Speaking out on behalf of the voiceless learners: Written corrective feedback for English language learners in Iran
Majid Nemati, Sayyed Mohammad Alavi, Hassan Mohebbi and Ali Panahi Masjedlou
Alborz Campus, University of Tehran, Iran
To date, L2 researchers have studied the effect of feedback on improving L2 learners' writing from different perspectives. However, there are a lot of aspects which are not comprehensively researched yet, such as L2 learners' and teachers' perceptions and practices about feedback. To close the gap, this study investigates language learners' perceptions, beliefs, and preferences about teachers' feedback practice in Iranian classrooms. To this end, 311 students at three language proficiencies (elementary, intermediate, and upper-intermediate and advanced) completed a questionnaire which inquired into teachers' feedback practices from learners' viewpoints and preferences. The findings indicated some similarities and differences across the three proficiency levels. They all were in favour of direct unfocused feedback, but they had different viewpoints on satisfaction with their teachers' feedback practices, the need to revise their writing, the targeted structures, and their feelings after receiving feedback. Moreover, the findings revealed some discrepancies between research, teacher practices, and language learners' needs and preferences.
To date, L2 researchers have studied the effect of feedback on improving L2 learners' writing from different perspectives: the differential effect of various feedback strategies including direct and indirect feedback, focused and unfocused feedback, the feedback medium, the impact of task factors and learner-related variables, teacher and peer feedback, computer and mobile assisted feedback, and individual student differences.
However, there are many aspects which to date have not received comprehensive research attention, such as L2 learners and teachers' perceptions and practices about feedback. In addition, there are deficiencies in design of research which makes the findings conflicting and incomparable. Therefore this study aims to examine Iranian English language learners' perceptions and preferences about teacher's feedback practice.
In recent research Mahfoodh (2017) studied students' emotional responses towards teachers' feedback practices. The results indicated that students felt frustrated after receiving feedback on their writing. Some students were in favour of teacher's feedback, some rejected it, some expressed satisfaction and some were dissatisfied with their teachers' feedback practices. In an innovative research, Crusan, Plakans and Gebril (2016) examined teachers' writing assessment literacy, i.e., knowledge, beliefs, and practices. They observed that almost a quarter of the teachers had little or no training for teaching and assessing writing.
In an Iranian context, Jodaie and Farrokhi (2012) probed into the feedback practices of 30 English teachers. The data analysis showed that more than 50% of the teachers gave feedback on all errors in students' writing. Junqueira and Payant (2015) focused on a novice teacher's feedback beliefs and practices. They found inconsistency between teacher's claimed beliefs and the observed practices. Lee, Mak and Burns (2016) observed that the teachers' feedback practices were not in line with the principles they were taught in teacher education programs.
Ferris (2014) investigated teachers' feedback philosophies and practices. She observed different beliefs and practices amongst teachers. Interestingly enough, like Junqueira and Payant (2015), there were inconsistencies between teachers' self-reported responses on their feedback beliefs and perceptions, and their practices. Zhou, Busch and Cumming (2014) found that there was no correspondence between students' and teacher's goals for grammar improvement in writing. Surprisingly, although the students in McMartin-Miller's (2014) study were satisfied with their teacher's focused feedback, they wanted unfocused feedback. She suggested that teachers should explain to students the reasons behind their feedback strategy.
Amrhein and Nassaji (2010) investigated L2 teachers' and learners' viewpoints about teachers' feedback. Students preferred direct feedback coupled with a metalinguistic explanation on form-focused errors like grammatical and lexical errors. Li and Barnard (2011) examined the beliefs and practices of untrained and inexperienced teachers about responding to students' writing. Surprisingly, the teachers' motive for giving feedback was to justify the awarded grades.
