Action Research

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Context of the Problem

Corrective feedback (CF) refers to the response that second language students receive on the errors that they make in their oral or written production. (Sheen, Y. & Ellis, R. 2011). Written corrective feedback (WCF) helps second language teachers to develop efficiency on students’ writing. Second language learners may not achieve effective communication with others due to the lack of proficiency in writing. Writing does not allow enough flexibility on the interpretation of meaning. In this regard, the accurate application of written corrective feedback on students provides to second language teachers two different alternatives of the teaching-learning process improvement.

The two main types of feedback that teachers use in the L2 classroom help students to develop the writing skill in different ways. Ferris distinguish both types of feedback. Direct feedback is a technique of correcting students’ error by giving explicit written feedback (Ferris, 2004). On the other hand, Ferris defines indirect feedback as a procedure used when the teacher or tutor alerts students to error using general comments, but gives students the opportunity to fix errors themselves (Ferris, 2004). Furthermore, Frodesen (2001) states that “indirect feedback is generally more useful (and often more desired by students) than direct correction of errors” (p. 246). While indirect feedback offers students more opportunities to students to identify their own errors, direct feedback make students to identify and analyze the aspects to improve in order for them to avoid in future writings.

Direct and indirect corrective feedback differ both from each other, however, the appropriate use of them will develop the improvement of student’s writing. The appropriate use of written corrective feedback on second language learners will lead students to achieve meaningful written communication with others. Direct and indirect feedback provide two different types of written corrective feedback to students. Teachers apply direct feedback to correct students in an explicit way, that is, direct feedback focuses on assessing structural features of the language. In contrast, indirect feedback let learners realize their own errors. Written Corrective Feedback; thus, conducts students to achieve effective communication in writing. According to Brice (1995) surveys have indicated that ESL and EFL students want and expect their teachers to correct all of their errors. Additionally, they have suggested that students believe they profit from teacher feedback. Applying feedback implies different aspects in order to provide a good error correction. The amount of information provided in the written feedback contained in the revised document allows the learner the interpretation of the errors committed on the writing. These two different types of facilitate the study of the error correction either on teachers and the second language learner (Dempsey & Sales 1993).

Second language learners when writing a text commit errors that are classified according to Shoebottom (2011) into spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage mistakes. Spelling can create a negative impression on the reader about what the writer is trying to say. For this reason it is advisable to try and remove them from important pieces of writing. The next common type of error that ESL students need to learn is about certain aspects of the English punctuation system. The lack of a clear understanding of what a sentence is causes these mistakes, which result in incomplete sentences or fragments or the opposite which are sentences that do not end when they should; these sentences are called run-ons sentences. Grammar mistakes are the following kind of mistake commonly made by ESL students. For example, learners often do not choose the correct English verb tense for expressing an idea or do not use it in its correct form, or place words in the wrong order in a sentence. This occurs because the learner simply does not yet know the correct way to express an idea in English. Usage mistakes are the final kind of error often committed by in ESL students' writing. A usage mistake does not break a grammar "rule", but is a word or string of words that a native speaker would never use to express the particular meaning that the ESL student is trying to convey. (Shoebottom, P. 2011).

Sheen mentions that the feedback that teachers provide to students should be selective and it must be focused on the different factors on students’ writing contexts and time. Teachers should also consider varying the identification of errors for grammatical correction, also focusing on a grammatical problem. (as cited in Holdway, 2011.). There exist different techniques and strategies available regarding error correction. Regarding the context on which these techniques and strategies are used by teachers, they have to pay attention and take care on the level of the learners, their linguistical background and especially on their needs. (Aliakbari & Toni, 2009).

Method and Materials

The purpose of this research is to identify, according to the students’ opinion, the more accurate or appropriate kind of written corrective feedback on academic compositions. For this reason, the participants of this research are 22 students of the Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (UAA) who are studying the first semester of different mayors (careers), mainly Computer Engineering. The students are currently studying the first level of the English language in the Programa de Fomento al Segundo idioma of the UAA.

The research questions that are tried to be answered through the process of this investigation are How can Written Corrective Feedback help Second Language learners to identify grammatical errors and mistakes? and How can Written Corrective Feedback help Second Language students to improve their writing skill?

The procedure to follow for the research consists of three main stages. First, students are asked to watch a TV. series episode, in order to ask 10 questions that were previously provided in order to take notes and gather as much information as possible about the video. After the collection of the information, students write a document on which they describe the video; by answering the questions provided as a guide. The document should contain at least 100 words, and the narration of the document contains the grammar rules and topics already seen in the previous classes.

