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Written corrective feedback for L2 development: Towards an understanding of its potential


John Bitchener

Auckland University of Technology



Whether or not written corrective feedback (CF) can play a role in second language (L2) development is an issue that has been debated on a number of fronts since Truscott (1996) claimed that the practice should be abandoned on theoretical, empirical and pedagogical grounds. Prior to this debate, and on the assumption that written CF can benefit learners at least some of the time, a limited body of research had begun to investigate the relative extent to which different types of written CF might aid such development. In response to Truscott’s denunciation of the practice, a number of teachers/researchers began to extend the focus of these pedagogically-oriented investigations and asked whether or not, and the extent to which, written CF could be expected to contribute to the development of L2 knowledge. Thus, the focus of the empirical research was on the accuracy of the output (that is, a product rather than a process focus). Some of the early studies were critiqued because of design/execution flaws or because they had not focused on explaining why some learners benefitted from the feedback while others appeared not to have benefitted. In more recent studies, a growing attention has been given to overcoming the weaknesses of these studies and to exploring, in more theoretically-motivated investigations, why learners may produce or fail to produce accurate output both immediately after receiving written CF and over time. While some attention has been given in recent research to theoretical explanations of why learners may benefit immediately from written CF, more attention needs to be given (1) to modelling the actual development process over time rather than only to an identification of the effect of potentially moderating individual and contextual factors on output alone (the product) and (2) to testing, by means of longitudinal studies, the validity of such predictions. The aim of this presentation, then, is to discuss these stages in the development of our knowledge and to discuss where future efforts would do well to focus.

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