Studying Error Correction in Second Language Writing

LTA 47 2How Models from Past Research Can Inform Future Research

Blog post written by Dana Ferris based on an article in Language Teaching

The title of an important 2008 study by Andrea Lunsford and Karen Lunsford is “Mistakes are a fact of life.” “Mistakes” are also natural part of any learning process, but when it comes to student writing, teachers worry that if language errors—such as problems with verb tense or missing word endings or incomplete sentences (fragments) or incorrect punctuation—are left uncorrected, students will never learn from those mistakes. Teachers also worry that students’ ideas, competence, and work ethic will be harshly judged by later real-world audiences, such as graduate school professors or future employers, if young writers do not learn to self-edit errors and make progress in avoiding them on subsequent pieces of writing.

This tension between normal learning processes and teacher concerns about student development has led to a contentious several decades of research on the topic of “written corrective feedback”—error correction—in teaching writing, especially for students who are not writing in their first (primary) language. Studies of error correction in student writing have crossed several disciplinary boundaries—from foreign language studies to writing/composition studies to applied linguistics/second language studies. This is a topic that continues to be of great practical interest to teachers and researchers.
In my article published in Language Teaching, I discuss two very important studies on this topic, both of which appeared in major journals (Modern Language Journal and College Composition and Communication) in the 1980s. I talk about why these two studies have been important in shaping discussion and research about the topic of written CF in the following decades. I also argue that the two studies should be replicated—repeated under similar conditions—so that their findings can be extended to current student writers and classrooms. In this argument, I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the two studies and make specific suggestions about what replications of these two important pieces of research might look like. Readers interested in this topic will find the detailed summaries of these two “oldies but goodies” valuable, and researchers looking for good models for their own studies will find them in these two landmark pieces of research.

Read the full article ‘Written corrective feedback in L2 writing: Connors & Lunsford (1988); Lunsford & Lunsford (2008); Lalande (1982)’ here

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