In a series of research investigations in Hong Kong's context, Lee (2003) found that most of teachers gave comprehensive feedback. Shockingly, teachers believed that feedback had marginal effect on students' writing. The findings also indicated that the teachers' feedback practices were not consistent with their expressed beliefs or published research. Lee (2008) witnessed that the teachers kept giving comprehensive feedback despite the research findings. Lee (2009) came up with ten mismatches between the teachers' beliefs about feedback and their classroom practice. Mainly, the teachers paid close attention to language form while they did believe that accuracy was only one of the factors of quality of a manuscript. Teachers gave comprehensive feedback while they believed that focused feedback was more effective. Although the teachers responded to students' writing themselves, they were in favor of peer feedback. While they gave indirect feedback they thought that the learners cannot decode indirect feedback and revise their writing. They thought that giving scores for students' writing was an ineffective practice; but, they continued giving scores. The teachers did not mention positive points about students' writing, despite their self-reported benefits of focusing on positive points. They mentioned that teachers' feedback left little room for learners to take responsibility for their writing. Also, they practised "one-shot" writing while being aware of the advantages of process writing. Montgomery and Baker (2007) concluded that there were significant differences between teachers' feedback practices and their beliefs and perceptions.
As the literature reveals, there are critical inconsistencies in teachers' self-reported beliefs and classroom practice. Importantly, there is a large gap in the literature studying learners' preferences and examining teachers' feedback practice from a learner's viewpoint. To fill the gap in the L2 literature in this field, this study is based on learners' perceptions as a way to probe more extensively into teachers' feedback practices.
What are the elementary, intermediate and upper-intermediate and advanced Iranian English language learners' beliefs, perceptions, and preferences about teachers' feedback practices?
|Number (N = 311)||102||136||73|
|Taking writing course so far||96%||97%||98%|
|Average number of times per term|
learners receive feedback on writing*
|Upper-inter. and advan. = Upper-intermediate and advanced; * Each term is 16-19 sessions|
The questionnaire had eight sections: learner demographics; a section asking learners whether they had done any course on writing and the frequency of the times their teacher gave feedback on their writing; a third section asked about their teachers' feedback practices in classroom using 10 items with a three-point Likert scale: always, sometimes, never. They were statements about teachers' potential feedback strategy in responding to learners' writing. In the fourth section of the questionnaire, the respondents indicated the targeted structures and grammatical points (Table 2) for which their teacher gave feedback. The fifth section asked to what extent they were satisfied with their teachers' feedback practice. Section 6 sought preferences regarding their teacher's feedback on their writing, using 10 sentences starting with "I like.....". In section 7, they were asked to choose the targeted structures for which they preferred to receive feedback. Finally, section 8 was about their reaction and feelings after receiving their writing with teacher's feedback.
practice frequency %
|Elementary||Intermediate||Upper-inter. and advan.|
|Metalinguistic explanations in L1||10.7||23.5||65.6||5.8||24.2||69.8||12.3||36.9||50.6|
|Metalinguistic explanations in English||42.1||38.2||19.6||32.3||43.3||24.2||43.8||50.6||5.4|
|Mentioning positive points of writing||5.8||35.2||58.8||8||34.5||57.3||4.1||16.4||79.4|
|Using peer feedback||10.7||36.2||52.9||13.9||50.0||36||45.2||53.4||1.3|
|Upper-inter. and advan. = Upper-intermediate and advanced; L1 = learners' first language (Persian)|
As Table 2 shows, almost half of the teachers of elementary and intermediate learners always gave focused feedback by correcting one or two pre-determined errors; but, there were discrepancies at upper-intermediate and advanced level.
The majority of the learners at all three levels of English proficiency stated that their teacher always provided unfocused feedback by correcting all the errors in their writing. Over 60% of learners felt that their teachers did not respond indirectly to their writing; in fact, they used direct feedback by correcting and providing the right answer to each error. Over 50% felt that their teachers did not give metalinguistic explanations in their first language, Persian. Similarly, there was not a consistent pattern at all levels regarding giving metalinguistic explanations in English.
