 1996; Schmidt, 1990, 1995, 2001) and L2 learners (Chenoweth, Day, Chun, & Luppescu, 1983; Schulz, 1996, 2001) agree that CF is important in language learning. In fact, learners across different contexts expect to have their oral and written errors corrected (Schulz, 1996, 2001; Sheen, 2011) and in large amounts (Chenoweth et al., 1983; Jean & Simard, 2011). If they are not, their motivation to learn an L2 may decrease and they may question their teacher's credibility (Horwitz, 1990; Schulz, 1996, 2001). In terms of timing, although some methodologists believe that CF interrupts the communicative flow (e.g., Bartram & Walt, 1991; Harmer, 2007) and recommend that teachers address errors at the end of a task (e.g., Willis, 1996; Hedge, 2000), learners value teachers who provide immediate feedback to oral errors (Brown, 2009). It is not clear how much feedback is necessary to affect learning, but methodologists promote and some learners prefer (Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005) selective correction (e.g., Harmer, 2007), suggesting that only errors that are prevalent and impede the message transmission should be treated. Regarding learner preferences for specific CF techniques, the research is scarce, with studies showing that lower proficiency learners favor prompts over recasts (Mohamed, 2011; Yoshida, 2008), but that more advanced-proficiency learners prefer recasts to prompts (Brown, 2009). Similarly, little is known about learners' preferences for who should correct—the teacher or the students. Whereas Hendrickson (1980) argues for learners' involvement in correcting their own errors, Hedge (2000) claims that this might not always be possible due to the learners' inability or unwillingness to effect correction.

Noticing

Immediate recall (administered during class activities) and lesson reflection sheets (completed at the end of each session) were used to measure the noticeability of the supplied feedback. The immediate recall consisted of the first author lifting a red card following some CF instances, prompting each learner to write down (in English or French) their thoughts about what was happening in the class. The exact instructions for the task were as follows: “Each time you see the red card, write what you are thinking in relation to the lesson.” Examples of the immediate recall corrective episodes are presented in Table 2, and the breakdown of the number of episodes across the three groups is shown in Table 3. To ensure a comparable distribution of errors corrected with recasts and prompts, the total number of episodes and distractors was increased for the Mixed group. The distractors were used to divert the participants' attention and were limited to disciplinary comments and task instructions. Whereas the immediate recall protocols were analyzed for the types of noticing reported and to calculate learner average noticing scores, the lesson reflection sheets, adapted from Mackey (2006), were analyzed qualitatively to provide additional evidence of noticing. To ensure that the coding was representative, an independent rater analyzed and categorized part of the data; inter-rater reliability was 93% based on simple agreement.

Table 2. Immediate Recall Corrective Episodes
CF typePast tenseQuestions
Recast “WE WENT TO THE AIRPORT” “DID SHE TALK WITH YOU?”
S1: What did you do when you woke up?T: Where did you meet Britney Spears?
S2: Ahh, we don't do anything special.T: Shopping?
T: You did not do anything special?S1: Yeah . . . [laughter] . . . at the hotel, it was one star but . . . at the beach . . .
S2: No.T: Really?
S2: And after, we go to the airport.S1: Yeah. She was performing at the beach.
T: You went to the airport?S2: She talk with you?
S2: No, we go to the airport . . . [looks at the teacher confused] . . . Yes.S1: No.
T: You went to the airport?T: Did she talk with you?
S2: Yes.S1: No.
Prompt “WE TOOK THE AIRPLANE” “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
T: In the airplane you ate McDo? [Class laughs.]T: Questions!
S3: We bought the food and after that we take airplane.S1: What do you eat at McDonald's?
T: After that we . . . (pauses, then gestures the need for the past tense) . . . “take” in the past tense.T: What (gestures the need for the past tense) . . .
S3: Took.S1: What did you eat?
T: Good. 
Table 3. CF Immediate Recall Instances Across Groups
CF typePast tenseQuestionsDistractors
Recast13123
Prompt12123
Mixed: recast1087
Mixed: prompt87
Total433913
Learning