Half of the group, that is 11 students’ compositions receive Direct feedback, which means that the teacher corrects and provide the correct use of language on the document, while the other half of the group’s documents receive indirect feedback, that is, the teacher just identifies the errors and makes a special mark on them, so students observe the errors.
After the provided feedback, a sample of the students is called one at a time in order to receive their corrected documents. Students’ reaction and expressions are observed and recorded. Students then, are asked to read and to try to explain their errors, in order to know if they can identify (by themselves) the type of error committed and why. For this step of the procedure, each student answers a brief interview about their documents previously checked by the teacher.

Students’ documents are returned to them and then students are asked to rewrite their compositions already corrected, this time, they are asked to take care special attention on the marked errors. After the second deliver of the documents (after they correct their writings), the documents which receive direct feedback are compared with those which receive indirect feedback in order to identify the group of students whose compositions where more appropriately corrected, in other words, it is identified the type of feedback that provides more accuracy on students’ writing.

Results and Data Analysis

Student A: (/direct)
He comments, at the moment of identifying his errors, that he had no idea about them. He does not know the nature of his errors. After a deeper analysis of his errors, he realizes that the most of them are the word order of the sentences; he comments that it can be cause due to the L1 influence at the moment of writing. He also mentions another reason that causes these kinds of errors on his writing. The absence of most of the classes during the semester makes that he forget many of the lessons that are taught in the class, because, he mentions, he loses practice.
He also comments that it is difficult for him to take his ideas in a written document, because he must be aware of the rules, in this case, the structure of the tenses and the pronouns, that teachers teach in the classroom, on which it is different, he says, due to the guide and attention that the teacher provides in the class.

Student B: (/direct)
After a few time of reading the document and the corrections, Student B identifies the most of the mistakes committed on his writing. He argues that his errors are also regarding to the order of the words, his sentences are partially well written, but the verbs and adjectives are not in the supposed order they should be. He also says that the verbs of the sentences are conjugated in different tenses, when it was asked to do it in the simple present tense, he uses the past, even when it had not been taught at the moment of writing the document, which may indicate the misuse of some kind of translator. Also, he comments that, there were words that he did not know, so he had to look for them, however, he did not notice that some words had different functions, and for the purpose of the document, he did not use the correct words because he had no idea of it.
He also comments that a cause of his errors on the document could be the lack of practice within the classroom; he says that there is not enough practice on this skill, as it should be in order to be able to write this kind of documents.

Student C: (/indirect)
She identifies her mistakes and does not notice that his errors are mainly the switching of personal pronouns as well as the verb tenses. She also comment, after analyzing her document already checked, that there were also new words that she should write but she did not know, so, she also had to check in a translator in order to know the words, however, she did not use the correct words to communicate what she wanted to. She mentions that the reasons of her mistakes are because she does not understand some of the topics that are seen in class, she claims that these topics should be explained deeper in class.

Student D: (/indirect)
He identified immediately the type of error that he committed, he explained that he thought that the sentences in English were the same as in Spanish, without subject, in this case, the influence of L1 also affected this student’s writing, however, once briefly explained the differences between the grammatical structures in both languages, the error was clarified.


The group of 4 students that are asked to answer a few questions at the moment of receiving their essays with the different types of feedback reveal different results. First the students who receive direct feedback checked their essays. They read the essay and identify the corrections on the paper. Then, they are told that they are going to be recorded, and they are free to say whatever they feel, no word that they say will modify their grades.

In general, the principal mistakes that the students committed are the following:

Spelling mistakes:
There are few mistakes on the spelling of some words; however it does not affect the understanding of the message.

Punctuation mistakes:
There are confusing sentences due to the lack of punctuation marks, or also the overwriting of punctuation marks between sentences.

Grammar mistakes:
Students confuse the personal pronouns, mainly the second and third person in the singular form. Students also write sentences in different tenses. They mainly confuse the Simple Present tense with the Past tense. Students also discharge the order of the words in a sentence.

Usage mistakes:
In some cases, students focus more on the literal translation of the ideas from the L1 to the L2, which causes the misunderstanding of some ideas; moreover, the use of the tenses also affects the meaning of them.

