The status of English as a second language in Malaysia has indeed influenced the students’ proficiency and attitude towards the language. Although, the English curriculum has integrated the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking for the students to master since they are as young as seven years old, errors and mistakes are still produced during the application of the language.
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In handling such errors and mistakes, some teachers or researchers opted for error treatment, which is treated as the key issue of this study. In this study, the error treatment would be referred as “written corrective feedback”. The written corrective feedback is the response in black and white, provided in the students’ work after it has been reviewed by the teacher. It is meant to correct the errors that the students made in their work so that they would not repeat similar inaccuracy in the future.
Indeed, in terms of constructing task such as writings, the evidence of errors relating to grammar is even more obvious, which causes a lot of collision of opinions amongst teachers and experts of whether providing feedback or treatment to the errors been made by the students can help them to improve their accuracy in using the language. It is undeniably a challenge for them as there seems to be controversies that aroused regarding such issue.
Research and a review of the literature (Bitchener and Knoch, 2008) indicate that currently, the firm conclusions about the efficacy of written corrective feedback are not yet available. As in the review made by Guenette (2007) and Bitchener (2008), the declared provision made by Truscott (1996) which stated that there was empirical evidence as conducted in a number of studies to prove the ineffectiveness and harmfulness of written corrective feedback on ESL student writing, is now suspected. This is because those studies were flawed to some extend especially in terms of their design, execution and analysis. In fact, as quoted from Liu (2008), with the existing data (Kepner, 1991; Chandler; Hyland, 2003; Bitchener, 2008), it is still too early to have a conclusive answer to the question of whether error correction is effective in improving the accuracy of second language (L2) students’ writing in the long term for all levels. Therefore, teachers and researchers simply cannot dismiss the students’ strong desire for error feedback.
1.1 The Statement of Research Problem
The issue of the students’ tendency to make mistakes and errors in their writing in which they are not able to apply grammatical usage accurately and correctly, has indeed triggered the researcher’s interest to investigate the suitable kind of approach that can be used to improve their grammatical errors.
Indeed, the researcher does agree to the current approach to language teaching that approves communicative language teaching in which as stated by Brown (2001), “we are trying to get our learners to develop linguistic fluency, not just accuracy that so consumed our historical journey.” However, in the researcher’s opinion, the language oriented should be balanced with the message oriented technique in teaching language to the students. There are a number of grammatical features that the students should be able to apply correctly since they have been taught to them since their tender age such as subject and verb agreement, spelling and other grammatical features.
Furthermore, there are numerous studies that revealed that grammar correction to second language writing students is actually discouraging to many students, and even harmful to their writing ability (Semke 1984; Kepner 1991; Sheppard 1992; and Truscott 1996). Truscott (1996) claims that grammar correction does not work in which he refers to a number of research studies on L2 writing which seem to prove the ineffectiveness of error correction. According to his review article, feedback on content is generally received well and students are able to make improvement in this aspect while form-focused feedback, with or without content-focused feedback, does not lead to any significant difference in accuracy. However, the current studies have proved the opposite outcomes.
Thus, through this study, the researcher intends to investigate the effect of using written corrective feedback in lessening students’ grammatical mistakes and errors in their work. The study is also conducted due to the previous current studies that have been made to show that there are positive effects of the usage of written feedback in students’ work as well as the opposing views and studies that have shown the opposite outcomes. So, this study provides an opportunity to the researcher to see the changes of the effect for using the written corrective feedback and finally, to prove whether the previous studies’ findings are indeed similar to the findings that the researcher retrieved in her study.
1.2 The Research Objectives
The main purpose of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of the written corrective feedback in improving the secondary school students’ grammatical errors that they produce in their journal writing.
Specifically, the study is conducted to achieve these objectives by the end of the study:
Researcher wants to find the suitable solution in order to lessen the students’ grammatical errors that they produced in their work.
Researcher wants to see whether the approach of using written corrective feedback can improve students’ grammatical errors in their journal writing.
Researcher wants to prove the previous conducted study that the usage of feedback can somehow improve the students’ grammatical errors.
1.3 The Research Questions
The study will attempt to answer the following questions which also serve as a guide of the analysis:
How do students respond to corrective feedback provided on their second journal writing when writing the next journal? Do students make fewer errors in constructing the following journals?
Is there significant difference of the quantity and quality of the students’ first journals that are recorded in the pre-test and their final journals in the post-test?
1.4 The Definition of the Terms
There are a few of terms in the title of the study which needed further clarification so as to give a clearer perspective of what the researcher tries to relate in conducting the study. Below are the terms that are defined in two aspects which are constitutive definition which is based on the dictionary definition, whereas the operational definition refers to the conceptual definition that the researcher tries to bring into the study.
a) Written Corrective Feedback
The advice, criticism or information expressed in writing to make something right that was wrong before. (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th Edition)
The response that teacher provides in written form to correct students’ grammatical errors in their journal writing.