To measure learning outcomes, all groups completed two tasks (one per target) before and immediately after the intervention. In the spot-the-differences task, used to elicit questions in the past tense, student pairs received separate accounts of a fictional character's written biography, which differed in 10 ways. The students were instructed to ask each other a minimum of 10 questions to identify the differences. The questions were written down by both partners, and the conversations were audio-recorded. To elicit past tense usage, the participants were asked to write a narrative of what happened in a cartoon strip at a specified point in the past (yesterday, last week). To ensure linguistic uniformity, the learners had to incorporate the supplied context-appropriate verbs (10 per strip) in their stories at least once. Of the 20 verbs, 4 reoccurred across the tests (enter, tell, leave, and go), 9 called for the regular past forms (enter, point, demand, park, deposit, climb, cross, walk, and stop), and 7 called for the irregular forms (tell, leave, go, put, drive, meet, and come). All the verbs were telic and depicted accomplishment and achievement verb categories that require the use of the past tense (Bardovi-Harlig, 1998; Collins, 2007). Two versions of the tasks were developed to counter the test-retest effect.

Data analysis

To examine common themes in the participants' beliefs as a group, the responses on Part 2 of the questionnaire were subjected to an exploratory factor analysis. The suitability of the data was confirmed by the Kaiser-Meyer-Oklin value of .82 and the statistically significant Bartlett's Test of Sphericity (χ2 = 2968.542, < .001). Cronbach's alpha for the 40-item scale was .84, indicating internal item consistency. To determine to what extent the confirmed factors distinguished among the learners in all conditions, average scores for each learner were generated to represent values for the identified beliefs and to use in subsequent analyses investigating possible relationships between beliefs and learning and between beliefs and noticing.

Pearson analyses of the correlation between each learner's beliefs score and noticing score were conducted; the same was done for the beliefs and learning relationship. The noticing scores were calculated by dividing the total number of times a learner reported noticing by the total number of recall instances provided, which were then converted into percentages. This analysis was carried out for each target and feedback condition. The scores were used to determine the differential noticing of recasts, prompts, and the mixture of the two. Similarly, percentage accuracy scores were computed for each target across test times. For the past tense, the total number of verbs accurately supplied in the obligatory contexts was divided by the maximum score of 10 and then multiplied by 100. If the same verb was used more than once, only its initial use was counted to offset overuse. To account for the different number of questions produced by each learner, the number of correctly formed questions was divided by the total number of questions supplied and then multiplied by 100.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES

Learner Beliefs

The factor analysis revealed five components, explaining a total of 44.3% of the variance. Interpretation of the components proved difficult because the output indicated that although the participants saw CF as important and expected it in the L2 classroom, they appeared confused as to how, when, and by whom they preferred to be corrected (a detailed description is available from the authors of this article). Hence, it was decided to run another analysis on only those items (= 26) that dealt with the expectation for and importance of CF as well as the two CF techniques of interest (recasts and prompts). The resulting factor analysis (.85 Kaiser-Meyer-Oklin value and statistically significant Bartlett's Test of Sphericity value, χ2 = 1821.755, < .001, Cronbach's coefficient alpha .855) produced a three-component solution, explaining a total of 43% of the variance, with Component 1 contributing 26.72%, Component 2 contributing 9.13%, and Component 3 contributing 7.15%. Oblimin rotation helped in interpreting the resulting factors, which were named using the highest loading items on each component (Pallant, 2007). Because the 16 items that loaded on Factor 1 were concerned with the expectation of CF (Questions 7, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, and 32) and with recasts as the technique of choice (Questions 6, 11, 12, 14, 18, and 40), this factor was labelled “Expectation of CF and Recasts as CF Method.” Among the 6 items that loaded on Factor 2, 5 items (Questions 3, 15, 33, 34, and 39) represented the belief that the best way to provide CF is through prompts; 1 item (Question 36), with the lowest loading score, attributed the importance to recasts. Because the majority of the items with high loadings spoke of prompts as the corrective technique of choice, this factor was named “Prompts as CF Method.” Finally, because the 2 items (Questions 2 and 35) that loaded on Factor 3 pertained to the negative consequences that CF may yield, this factor was labelled “Negative Consequences of CF.” Table 4 shows the resulting factor loadings for the 26-item analysis. It is important to note that 2 items (Questions 8 and 19) did not load onto any of the three factors.

