- Research article
- Open Access
Error correction and repair moves in synchronous learning activities
© The Author(s) 2018
Received: 27 November 2017
Accepted: 23 April 2018
Published: 19 June 2018
Language teaching is a field in constant evolution, and the use of technology has boosted its development. However, there is a need to investigate the effects of technology on the development of pedagogical practices and their effects on learning outcomes. This study explores the deployment of correction strategies and repair moves in synchronous learning activities in an online English course. The study uses a mixed-methods approach that combines qualitative and quantitative research methods. The main findings of this investigation show that synchronous learning activities prompt the production of explicit corrections. The results also show that the deployment of explicit corrections generate the production of repair moves that lead to learning.
The use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies that target L2 learners has recently proliferated. These technologies provide language teachers with new tools. However, their implementation generate concerns for both teachers and researchers (Gleason & Suvorov, 2011). In addition, the use of CMC tools provides learning opportunities to develop reading, listening, and grammatical skills. Moreover, the advent of technological development in synchronous tools, which use audio and video, provide learners with opportunities to develop speaking skills as well. However, issues such as, the effects on teachers’ pedagogical practices, when synchronous technologies are used (Oztok, Zingaro, Brett, & Hewitt, 2013), the effects of synchronous CMC tools on learning outcomes (Hirotani, 2009), and the effects of synchronous tools on the language output of the students (AbuSeileek & Qatawneh, 2013) start to appear as concerns for teachers and researchers.
Oztok et al. (2013) believe that CMC tools have a strong social presence and numerous communication strategies and Hirotani (2009) claims that CMC tools provide a wide range of discourse patterns. According to AbuSeileek and Qatawneh (2013), the implementation of CMC tools in language teaching is based on the assumption that using the technology-enhanced language learning approach can promote interaction and communication between EFL learners, which may support their efforts to produce more linguistic output. Abrams (2003) suggests that CMC helps learners actively interact and negotiate with their peers and develop their communicative competence. Although a great body of research has investigated the benefits of CMC for language learning, there is still a need to investigate their effects on the strategies that teachers deploy to correct students’ errors as well as to investigate the repair moves that the deployment of correction strategies generates. This study focuses on the effects of synchronous learning activities on the deployment of correction strategies and the selection of repair moves among a group of students learning English online. This investigation is a case study with a mixed-methods approach that combines both quantitative and qualitative research methods and uses a quasi-experimental, or nonequivalent, group design as the research procedure because it observes a single group (Creswell, 2013). The research data are drawn from the oral performances in synchronous learning activities and the participation in a focus group and in-depth interviews. The study uses the clause as basic unit of analysis, and it uses the error-treatment sequence to identify the reaction from the teacher to errors and the subsequent reaction from the student to the correction from the teacher. This study analyzes the oral performances of seven students and one teacher. This study seeks to answer these research questions: (1) What kind of error correction strategies do teachers deploy when interacting with students in synchronous learning activities? (2) Do these correction strategies translate into repair moves? (3) How do the students sense the teacher’s corrections when errors take place? And (4) how do the students think they react when errors take place? Findings show that the synchronous learning activities provide opportunities to stretch the participants’ language repertoire. This study also shows that the deployment of explicit corrections leads to the selection of successful repair moves. The results from this study also identify a need to train teachers to use the production of errors as instances to have more talking time.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC)
The term computer-mediated communication refers to communication that takes place between people via the instrumentality of computers (Hampel, 2014; Herring, 2004). To date, several studies have identified the advantages of CMC tools for both students and teachers. For example, Peters and Hewitt (2010) acknowledge that students feel attracted to CMC tools because they offer the flexibility of learning at the time and place of their choice and teachers value their collaborative potential. Although most of the research has focused on written CMC and research in the field of CMC using video and audio is still scarce, previous studies have shown that the use of video conferencing as a CMC tool in language learning can foster collaborative learning through social interaction with both tutors and peers (Hampel & Hauck, 2004; Rosell-Aguilar, 2005). Hampel (2014) states that CMC facilitates communication and understanding and improves communication and interaction with software that is enriched with text, images, whiteboards and text chat facilities.