Feedback is given in terms of underlining the grammatical errors. However, corrective feedback includes both underlining and correcting the grammatical errors.
A change in something that makes it better than before.(Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th Edition)
The decreasing number of grammatical errors occurring in the students’ subsequent journals after receiving corrective feedback in the previous journal.
Mistakes connected with the rules of grammar. (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th Edition)
The mistakes relating to grammar done by students in their journal writing.
The mistakes in grammar will be narrowed to ;
Morphological errors: subject-verb agreement errors; article or other determiner incorrect, omitted, or unnecessary.
Semantic errors: errors in word choice, including preposition and pronoun errors as well as spelling errors.
1.5 Limitation of the Research
In conducting the study, there are a number of limitations that need to be declared due to a number of reasons. As stated by Singh,P. , Chan,Y.F. and Sidhu,G.K. (2009), the limitations of a study refer to the potential weaknesses and the constraints of the study.
The first limitation of the study would include time constraint. The study is intended to be conducted during the three months of the researcher’s teaching practical. It means that there are only ten weeks or less available for the researcher to conduct the study. This is because two weeks need to be set aside for the pre-test and post-test sessions. Indeed, the limited time would cause the researcher not to be able to collect data that is more reliable. In order for us to observe significant changes or improvement, we need a longer period of time to conduct the study and collect more data. Thus, if provided with more time, the researcher would be able to see apparent and more reliable changes in students’ grammatical errors improvement.
Next, the limitation would be in terms of the sample size because the study would only focus on 40 students out of 80 in two classes. Thus, the sample size is too small which also mean that the finding of the study cannot be generalized to the whole population of the students of the secondary school that the researcher is assigned to do teaching practical.
Furthermore, the location of the secondary school that the researcher is going to be assigned would also be a limitation because the finding retrieved from school in urban area would not be the same as the finding that the researcher will get from areas such as rural or sub-urban areas.
A number of confounding variables are considered as limitations of the study. They exist indirectly in a research and affect the outcome of the result but they are not selected by the researcher to be the independent variable to be manipulated. In this study, the confounding variables would be the grammar lesson that the students receive in class during the study as well as their attitude and motivation towards the written corrective feedback which affect their performance in producing the grammatical errors.
Finally, the study focuses only on the grammatical aspect of the students’ work, not the content, which serves to narrow down the focus of the study but it would affect the students’ quality in producing meaningful and good quality in the content of their work.
THE LITERATURE REVIEW
2.0 The Literature Review
In this chapter, the main concept of the study would be the written corrective feedback. The study on written corrective feedback is still limited as it only triggers the researchers’ interest in these recent years. Below are the literature reviews based on the previous studies and discussion relating to the written corrective feedback and its effect.
Providing feedback to student writing has played a central role in language classrooms in the past and at present. It is almost a truism that the language teachers spend a great deal of time sifting through, marking, grading, commenting and responding to students’ essays and on top of this list, for the second language teachers, correcting grammatical errors. It has been well documented that most second language (L2) teachers and their students place a high value on grammar correction (e.g. Lee, 2004; Radecki & Swales, 1988); and by virtue of this, nearly all of them will do it in one form or another.
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Despite the prevalence of grammar correction in responding to L2 student writing, there is still a sense of uncertainty about how best to provide it as alluded to in the preamble above. For instance, teachers are faced with the options of marking all errors or some errors, modelling the correct forms or merely indicating their locations and/or categories, using larger or smaller categories, and including any follow-up activities or merely returning the marked scripts to students (Ferris, 2002).
There is an ongoing debate, since a decade ago, about whether or not teachers should correct grammatical errors in student writing. Although some researchers and theorists (e.g. Semke, 1984) have disagreed with the practice of grammar correction before then, it was Truscott (1996) who instigated the debate when he rejected virtually all arguments favouring the practice of grammar correction in his controversial review essay, claiming:…that correction is harmful rather than simply ineffective-[and] that no valid reasons have been offered for continuing the practice in spite of these overwhelming problems.Thus, for the foreseeable future my conclusion stands: Grammar correction has no place in writing classes and should be abandoned (pp. 360-361). He argues that grammar correction, as it is currently being practiced, works against the learners’ developmental sequences of acquisition; results in nothing more than pseudo learning; and is heavily flawed with practical problems such as the quality of the correction and the students’ motivation to learn from the correction. In building up his case, he also reviewed a number of studies on grammar correction to show “evidence against grammar correction” (p. 329) and “nonevidence for grammar correction” (p. 338). This review is reiterated and updated in a recent analysis “to show that research evidence points strongly to the ineffectiveness of correction” (Truscott, 2007). Truscott’s claim is supported by earlier research which suggested that correction had little or no effects on student writing (Kepner, 1991; Sheppard, 1992).