Table 4. Rotated Factor Loadings for Learner Beliefs About CF (26 Items, = 197)
ItemFactor 1Factor 2Factor 3
I. Expectation of CF and recasts as CF method (26.72% of variance)

6. Provision of the correct form is helpful for the beginner students.

(Fournir la forme correcte est bénéfique pour les étudiants de niveau débutant.)

.512  

7. The correction of speaking errors is necessary in an English class.

(La correction des erreurs orales est indispensable en classe d'anglais.)

.528  

11. Provision of the correct form is the best technique to correct vocabulary errors in English.

(Fournir la forme correcte est la meilleure technique pour corriger les erreurs de vocabulaire en anglais.)

.575 .402

12. Provision of the correct form is the best technique to correct grammatical errors in English.

(Fournir la forme correcte est la meilleure technique pour corriger les erreurs grammaticales en anglais.)

.567  

14. In light of my oral errors in English, I prefer that my teacher explicitly lets me know that my utterance is incorrect and that he or she supplies the correct form.

(Face à mes erreurs orales en anglais, je préfère que mon professeur m'indique de façon explicite que mon énoncé n'est pas acceptable et qu'il me fournisse la forme correcte.)

.536  

16. If my English teacher does not correct my speaking errors, my determination to learn English will diminish.

(Si le professeur d'anglais ne corrige pas mes erreurs orales, ma détermination d'apprendre l'anglais diminuera.)

.636  

17. The English teacher must inform the student of the aspects that he or she must improve so that the student acquires them.

(Le professeur d'anglais doit informer l'étudiant des aspects qu'il doit améliorer pour que ce dernier arrive à les maîtriser.)

.654  
18. Provision of the correct form is the best technique to correct pronunciation errors in English..683  
Fournir la forme correcte est la meilleure technique pour corriger les erreurs de prononciation en anglais.

20. I expect my teacher to correct my vocabulary errors in English.

(Je m'attends à ce que mon professeur corrige mes erreurs de vocabulaire en anglais.)

.710  

21. If the teacher lets students make errors from the start, it will be difficult to remedy them later on.

(Si le professeur laisse les étudiants faire des erreurs au départ, il sera difficile de les en débarrasser plus tard.)

.521  

22. I like it when the teacher corrects me in an English class.

(J'aime que le professeur me corrige en classe d'anglais.)

.577 −.454

23. I expect my teacher to correct my grammatical errors in English.

(Je m'attends à ce que mon professeur corrige mes erreurs de grammaire en anglais.)

.734  
25. I expect my teacher to correct my pronunciation errors in English.(Je m'attends à ce que mon professeur corrige mes erreurs de prononciation en anglais.).723  

26. Correction of speaking errors in English reinforces the student's oral production.

(La correction des erreurs orales en anglais est un moyen privilégié pour renforcer la production des étudiants.)

.546  

32. Correction of oral errors in English attracts my attention to the correct form given by my teacher.

(La correction des erreurs orales en anglais attire mon attention sur la forme correcte donnée par mon enseignant.)

.402  

40. Provision of the correct form is the best technique to correct speaking errors in English.

(Fournir la forme correcte est la meilleure technique de correction des erreurs à l'oral en anglais.)

.484  
II. Prompts as CF method (9.13% of variance)

3. Encouraging learners to self-correct is helpful for students at the beginner level.

(Inciter les élèves à se corriger par eux-mêmes est bénéfique pour les étudiants de niveau débutant.)

 .690 

15. Pushing learners to correct their own errors helps them to acquire English.

(Pousser les étudiants à corriger leurs propres erreurs les aide à acquérir l'anglais.)

 .699 

33. Encouraging learners to self-correct is helpful for students at the advanced level.

(Inciter les élèves à se corriger par eux-mêmes est bénéfique pour les étudiants de niveau avancé.)

 .640 

34. I prefer it when my English teacher encourages me to correct myself on my own.

(Je préfère que mon professeur d'anglais m'incite à me corriger moi-même.)

 .800 

36. Provision of the correct form is helpful for advanced students.

(Fournir la forme correcte est bénéfique pour les étudiants de niveau avancé.)