CMC has been found to
Provide frequent opportunities to express ideas and opinions
Produce a large amount of target language output
Allow more time to develop comments
Lead to greater precision of expression or greater accuracy rates
Promote a collaborative spirit
Enhance motivation of language practice
Promote a student-centered atmosphere
Reduce students’ anxiety
Develop students’ linguistic performance
A recast is what the teacher says with the purpose of helping a student notice his or her mistakes. Teacher implicitly reformulates all or part of the student’s utterance.
Elicitation is a technique by which the teacher gets the learners to give information rather than giving it to them. Teacher directly elicits a reformulation from students by asking questions.
Teacher supplies the correct form and clearly indicates that what the student had said is incorrect.
Repetitions from the teacher
Repetition of all or part of the utterance containing the error, often accompanied by a change in intonation
An utterance indicating a problem in comprehension, accuracy or both
Comments, information or questions that may or may not contain metalanguage but do not include the reformulation related to the ill-formedness of the utterance
Repair moves are students’ reaction to teachers’ correction that are generated implicitly or explicitly to the various negotiation types of corrective feedback e.g., recasts, elicitations, clarification requests (Nassaji, 2007). Repair moves are also practices for dealing with problems or trouble in speaking, hearing and understanding in conversations or as learner uptake (Lyster & Ranta, 1997).
Successful and non-successful repair moves and what they refer to according to Lyster and Ranta (1997)
Successful repair moves
Non-successful repair move
A student’s repetition to the teacher’s feedback
A simple yes or no answer to the teacher’s feedback
A student’s repetition of the correct form provided by the teacher
A student’s hesitation to the teacher’s feedback
A repetition of the same error
Peer corrections provided by another student or classmate
A response to the teacher’s feedback, but including a different error
The course and the synchronous learning activities
The research scenario of this study is an online English course named Development of Oral Skills (DOS), which aims to enable students to express their opinions and thoughts while meeting a variety of qualitative objectives of spoken language use (range, accuracy, fluency, interaction and coherence) based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) (Council of Europe, 2001). I designed the course for students who have a basic command of English (A2, B1 according to the CEFR). DOS runs on three propositions. First, it is a content-based course because the language is acquired through the study of a series of topics, each topic is exploited in systematic ways and from different angles, so the role of grammar structures is incidental (Jalilzadeh & Tahmasebi, 2014). Second, it is a task-based course because its activities have particular goals, and their focus is communication (Ellis, 2003; Hismanoglu & Hismanoglu, 2011; Klapper, 2003). Third, DOS uses synchronous (online lessons and online interviews) and asynchronous (audio forums, video forums and podcasts) learning activities. For the purpose of this investigation, I will only focus on the synchronous learning activities in the DOS course.
Synchronous learning activities
The study used content analysis and discourse analysis to analyze the transcripts from the oral performances in the synchronous learning activities (online lessons and online interviews). The basic unit of analysis employed was the clause, understood as an utterance containing a finite verb as a predicate (Delahunty, Jones, & Verenikina, 2014; Espasa, Guasch, & Alvarez, 2013). After identifying the clauses, the correction strategies (Table 2) and the repair moves (Table 3) were identified based on Lyster and Ranta’s (1997) categorization of correction strategies and repair moves..
Codes for correction strategies and repair moves based Lyster and Ranta (1997)
Repetitions from the teacher
Student repeats the teacher’s correction
Student incorporate the teacher’s correction
Student provides a yes/no response
Student makes the same mistake
Student partially repairs
The data extracted from the students’ oral production in the synchronous learning activities were analyzed in two phases. The first phase was the identification of the presence or absence of correction strategies such as explicit corrections, clarification requests, or repair moves such as repetitions, incorporations, and so. For this identification, ‘1’ indicated the presence and ‘0’ indicated the absence of the previously mentioned items. In this phase, the frequency of occurrence of correction strategies, and repair moves was identified. This investigation employed a matrix with 33 columns in an MS Excel spreadsheet to register those data. The second phase classified the results from the previous analysis into big categories: correction strategies, repair moves, synchronous technologies, less explicit and more explicit correction strategies, unsuccessful repair moves, and successful repair moves. This phase provided a wider view of the data and I was able to establish relationships among the data. For example, synchronous technologies and type of correction strategies or more explicit correction strategies and successful repair moves. The data on this level allowed to use descriptive statistics to present the results from both analyses in the form of graphs and tables using SPSS.