Truscott’s (1996) claim however is premature considering that most of the findings he has cited are potentially confounded by uncontrolled extraneous variables such as the presence of other classroom activities (Guénette, 2007). Furthermore, as Ferris (1999) has noted in her response to his essay, Truscott appears to have overstated research findings that support his argument and conveniently dismissed the studies which contradict him as “nonevidence”. For instance, Truscott (2004) responded to a study (Chandler, 2003, 2004) that has reported the positive effects of grammar correction by suggesting that the findings are “necessarily speculative-[and] that my own conjectures are the more plausible of the two” (p. 340).
However, a number of studies on error correction in L2 writing classes have shown that students receiving error feedback from teachers improve in accuracy over time (Hyland, 2003; Chandler, 2003). Hyland (2003) observed six ESL writers on a full-time 14-week English proficiency program course at a university. It was found that feedback focusing on form was used by most of the students in their immediate revisions to their drafts and was highly valued by them. The case studies suggest that some language errors may be “treatable” through feedback. With experimental and control group data, Chandler (2003) showed that teachers’ feedback on students’ grammatical and lexical errors resulted in a significant improvement in both accuracy and fluency in subsequent writing of the same type over the same semester. This finding disproves Truscott’s (1999) claim on the negative effect of error correction on fluency.
In fact, Ferris (1997) as cited by Liu (2008) stated that changes made by students in response to teacher’s comments did have a positive effect on the overall quality of their papers. Brown (2001) also added that little research evidence shows that overt grammatical correction by teachers in the classroom help to improve learners’ language but there are evidence that various forms of attention to & treatment of grammatical errors have an impact on learners.
To further explore the issue of error correction in second language writing, as cited by Liu (2008) recent research has focused on which types of error correction are effective in treating which types of errors (Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Chandler, 2003; Bitchener et al 2005; Bitchener, 2008). A distinction has been made between direct and indirect feedback. Ferris (2002) defined direct feedback as one “when an instructor provides the correct linguistic form for students (word, morpheme, phrase, rewritten sentence, deleted word[s] or morpheme[s]” (p.19). Indirect feedback, on the other hand, “occurs when the teacher indicates that an error has been made but leaves it to the student writer to solve the problem and correct the error” (Ferris, 2002, p.19). Indirect feedback takes the form of underlining and coding (or description) of the errors. Ferris and Roberts (2001) compared these two types of indirect feedback. They found that the group receiving feedback of both underlining and coding did slightly better in revising their grammatical errors than the one receiving only underling as the feedback. Both groups were significantly more successful in revising errors than the control group receiving no feedback.
In fact, as cited by Liu (2008), a number of studies on error correction in L2 writing classes have shown that students receiving error feedback from teachers improve in accuracy over time (Hyland, 2003; Chandler, 2003). Finally, Chandler (2003) found both direct correction and simple underlining to be more effective than describing the type of error in reducing long-term error and there was no significant difference between direct correction and underlining of errors.
Thus, to summarize all the literature reviews above, written corrective feedback is indeed worth to be investigated the effectiveness as the treatment for students’ grammatical errors. Despite the controversies of the previous studies, this showed that more researches are now focusing and put higher interest on the usage of written corrective feedback in this field.
THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The Research Methodology
The goal of this study is to find the effectiveness of written corrective feedback in improving the grammatical errors produced by the secondary school students in their journal writing. The methodology used in this study would be quantitative in nature. The quantitative data from the experimental research would provide a sense of how most students respond in terms of the decrease of the grammatical errors that they make to either written corrective feedback or written feedback. Numerical finding would provide a clearer view of seeing the changes in the improvement of students’ grammatical errors’ production as compared to research design such as qualitative data.
3.1 The Research Design
This study would utilize a quantitative experimental design. It is designated to investigate the effect of written corrective feedback, whether it can improve the students’ grammatical errors produced in their journal writing or not. Two equivalent groups each consisting 20 students of intermediate to advance level of proficiency would be formed by a procedure similar to stratified random sampling. One group is assigned to the treatment condition and the other is assigned as the control group. The treatment group would receive written corrective feedback for the whole period during which the study is conducted, while the control group would be given written feedback without correction.
3.2 Sample and Sampling
In determining the sample, the researcher would decide to choose half of the population of two classes of the same form such as Form Two, of the secondary school that the researcher is doing her practical. Next, she would obtain the students’ previous and recent result of English placement test so that she can stream the students based on their achievement. The students that showed performance ranging between intermediate to advance would be chosen, in which in their test, they managed to score between 60 marks to 100 marks.