Teachers did not favour computer-assisted feedback and using technology and available software in correcting learners' writing. More than half of the of the students felt that their teachers never mentioned positive points about learners' writing. At elementary and intermediate levels, the teachers did not practice peer feedback frequently, though teachers at upper-intermediate and advanced levels asked learners to correct their peers' writing. Interestingly enough, the data analysis showed that half of the teachers at elementary level always asked learners to revise their writing based on teacher's feedback; this rate was 24% and 21% for intermediate and upper-intermediate and advanced levels respectively. In other words, approximately 60% of the teachers of upper-intermediate and advanced learners never asked them to revise their writing after receiving teacher's feedback on their manuscript.
|Teachers' targeted structures for|
giving feedback: Frequency %
|Learners' preference for|
targeted structures: Frequency %
|Definite and indefinite articles||57.8||58||52||17.6||28||36|
|Active and passive voice||23||63.2||78||13||53||88|
|Modal auxiliary verbs||28.8||32.5||53.4||68.8||72.5||88.4|
|Paras, cohesion, and coherence||17.6||28.6||39.4||19.4||50||89.4|
|Element. = elementary; Inter. = Intermediate; Advan. = advanced; Paras = paragraphing|
At elementary level, tense received the most feedback, whilst conditional sentences, connectives, and paragraphing, cohesion, and coherence received the least feedback. Similarly, teachers of intermediate level gave the most feedback on tense. They did not pay enough attention to modal auxiliary verbs, connectives and paragraphing, cohesion, and coherence. At upper-intermediate and advanced levels, the teachers responded to all aspects at the same extent; however, they did not pay close attention to connectives. Regarding the content of learners' writing, i.e., their ideas and discussions, the same pattern emerged at all three levels, indicating that only half of the teachers gave feedback on the content of student work.
Students were asked to express their preferences regarding the targeted structures which they would most like their teachers to give feedback. As Table 3 indicates, elementary learners were keenest to receive feedback on tenses, modal auxiliary verbs, lexical items, and content. Intermediate learners looked for feedback on tenses, auxiliary verbs, content, conditional sentences, lexical items, and paragraphing, cohesion, and coherence. The upper-intermediate and advanced learners preferred to receive feedback on all aspects; interestingly, only one-third of the learners wanted to receive feedback on definite and indefinite articles.
|Upper-intermediate and advanced (n=73)||1.3||27.3||20.0||51.2|
Figure 1 presents the data graphically.
Figure 1: Percentage satisfaction with teacher's feedback
|Learners' feedback preference frequency %||Element.||Inter.||Upper-inter.|
|Metalinguistic explanations in learners' L1 (Persian)||29.4||22.0||35.6|
|Metalinguistic explanations in English||42.1||51.4||60.2|
|Mentioning positive points of learners' writing||69.6||67.6||83.5|
|Using peer feedback||25.4||13.9||9.5|
|Element. = elementary; Inter. = intermediate; Advan. = advanced|
Last but not the least, although half of elementary learners were in favour of revising their writing after receiving teacher's feedback, only one-third of intermediate and upper-intermediate and advanced learners were inclined toward revision.
Learners at all three levels were of the same opinion regarding focused, unfocused, direct, and indirect feedback. They preferred to receive direct unfocused feedback in which the teacher is supposed to correct all the errors in learner's writing by providing the right answer. The majority of students did not like receiving metalinguistic explanations in their first language. About half of the learners at all three levels expected their teacher to givemetalinguistic explanations in English. Surprisingly, in line with their teacher's practices, they were not interested in receiving computer-assisted feedback. The learners also were eager to receive feedback on positive points of their writing. The data analysis indicated that they did not like to correct their peer's writing.
|Learners' feeling after|
|Elementary||Intermediate||Upper-inter. and Advan.|
|Happy and revise||71.5||22.5||5.8||47.9||50.5||1.4||5.4||43.8||50.6|
|Sad but revise||14.7||28.4||56.8||5.8||36.0||58.0||6.8||32.8||60.2|
|Sad and do not revise||15.6||11.7||72.5||2.2||7.3||90.4||4.1||17.8||78.0|
Seventy per cent of the elementary learners expressed their happiness with receiving teacher's feedback and revising their manuscript. But, intermediate and especially upper-intermediate and advanced learners felt unhappy after receiving their writing with teacher's feedback and they did want to revise their writing in line with the feedback.
The results showed that the majority of teachers at three levels gave indirect, unfocused feedback on learners' writing. The teachers did not use computer-assisted language learning for giving feedback. The teachers did not give metalinguistic explanations in learners' first language, and even metalinguistic explanations in English was not a common practice. They also did not mention positive points in learners' writing, and they did not use peer feedback. The teachers at intermediate and upper-intermediate and advanced levels did not require learners to revise their writing based on the feedback given, while half of elementary teachers wanted their students to revise their writings in line with the feedback they received on their manuscripts.