 .446 

39. My teacher always provides a comment or linguistic information to help me correct myself on my own.

(Mon professeur fournit toujours un commentaire ou un renseignement linguistique pour m'aider à me corriger moi-même.)

 .485 
III. Negative consequences of CF (7.15% of variance)

2. The correction of speaking errors in English makes me anxious.

(La correction des erreurs orales en anglais me rend anxieux.)

  .682

35. The correction of speaking errors in an English class leads to a negative attitude towards the study of English.

(La pratique de la correction des erreurs orales en classe d'anglais mène à une attitude négative envers l'apprentissage d'anglais.)

  .539

Calculation of average scores per factor for each learner proved difficult because both Factor 1 and Factor 2 were composed of diverging items. Factor 1 contained items that spoke to the importance/expectation of CF and to recasts as the method of treating errors. Similarly, although the majority of the items in Factor 2 centered on prompts as the desired CF technique, one item spoke of recasts. It was decided to separate the loaded items according to the concept they represented. Factor 1 was split into two sets of beliefs: (1) importance and expectation of CF (Questions 7, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, and 32) and (2) recasts as a CF technique (Questions 6, 11, 12, 14, 18, and 40). Factor 2 spoke to prompts as a CF technique (Questions 3, 15, 33, 34, and 39). The internal consistency of the new beliefs was assured with a Cronbach's alpha coefficient, which is considered acceptable above .7 (DeVellis, 2003), though the preferred value is above .8 (Pallant, 2007). The Cronbach's alpha was .83 for Belief 1 and .79 for Belief 2, suggesting very good internal consistency and reliability for the scale with this sample. The reliability coefficient for Belief 3 was deemed satisfactory at .73. In light of this, each learner's average score for each belief item was calculated and compiled in terms of group means, which are presented in Table 5.

Table 5. Group Mean Belief Scores (Maximum Score: 5.0)
GroupImportance of CF (Belief 1)Recasts (Belief 2)Prompts (Belief 3)Affective consequences (Belief 4)
M SD M SD M SD M SD
Recast3.900.464.050.563.500.634.251.36
Prompt3.830.774.060.833.470.923.701.37
Mixed4.040.844.130.843.430.963.881.51
Control3.990.534.230.493.620.744.051.35
Total3.930.654.110.683.500.794.001.40

Learner Beliefs and Noticing

Correlation analyses were performed to determine (1) whether there is a relationship between the learners' beliefs about Belief 1 (Importance of CF), Belief 2 (Recasts), Belief 3 (Prompts), and Belief 4 (Negative Consequences of CF) and their overall noticing scores, and (2) whether such a relationship exists across the two grammatical targets.

The relationship between the overall noticing scores and the four beliefs was investigated using the Pearson correlation coefficient (Table 6). Preliminary analyses ensured no violation of the assumptions of normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity (Pallant, 2007). There was a weak, positive correlation between overall noticing and Belief 1 (Importance of CF), r = .221, n = 79, p < .05. Belief 1 helps to explain nearly 5% of the variance in the respondents' noticing scores, suggesting that the more students believe in the importance of CF, the more likely they are to notice its corrective intent. There was a weak, positive relationship between the overall noticing scores and Belief 2 (Recasts as CF), r = .255, n = 79, p < .05. Belief 2 helps to explain 6.5% of the variance in the respondents' noticing scores, suggesting that the more students believe in the effectiveness of recasts as a feedback technique, the more likely they are to notice their corrective intent. No significant correlation was found for Belief 3 (Prompts as CF), r = .063, or Belief 4 (Negative Consequences of CF), r = −.157, suggesting that noticing appears to be independent from beliefs about prompts and negative consequences of feedback.

Table 6. Pearson Correlations Between Noticing and Beliefs (= 79)
  1. a

    < .05 (2-tailed).

Beliefs1234
Noticing.221a.255a.063−.157 

No significant correlations between group beliefs and noticing across the two target types were found (Table 7), implying that, for these learners, noticeability of feedback delivered in response to errors in questions and/or the past tense does not seem to be informed by beliefs about CF.