Synchronous learning activities and the deployment of correction strategies
During the synchronous learning activities, the teacher provides corrective feedback and employs different correction strategies to fix the students’ inaccuracies that emerge in the course of interaction. The analysis shows that there are 246 clauses that contain a correction strategy in the synchronous learning activities (online lessons and online interviews) that represent 7% of the total number of clauses in the course (3725).
Relationship between correction strategies and repair moves
The production of repair moves triggered by the deployment of corrective feedback suggests a low degree of learners’ immediate response following the teacher’s error correction.
These observations show that the teacher explicitly corrects the errors that the students produce or reformulates the inaccurate clause in an attempt to make errors salient and noticeable. The students, on the other hand, mostly react to the correction from the teacher by repeating the correction and in fewer cases by incorporating the correction in a subsequent clause.
Perceptions of the deployment of correction strategies and repair moves
When there were errors that I identified in the recordings, I provided a general feedback, I outlined them and provided the exact correction in the next online lesson. (interview with the teacher)
In the online lessons, if they [the students] made a pronunciation or a grammar error, I explicitly corrected them and I had them repeat the correction. If they [the students] made the error again, I stopped and repeat the correction again and I had them repeat again until they got it right. (In-depth interview with the teacher)
The teacher always gives us the correct answer and she gets us repeat when we make a mistake and errors with vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar are the most common in the online lessons and the online interviews, I think. (In-depth interview to students)
What happens in the online lesson is unforeseeable and when I have to talk about unknown topics that causes me trouble and I make a lot of mistakes, but at the same time I have the chance to correct those mistakes as soon as they happen and broaden my knowledge of the language. (In-depth interview to students)
[…] the conversations (online lessons and online interviews) were a very demanding activity and in these conversations, there was immediate correction of errors and when the teacher corrected me, I immediately repeated what the teacher said trying to understand. It helped me a lot. (In-depth interview with students)
When they [the students] mispronounced a word, I didn’t interrupt them to correct them, what I did, instead, was to repeat the word or the sentence correctly. I did that not because I wanted to embarrass them, I did it as part of my speech, naturally, so they could notice where the error was. (In-depth interview with the teacher)
Synchronous learning activities and the deployment of correction strategies
The results from the present study show that the preferred correction strategies are explicit corrections and recast. The results from the present study are in good agreement with a study carried out by Fiori (2005) that sought to examine grammatical development in synchronous computer-mediated communication, she found a higher amount of explicit corrections, and those explicit corrections revolved mostly around vocabulary inaccuracies. A possible explanation for the extensive deployment of explicit corrections found in the present study is that the teacher felt the need to call direct attention to the nontarget-like utterances. According to Fiori (2005), providing the explicit correction to an error generates opportunities to pay attention to the error, to comprehend its nature and there are more chances to correct it. Another explanation why the deployment of explicit corrections outperformed the deployment of other correction strategies in this study is rooted in the low linguistic level of the participants in the DOS course who need more explanations and whose limited resources do not allow them to process less explicit types of feedback (Sarandi, 2016). The production of correction strategies is low, as the results from this investigation show, which indicates that the teacher only reacts to a limited number of errors. These results are in good agreement with a study carried out by (Monteiro, 2014) that shows that the participants in activities embedded in a videoconference tool produced a higher number of instances containing incorrect target forms when compared with the instances providing feedback. Monteiro (2014) concludes that although the production of incorrect target forms is higher than the production of feedback, or correction strategies, corrective feedback is effective at helping learners develop knowledge of the target language.