Despite the fact that the targeted structure of majority of research is indefinite and definite articles, only half of the teachers always corrected the errors of indefinite and definite articles at all three levels. Surprisingly, teachers did not pay enough attention to connectives, paragraphing, coherence and cohesion in responding to learners' writing. Also, the content of learners' writing should receive more attention and feedback.
Results indicated that elementary learners were satisfied with their teacher's feedback practices and strategy. But, their peers at intermediate and upper-intermediate and advanced learners were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their teachers' feedback practices.
When students were asked to express their preferences for feedback, in line with their teacher's current practices at all three levels, they were in favour of direct, unfocused feedback. More interestingly, unlike elementary learners, the intermediate and upper-intermediate and advanced learners did not show a strong interest in revision.
Although computer-assisted language learning has opened new opportunities for language teachers and learners to learn more effectively, the learners expressed that they were not interested in using technology in receiving feedback. Furthermore, learners did not show a strong preference between receiving metalinguistic explanations in their first language or in English. The learners stated that they are more willing to receive feedback on tenses, modal auxiliary verbs, lexical items, and content. As already mentioned, the research to date has mainly focused on investigating the effect of different feedback strategies on learning of indefinite and definite articles.
Last but not the least, the investigating of learners' feeling after receiving feedback revealed different opinions across proficiency levels. Elementary learners mentioned that when they received feedback, they become happy and they want to revise their text. Only about half of learners at intermediate level held the same opinion as the elementary learners. Strikingly, the upper-intermediate and advanced learners expressed that they became unhappy but they revised their text, though in fact, some of these did not revise their text.
In summary, the findings of this study revealed interesting points. As research in this field is not extensive, we do need more studies investigating language learners' opinions, needs, and preferences to gain a better picture of feedback practices in language learning classrooms. The study indicated some similarities and differences across three proficiency levels. All wanted to receive direct unfocused feedback. Although research has underscored the positive effect of unfocused feedback as an authentic practice, focused feedback also has positive points which cannot be ignored, especially at elementary levels.
In accord with research on feedback, students stated that they received feedback mainly on errors related to indefinite and definite articles. However, some other structures play a key role in the quality of writing, including tenses, modal auxiliary verbs, lexical items, coherence and cohesion, and content. Researchers should investigate these structures, and teachers need to be encouraged to give feedback on these structures.
One of the central points in effectiveness of feedback is positive feedback. Unfortunately, the learners mentioned that they do not receive much feedback on positive features of their writing. More research is needed to highlight the longitudinal effect of providing positive feedback on better learning. Similarly, researchers and teachers should pay close attention to emotions and feelings of the learners after receiving feedback. Although learners were in favor of direct unfocused feedback, after receiving their writing coupled with extensive feedbacks and corrections they might become exhausted and disappointed.
In brief, the findings of this study reveal interesting points. However, these findings need to be interpreted and generalised cautiously because of the limited number of participants and the instrument used. More research is essential to verify these findings.
As Murphy (2000) stressed, the student voice is the missing link which limits the conclusions which can be arrived at when discussing the effectiveness of different feedback practices and strategies. Therefore, we need more research studying learners' voices, viewpoints, needs, preferences, and their evaluations of teaching quality. Most importantly, the research findings need to influence the practices of language teachers. Lee (2016) mentioned, disappointedly, that schools are not willing to adopt research-based practices.
Moreover, other mediating factors such as non-written corrective feedback, learners' goals and motivation, syllabus, teacher's writing proficiency and content and pedagogical knowledge should be considered and researched in depth. Also, the effect of the class environment, peer interaction, and teacher's discourse on the effectiveness of written corrective feedback and writing instruction need further research. Future researchers are advised to do mixed methods research and should use other instruments to collect data such as semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions.
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This questionnaire inquires into the way your teacher gives written corrective feedback on your writing. Please read each item and choose the option which holds true about your teacher's written corrective feedback practice. We appreciate the time you devote on responding to this questionnaire.