Table 7. Pearson Correlations Between Group Beliefs and Noticing Across the Two Targets (= 79)
Group Past tenseQuestions
Belief 1 2 3 4 Belief 1 2 3 4
Recast.197.268−.201−.134−.047.080−.022−.150
Prompt.087.080.149−.330.185.157.029−.161
Mixed−.051−.053−.064.100.111.203.199.056

Learner Beliefs and Learning

Correlation analyses were performed to determine (1) whether there is an overall relationship between the learners' beliefs about Belief 1 (Importance of CF), Belief 2 (Recasts), Belief 3 (Prompts), and Belief 4 (Negative Consequences of CF) and their posttest scores, and (2) whether such a relationship exists on a group level.

The relationship between the four beliefs and the test scores was investigated using the Pearson correlation coefficient, the results of which are presented in Table 8. No significant correlations were found, suggesting that improvement from pretest to posttest for these learners was independent from the four beliefs investigated. Similarly, no significant correlations were found between the beliefs and the test outcomes across the groups (Table 9), implying that, for this sample, improvement on the two morphosyntactic features appears to be independent from beliefs.

Table 8. Pearson Correlations Between Test Scores and Beliefs (= 99)
Beliefs1234
Simple past.060.052.083−.135
Questions−.003.002−.083−.080
Table 9. Pearson Correlations Between Group Beliefs and Test Scores Across the Two Targets (= 79)
Group Past tenseQuestions
Belief 1 2 3 4 Belief 1 2 3 4
Recast.041.249.127.014−.271−.233−.143−.034
Prompt.087.080.149−.330.185.157.029−.161
Mixed−.051−.053−.064.100.111.203.199.056

To summarize, learner beliefs were composed of three underlying factors: (1) the importance of CF and recasts as the CF technique, (2) prompts as a CF technique, and (3) negative consequences of CF. Specifically, the participants believed in the importance of oral CF overall and expected the teacher to use recasts in response to errors. They also saw a positive role for self-correction (facilitated by prompts) and were aware of the negative effects that CF can invoke. The correlation analyses between the learners' reports of noticing and their beliefs about CF revealed a positive relationship between overall noticing and the belief in the importance of CF as well as noticing and the belief in recasts as an effective feedback technique. There were, however, no significant correlations between beliefs and the noticing of either grammatical target across the three groups. Finally, no significant relationship was found between beliefs and the test scores across the groups.

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES

The goal of this study was to determine whether learner beliefs about CF mediate the noticeability and effectiveness of feedback delivered in the classroom. Beliefs appear to have affected the noticeability of feedback in general and of recasts in particular, but did not mediate the relationship between beliefs and learning. The beliefs–noticing relationship found here echoes the general agreement among SLA researchers that learner beliefs may affect how learners view and perform language tasks (Horwitz, 1988; Kern, 1995) and that learners generally favour feedback on errors in the classroom (Cathcart & Olsen, 1976; Chenoweth et al., 1983; Mohamed, 2011; Schulz, 1996, 2001). The learners' beliefs about the importance and effectiveness of feedback in this study seemed to have positively affected their ability to notice the supplied corrections, paving the way for a more productive and longer lasting learning experience (Mantle-Bromley, 1995).

However, the lack of a statistically significant relationship between beliefs and noticing across the two grammatical targets may be seen as contrary to the previous research (Kern, 1995; Peacock, 1999; Schulz, 1996, 2001) that associated higher concerns for grammatical accuracy and CF with learners rather than teachers. In those studies, the learners enjoyed grammar instruction and CF more than their teachers (Peacock, 1999), who appeared less concerned about the value of grammar teaching than did their students (Schulz, 1996). In Kern's (1995) study, the learners, more than their teachers, were concerned about the effect of fossilization in the case of no CF and agreed with the need for grammar rules. So if grammar is important and feedback is a gateway to accuracy, then why was there no association between beliefs about CF and the noticing scores for either grammatical feature? One of the reasons may be because there were no direct questions regarding the role of grammar instruction in the beliefs questionnaire, thus preventing an evaluation of learner preference in this regard. Another reason may be that “students may not be universally motivated to be accurate, generally, or grammatically accurate, specifically” (Chavez, 2007, p. 555). Chavez's (2007) study revealed that first-, second-, and third-year learners of German, as well as their teachers, perceived grammatical accuracy as having a stronger emphasis than they felt it needed. That is, although they recognized its importance, the learners appeared to show a strong concern for accuracy only because they wanted to receive a good grade or because they felt that this concern would be in line with their teacher's expectations. The teachers, in turn, might have overestimated the course requirements and the role of grammatical practice in them. In the current study, because the participants were surveyed during the first class of the term, it may be argued that they were not concerned with or did not have the time necessary to form opinions about the course requirements, the teacher's expectations for accuracy, or the evaluation criteria.