The results from the present study suggest that the deployment of correction strategies in the synchronous learning activities is twofold. On the one hand, the teacher uses the synchronous learning activities to promote interaction that turns into learning, and on the second hand, she employs the synchronous learning activities as a vehicle to provide feedback from inaccuracies that originate in the asynchronous learning activities by extensively deploying explicit corrections. In other words, by explicitly providing the target-like reformulation of an error (Lyster & Ranta, 1997). A possible explanation for this is rooted in the assertion that feedback messages are invariably complex and difficult to decipher and the teacher, in this case, tries to assure that her students realize exactly their inaccuracies by providing them opportunities to construct actively an understanding of the feedback messages she deploys (Van Maele, Baten, Beaven, & Rajagopal, 2013).
The findings from the present study reveal that the students sense the use of correction strategies to help improve understanding of grammar aspects, to build vocabulary and to master pronunciation features. A number of studies have proven the effectiveness of correction strategies to develop different aspects of the target language. For example, Monteiro (2014) concluded that the mobilization of correction strategies helps develop implicit and explicit knowledge of the target language, they also help master articles (Sauro, 2009, pag. 113), noun-adjective agreement (Sagarra & Abbuhl, 2013, p. 212) and help improve pronunciation and master several grammar features (Sheen, 2006, p 386).
Synchronous learning activities and repair moves
The results from this study indicate that the most common repair moves are successful repair moves, which are the ones that lead to correction and are the ones that are more suitable for learning to take place (Nassaji, 2007). These findings show that repetitions of teacher’s corrections report the highest rates followed by the incorporations of teacher’s correction. This suggests that when performing in the synchronous learning activities, a student makes an error, which the teacher spots and tries to make it salient to the student. Once the student notices the error, he tends to repeat the correction in an attempt to internalize the new structure and as consequence; his performance improves on particular target language feature because his language awareness is raised (Heift, 2010).
However, the results from this investigation show that the number of clauses containing repairs is lower than the number of clauses containing feedback from the teacher and the number of clauses containing feedback from the teacher is lower than the number of clauses that contain errors. This indicates that in the course of interaction in the synchronous learning activities, teachers have a number of tasks to perform. They must support students by providing a structure of the learning content, they have to stimulate students’ motivation and provide feedback of accomplishment (Paechter & Maier, 2010). Students, on the other hand, have to provide immediate responses with limited resources (AbuSeileek & Qatawneh, 2013).
Repair moves triggered by correction strategies
After having analyzed the clauses that contain correction strategies and repair moves in the synchronous learning activities, the findings from the present study indicate that the use of explicit corrections and recasts trigger the repetition and the incorporation of the teacher’s corrections. These findings agree with Sauro’s (2009) results as she found that the output of the deployment of explicit corrections is the repetition or identification of errors and the output produced by recasts is the reformulation or the incorporation of errors in subsequent utterances. These results also agree with Sarandi (2016) as he claims that recasts have proven to be more effective in terms of language learning because they encourage learners to self-correct and they have shown better results in terms of learning of language structures. Similarly, Sagarra and Abbuhl (2013) suggest that recasts are effective in learning new language structures because they lead to more targetlike modified output.
The findings from this study reveal that the use of metalinguistic clues generates the repetition of the correction from the teacher. The findings from the present study concur with other studies that have found that metalinguistic feedback provides comments, information or questions related to the ill-formedness of the utterance. Metalinguistic clues are expected to produce the identification of errors and sometimes reformulations (Sauro, 2009). Monteiro (2014) provides an explanation for this in a study that aimed to explore the deployment of corrective feedback in video-conferencing as she claims that metalinguistic feedback forces learners to access and retrieve target forms from memory (p68). Her study concludes that metalinguistic feedback activates different cognitive processes and it is effective for the development of implicit and explicit knowledge of the target language and it helps develop knowledge of target structures. The present study found that when the teacher deploys elicitations, they generate the repetition and the incorporation of the correction from the teacher at a very low level. Nassaji (2007) explains the low effect of elicitations as he states that elicitations are slightly associated with the production of repair moves that lead to corrections or successful repairs such as incorporations of the teacher’s corrections. Lyster and Ranta (1997) and Sauro (2009) also explain the low effect of elicitation as they claim that elicitations can only lead to the identification of the error.