Full name: ............................... (Optional)
Age: .................. (Years)
Telephone number: ............................... (Optional)
Email: ................................................... (Optional)
English Proficiency: Elementary Intermediate Upper-intermediate or Advanced
How long have you been studying English? .............. years, ................ months
Have you ever been taught English writing? Yes No
How many times does your teacher gives written corrective feedback on your writing during a term? ............ times
Please read the following sentences which are about the way your teacher gives written corrective feedback on your writing and choose one of the options: Always, Sometimes, Never.
|Your teacher's written corrective feedback strategy||Always||Some|
|My teacher only gives written corrective feedback on just one error in my writing.|
|My teacher gives written corrective feedback on all errors in my writing.|
|My teacher just highlights or underlines the errors in my writing without providing the correct structure.|
|My teacher highlights the errors in my writing and provides the correct structure.|
|My teacher writes some grammatical explanations about my errors in Persian in my writing sheet.|
|My teacher writes some grammatical explanations about my errors in English in my writing sheet.|
|My teacher uses electronic corpora through software, namely concordance or Internet search engines to give written corrective feedback on the errors.|
|My teacher mentions the positive points of my writing.|
|My teacher asks students to give written corrective feedback on each other's writing.|
|My teacher asks me to revise my writing based on his/her written corrective feedback.|
How much does your teacher give written corrective feedback on the following structures in your writing?
|Options||1 (least)||2||3||4||5 (most)|
|Indefinite and definite articles (a, an, the)|
|Active and passive voice|
|Modal auxiliary verbs|
|Paragraphing, cohesion and coherence|
|Content (your ideas on a given topic)|
How much are you satisfied with the way your teacher gives written corrective feedback on your writing?
I am very satisfied
I am satisfied
I am unsatisfied
I am very unsatisfied
Please read the following sentences which are about your preferences about the way you would like your teacher give written corrective feedback on your writing and choose one of the options.
|Your teacher's written corrective feedback strategy||1||2||3||4||5|
|I like my teacher to give written corrective feedback on just one or a few errors in my writing.|
|I like my teacher to give written corrective feedback on all errors in my writing.|
|I like my teacher to highlight or underline the errors in my writing without providing the correct structure.|
|I like my teacher to highlight the errors in my writing and provide the correct structure.|
|I like my teacher to write some grammatical explanations about my errors in Persian in my writing sheet.|
|I like my teacher to write some grammatical explanations about my errors in English in my writing sheet.|
|I like my teacher to use electronic corpora through software, namely concordance or Internet search engines to give written corrective feedback on the errors.|
|I like my teacher to mention the positive points of my writing.|
|I like my teacher to ask students to give written corrective feedback on each other's writing.|
|I like my teacher to ask me to revise my writing based on his/her written corrective feedback.|
What structures or aspects do you like your teacher to give written corrective feedback? Please prioritise the options from 1 to 7.
|Indefinite and definite articles (a, an, the)|
|Active and passive voice|
|Modal auxiliary verbs|
|Paragraphing, cohesion and coherence|
|Content (your ideas on a given topic)|
How do you feel after receiving your writing which your teacher has given written corrective feedback on your errors?
|I become happy that my teacher has given written corrective feedback on all errors in my writing. I revise my writing based on my teacher's feedback.|
|I become sad that my teacher has given written corrective feedback on all errors in my writing but I revise my writing based on my teacher's feedback.|
|I become sad that my teacher has given written corrective feedback on all errors in my writing and I do not revise my writing based on my teacher's feedback.|
|Authors: Majid Nemati is an associate professor in the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Tehran, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. His main research interests are form-focused instruction and corrective feedback.
Sayyed Mohammad Alavi is a professor in the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Alborz Campus, University of Tehran, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. His main research interests are assessment and testing.
Hassan Mohebbi (corresponding author) is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Tehran, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. His main research interests are form-focused instruction and corrective feedback.
Ali Panahi Masjedlou is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Tehran, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. His main research interests are assessment and testing.
Please cite as: Nemati, M., Alavi, S. M., Mohebbi, H. & Masjedlou, A. P. (2017). Speaking out on behalf of the voiceless learners: Written corrective feedback for English language learners in Iran. Issues in Educational Research, 27(4), 822-841. http://www.iier.org.au/iier27/nemati.html