The lack of a relationship between beliefs and L2 development is in line with previous research (Ellis, 2008; Mori, 1999; Tanaka, 2004) in that the amount of learning students engage in depends, for the most part, on the actions they take to improve their language knowledge, not on their perceptions of what constitutes language learning. This speaks to the limitation of the instrument used to measure beliefs in this study. Specifically, the fact that the topic and phrasing of the Likert-style questionnaire items were identified by the researcher, and the participants were simply asked to respond to these “ready-made” constructs, raises questions about the extent to which “a construct as intellectually and affectively complex and rich as is one's personal belief system . . . [can] be fully captured by people's responses to a set of normative statements” (Bernat & Gvozdenko, 2005, p. 7). The use of such a questionnaire, however, allowed for a large number of respondents and ensured a statistically reliable instrument that helped to uncover an emergent picture of learner beliefs regarding feedback.

Another reason why there was no association between beliefs and test scores might have to do with the length of the intervention and the fact that no delayed posttest was used. Because the process of language learning takes time and effort on the part of the student, it is unlikely that the learning measured after a 4-hour intervention would show a relationship with beliefs; more time may be necessary for beliefs to affect learning outcomes (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Mackey & Goo, 2007). The comparison of the results on a delayed posttest with belief scores might have yielded a connection between beliefs and the test scores. More research is needed in this area to determine to what extent beliefs can influence learning.

Finally, this result may be rooted in the participants' dependence on their teachers. Having been exposed for much of their academic life to the traditional model of teaching, where the instructor is in charge of the classroom, the learners may rely on the teacher not only for CF in response to their errors, but also for information on their learning progress. The activities used in this study gave the learners opportunities to create and express content, ask questions, and interact with peers. This new instructional context, though brief, may have given the participants a reason to start seeing the teacher more as a facilitator than as an authority figure in the classroom (Cotterall, 1995)—an idea that could, in the long run, prompt them to view learning “as a learner-centered and self-regulated process in which proactive participation and initiatives are important” (Amuzie & Winke, 2009, p. 376). This, of course, will remain a speculation until empirically observed.

CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES

This study suggests that learners' positive attitudes towards CF can positively affect the noticing of CF in the classroom. Specifically, the more learners believe in the importance of feedback, the more likely they are to notice its corrective intent, especially if the CF is in the form of a recast. A major concern with this finding, however, is that although it represents the opinions of all the participants in the study, it is not clear what the results would have been had the learners assigned to the control group been given a chance to receive CF. On the other hand, no relationship was found between beliefs and test scores, suggesting that the test results were not mediated by the learners' beliefs about CF. Conversely, the lack of such a connection may be due to the absence of delayed posttests, because it might be possible that, in order for beliefs to affect test outcomes, more than 4 hours of instruction is necessary. As such, future investigations into the relationship between beliefs and the noticing of CF as well as beliefs and learning need to take into account the effect of the length of instruction. Still, these findings point to the influential role that beliefs about CF play in the learning of an L2 and, as such, are of value to language teachers. Supplementary research is necessary to bring the field closer to untangling the complex relationship of noticing and learning and the many factors that may influence the effect that CF has on language development.

THE AUTHORS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES

Eva Kartchava has a PhD in applied linguistics (didactics) from Université de Montréal. This article is based on her doctoral thesis. Her research interests include the relationship between corrective feedback and L2 learning, noticeability of feedback, and individual differences. Eva has been appointed as an Assistant Professor (Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies) in the School of Linguistics and Language Studies at Carleton University, Canada.

Ahlem Ammar is associate professor of didactics at the Université de Montréal. She does research on metalinguistic awareness in L2, corrective feedback, and its role in promoting second language acquisition.

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  3. METHODOLOGY
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSION
  7. THE AUTHORS
  8. REFERENCES
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