The production of repair moves that are generated by the deployment of correction strategies in the present study suggests that the use of correction strategies is convenient in the learning process in online environments. Although the participants in the study do not identify the repair moves they use when the teacher corrects them, they highlight that the use of correction strategies helps repair pronunciation problems, it fosters the development of speaking skills and it facilitates the identification of errors. These findings seem to support studies that show the effectiveness of corrective feedback in the production of successful repair moves. For example, Kartchava and Ammar (2014) looked into the effectiveness of corrective feedback in relation to the noticeability of English past tense and they found that the students who were treated with corrective feedback were able to notice the target grammatical structure significantly more and their levels of learning of the target grammatical structure were also higher. Rolin-Ianziti (2010) in a study that explored the effects of corrections in the learning of grammar features found that there is a systematic organization of delayed correction. Finally, Yilmaz (2011) explored the relationship of synchronous computer-mediated communication and corrective feedback and the production of lexical, grammatical and orthographic errors. The study found that synchronous computer-mediated communication produced higher frequencies of language related episodes that contained correct forms of lexical, grammatical and orthographic instances.
Deployment of correction strategies during synchronous learning activities
A major finding from this study is that the deployment of explicit corrections is the preferred type of correction strategy. Although, explicit corrections do not foster the use of the target language as other correction strategies do, the corrective force of feedback is made salient to the learners helping notice their errors and increasing the level of language awareness and self-diagnosis. This investigation reveals that the extensive use of explicit corrections is the result of the need of the teacher to make errors salient and a response to the low linguistic level of students who seek clear answers that help them identify errors and make sense of the correction from the teacher.
This investigation has found that due to the communicative nature of the synchronous learning activities in this study, the deployment of recasts also take place at a lower level despite the numerous learning advantages that they have. Given the applied linguistics nature of the present study, a practical consequence of its findings reveals the existing need to show online teachers that regardless of the linguistic level of students, the use of unobtrusive, implicit and output pushing strategies such as recasts and elicitation bring beneficial effects to the development of language accuracy. Namely, they help learners notice their errors unobtrusively fostering connections and the use of the target language as a means rather than an end.
Repair moves during synchronous learning activities
The results from this investigation have shown that the most frequent reactions from students to the teacher’s corrections are the repair moves that lead to corrections and subsequently facilitate learning, whereas self-initiated repair moves or self-repairs are seldom seen along this study. The scarceness of self-repairs in the synchronous learning activities in this study calls for the deployment of correction strategies that help students realize their errors and at the same time foster the use of the target language (recasts and elicitations).
The research has also shown that the repetition of the teacher’s correction is the most common type of repair. Although the number of clauses containing successful repair moves is low, making an error salient can help the development of language accuracy, especially with students whose linguistic level is low. However, the use of unobtrusive, implicit and output pushing strategies have proven to be more effective to develop language accuracy as they foster the use of the target language and they help stretch the students’ linguistic repertoire. These results suggest that the synchronous learning activities foster students to take control over their existing language level because by repeating or incorporating the correction from the teacher, the students attempt to automatize the development of their language accuracy by identifying their errors and trying to avoid committing them. This study has shown that although the participants think that repair moves are conducive to overcome linguistic problems, they can be more effective if teachers deploy unobtrusive, implicit and output pushing strategies that not only help students notice their errors, but also foster the use of the target language during the error correction process. A major conclusion of this investigation is that synchronous communication opens multiple possibilities for teaching languages online. They provide instances where interactions can take place naturally as they happen in face-to-face settings, they allow teachers to detect errors and they can make errors salient and learners can repair their inaccuracies as they take place. Besides, synchronous communication provide learners with opportunities to assure that in the online experience there are real people participating.
The author received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
Availability of data and materials
The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
JEP conceived the study, developed the paper and developed the manuscript of the paper. The author read and approved the final manuscript.
Jorge Eduardo Pineda is an assistant professor at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia. He is a doctoral student at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. His research interests are the relationship between language teaching and learning and technology, the effects of implementing technology in teachers’ professional performance and the effects of technology in the teaching and learning of languages.
The author declares that he has no competing interests.
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