Regarding the feedback on the document, student A mentions that he prefers the direct correction of the mistakes, rather than just putting some marks on them. He also comments that he would prefer an explanation of each one of the errors in order to be aware of them and also understand them, and so, in the future, comprehend and try to avoid these kinds of errors in following compositions. Student B claims that he needs more explanation on the corrections provided, more than a mark, or the correct word written next to the error, he says, an explanation of each one of them should be provided in order to understand them, sometimes, he mentions, I am aware of the error, but without the respective explanation of it, it is difficult to try to correct by oneself. Student C, who received indirect feedback mentions that she had no idea of the errors and what they were about, until they were explained by the teacher, she says that in an assignment like this, there must be definitely an explanation of the mistakes that students commit, because, she mentions, with just one mark on the errors, there is no clue about the kind of error and therefore, it is impossible to know the development of the writing skill within the whole process of learning English. Moreover, student D, who also received indirect feedback comments that he prefers the errors explained on the paper, rather than just the marks on it, so he could understand better his errors.

After providing the feedback session to the four students, it was asked them to deliver once again the document they wrote, only this time they should correct the marked and explained errors and to try to avoid some other that were of the same aspect that were not marked on the document. Students who received Direct feedback on their writings, present a notable improvement on the grammatical aspects that were marked on the papers. They write complete sentences, that is, they now write the subject of the sentence according to the person they are talking about. However, besides, their essays present a distinguished development on the use of the grammatical tenses in the English language; the paragraphs are more coherent due to the correct use of structures and the relation between the sentences according to the grammatical tenses. On the other hand, students who received Indirect feedback, present their essays already corrected, and it is remarkable the contrastable results that are obtained. An improvement on some aspects that were checked in the first delivery of the document such as vocabulary and the use of the pronouns, however, through the documents there are significant mistakes that were expected to be avoided due to the explanation of the error types and also because these errors were similar to the ones that were marked in the paper. Students’ documents do present an improvement on the accurate use of the language regarding the writing skill after the feedback was provided in the two different ways that are being analyzed. Nevertheless, the documents of students who received direct feedback, present a higher increasing on the aspects corrected within the feedback session on their second document, while students who received indirect feedback still commit the same errors through the document, even when the errors were already marked and explained. 

Second language students claim for the need of the deeper explanation of the errors they commit on writing a document, students cannot identify by themselves a mistake if it is not marked or selected, and also, for the better understanding of the error, and in order to avoid in the future to commit the same kind of errors, or similar errors, it is needed, according to the students besides the identification of the error on a document, a brief description and explanation of it. Indirect feedback allows students to identify the errors committed on their writings, letting them to know and comprehend the error by themselves, in contrast to the direct feedback strategy, which demonstrates students the nature of the error presented on the writing document. However, the research that was carried out with second language students demonstrates that indirect feedback appears to be more difficult for students to understand and to comprehend the circumstances of the error. On the other hand, direct feedback permits, according to second language learners, to know the font of the error, and also, direct feedback let students to know the error in order for them to be more aware of such types of mistakes committed, so students can avoid this kind of errors in future writngs through time.


Aliakbari, M. & Toni, A. (2009). On the effects of error correction strategies on the grammatical accuracy of the Iranian English learners. Journal of Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics, 13(1). pp. 99-112.

Brice, C. (1995). ESL writers’ reactions to teacher commentary: A case study. (Annual meeting of the teachers of English to speakers of other languages).

Dempsey, J. & Sales, G., (1993). Interactive instruction and feedback. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational technology publications.

Ferris, D. (2004). The ‘‘grammar correction’’ debate in L2 writing: Where are we, and where do we go from here? (and what do we do in the meantime...?). Journal of second language writing, 13. pp. 49-62.

Frodesen, J. (2001). Grammar in Writing. Retrieved from

Holdway, J. (2011). Sheen-Corrective feedback. Retrieved from

Shoebottom, P. (2011). A guide to learning English. Retrieved from

Sheen, Y. & Ellis, R. (2011). Corrective feedback in language teaching. In E. Hinkel, (Ed.) Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning, Volumen 2. New York: Routledge.

Santos, M., López-Serrano, S., & Manchón, R. (2010). The Differential Effect of Two Types of Direct Written Corrective Feedback on Noticing and Uptake: Reformulation vs. Error Correction. International Journal of English Studies, 10(1). pp. 131-154.


  • Design:

September 1st and 2nd week

  • Method:
  1. Observation: September 2nd week
  2. Data Collection: September 3rd week
  3. Application of Instruments: October 1st and 2nd week
  4. Data Analysis: October 3rd and 4th week
  • Writting Paper:



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