Once the classes are identified, random stratified sampling method will be applied. The process is done in such as way so that identified subgroups in the population is represented in the same proportion that they exist in the population and the population may be divided based on certain aspects (Singh,P., Chan,Y.F.,Sidhu,G.K. , 2009). Thus, for this study’s sample, the sample is chosen based on their language proficiency. Below are the steps that would be abided by the researcher to do a stratified sampling.
The population of the two classes of Form Two students in a school is 80 students.
Desired sample size is 40 students.
The sample of 80 students would be stratified based on their language proficiency.
Assuming that both classes have the same number of students.
Number of students required in class A = 20 students
Number of students required in class B = 20 students
The samples that have been selected would then be divided to two groups with the same number of students which are Class A and Class B.
3.3 The Method of Data Collection
As the study would be done in a small scale and only use the students’ work as data collection, there is no need for the researcher to sought permission from the Malaysian Ministry of Education and the Educational Department of the place whereby the researcher would conduct the study.
The location of the study would be at any secondary school that the researcher would be assigned to do her teaching practical. Though there is no confirmation on the place of study, the duration would be constant in which it would take for about 3 months or at least 10 weeks to conduct the study.
The two classes would be assigned with weekly journal writing task but as it is an experimental type of study, only selected samples would be given written feedback. The journal is to be collected every Friday for 10 weeks and returned the journals with feedback on the next Monday to the students. All the journals are to be collected by the researcher on the last week of her teaching practical which is on the 11th week.
After the researcher has identified the sample based on previous section, the students would be assigned to Class A and Class B whereby 20 samples are selected respectively based on the stratified sampling method. Class A would be receiving treatment condition which is their journals would be provided with written corrective feedback, whereby the grammatical errors are underlined and corrected. On the other hand, Class B would be the control group in which the grammatical errors produced in the samples’ journal would only be underlined with no correction. As mentioned in the definition of term section, the scope of the grammatical errors is narrowed to be morphological errors and semantic errors.
There would be pre-test and post test conducted amongst the samples so that the researcher can set a standard indicator of the samples’ writing and see the changes on the quantity of the grammatical errors made by the samples within preset time duration. The pre-test is to be conducted on the selected 40 samples on the first week whereby all the form two students of the two classes are asked to produce their own journals. The researcher would take the data of the first produced journals by the treatment group and the control group. Then, data would be continually collected and categorized until the week before all the journals are to be collected as a post-test need to be administered in which the data are taken from the last journals constructed by the students.
The researcher opts for journal writing as the instrument to obtain the data of the study. The journal writing element in this study has no fixed format with only the date needing to be mentioned. The participants are encouraged to form their own creative way of presenting their thoughts, feelings and perceptions in 250 to 500 words or within a page length. Although it is not mentioned directly to the students, they are expected to be aware of their linguistic usage such as spelling, punctuation, syntax, and usage.
The researcher intends to promote the students in ‘cooking and growing’ their ideas and insights while constructing their journals and indirectly, she wants to observe the effect of written corrective feedback or only written feedback on the students grammatical errors. Writing a journal entry is a creative, intellectual and emotional process whereby it means to be a medium for the students to jot down freely of anything which interests, relates to and moves them in their daily occurrences. The researcher feels that assuming the questions, insights, feelings and imagination are exciting to them, journal writing need not be busywork or drudgery. Since everyone gets stuck now and then, the researcher also introduced certain suggestions that may help to jolt the participants to out of a journalistic rut;
Extend/Apply-grasp the ideas and pursue the implications of the ideas with regard to a specific situation or example.
Connect/Compare-relate the support to what you have read, discussed, experienced and expect in the future.
Agree/Disagree-with the ideas presented creatively
Question-raise intelligent questions and speculate on them.
Synthesize-pull together ideas and examples from diverse sources and pose a unifying idea, insight.
Inform-share relevant information, evidence, facts, quotations, clippings, details and other data.
3.5 The Method of Data Processing and Presentation
The data retrieved would then be measured using Steven’s Scales of Measurement under nominal variables in which the percentage of error rate in the journal each week would be calculated. The data would be categorized to the sum of errors in terms of morphological and semantic of each group made by the samples. For example, the semantic and morphological errors would be totalled for group A and the same method is applied to the data collected from group B. As there would be variation in the length of the text, a measure of errors per 500words is calculated (total number of errors/total number of words X 500). Then the data would be converted to percentage so that it can be presented in form of line graph to show the weekly changes that occur on the samples’ grammatical errors performance and also the difference of the performance between pre-test and post-test that have been conducted. This data would represent and answer the research questions that have been proposed to guide the study in which it will show the effect of using written corrective feedback or no corrective feedback to the total numbers of grammatical errors made by students in their journals.
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