Technology for Second Language Writing Feedback

Technology for Second Language Writing Feedback

文 / 方挺 (本中心教師)


Technology has been widely applied in second language (L2) teaching and learning. For instance, Neri, Mich, Gerosa, and Giuliani (2008) showed the benefits of using technology in pronunciation instruction. In addition to speaking, technology is also applied in L2 writing, and one of the examples is collocation. L2 learners may have problems in using appropriate collocations since the context plays a very important role. It is very likely that a native speaker would consider a possible collocation strange simply because it is placed in an unfamiliar or inappropriate context. Based on this, Kennedy (2003) used British National Corpus (BNC) to analyze certain collocation tendency by native English speakers. For example, Kennedy (2003) found that the English adverb considerably often collocates with the comparative forms of words (pp. 476-477) and that the adverb very often collocates with the words that have positive meanings (p. 480). This tendency in collocation use was also consistent with the results found by Fang (2013) (please note that the unrevised draft of testing sentences with typos was mistakenly placed in the appendix to Fang’s (2013) study; many sentences were revised with more context and typos in the table and texts should also be corrected). These findings could be useful for English writing instructors’ collocation teaching. Moreover, providing students feedback in writing is important and technology has been used to help evaluate students’ writing and provide electronic feedback(Feng, Ogata, & Yano, 2000; Tuzi, 2004). As defined by Tuzi (2004, p. 217), electronic feedback was the “feedback in digital, written form and transmitted via the web,” which was different from traditional written feedback in many aspects. First, according to Tzui (2004), written feedback was often given back to the writer for peer group discussion, but L2 writers may not have such opportunities for interaction or merely have a time-delay in communication in an electronic environment. Second, since a greater sense of anonymity was found in an electronic environment than in a traditional writing environment, electronic feedback “may discourage a sense of community in some students, which can also inhibit scaffolding” (p. 219). Third, unlike traditional written feedback, practices of electronic feedback were more time and place independent as essays were submitted and corrected online; it also caused less delivery effort (Sullivan, Brown, & Nielson, 1998) since students and teachers did not need to carry lots of papers. Fourth, while red pens were used by teachers for traditional written feedback, annotations were often used to mark students’ errors for electronic feedback. Errors marked by annotation may be more salient for students to notice for further improvement (Wible, Kuo, Chien, Liu, & Tsao, 2001).


Research has showed the effect of electronic feedback in writing (Burston, 2001; Guardado & Shi, 2007; Feng et al., 2000; Wible et al., 2001). For example, Feng et al. (2000) introduced an annotation system CoCoA for students learning Japanese as a foreign language. Students sent their writings to the teacher via e-mail, and the teacher marked students’ errors or gave comments with CoCoA. The correction environment was similar to a physical one in which paper and pens were used. Corrected writings were then saved and sent to students by e-mail so learners could read the corrected text on screen. In addition, the system included a corpus of L2 writers’ compositions and a database of writing errors for learners to practice English writing and for teachers to recognize L2 learners’ error patterns. CoCoA provided “teachers and students with an interactive learning environment for realizing communicative correction of student compositions and for giving student-oriented instruction” (p. 95). Burston (2001) also introduced the writing correction software Markin32 and suggested that this composition correction program with annotations helped teachers offer useful electronic feedback to students’ writings. The program facilitated both teachers’ correction feedback process and students’ writing skills. Wible et al. (2001) designed IWiLL, an online environment for L2 writers to submit, compose and revise their compositions. Teachers provided electronic feedback in two ways: typing their own comments and choosing one of the frequently used electronic feedback stored in “Comment Bank” (e.g. sentence fragment, tense shift). Teachers could also add new comments or delete comments in this bank and did not need to type the same comments every time for similar writing errors made by students. When students received their corrected compositions, they could read a list of comments provided by the teacher in descending order of error frequency. The researchers argued that one of the differences between marking errors with annotation in this system and with red pens in students’ hard copies was that the use of annotation may make students’ errors more salient. Therefore, students may be able to notice their errors for further improvement. Electronic feedback was also found helpful in L2 writers’ revision by Guardado and Shi (2007), who explored twenty-two L2 students’ experiences of online writing peer feedback with interviews. The researchers also compared the students’ first draft with their second one that was revised based on peers’ electronic feedback. Students reported that electronic feedback helped reduce problems of carrying paper around. Online writing contexts also encouraged students to give more critical comments because of anonymity, and to provide electronic feedback on the basis of the audiences’ needs. As suggested by the researchers, electronic feedback should work with face-to-face discussion guided by teachers to clarify unclear comments.


Some other researchers compared the effectiveness of electronic feedback and traditional feedback in writing. Tuzi (2004) investigated effects of electronic feedback and traditional feedback on twenty L2 students’ writing revisions and confirmed the greater effect of electronic feedback. Although oral feedback is preferred by L2 learners, student revisions were more considerably affected by electronic feedback as they were observed to make more revisions responding to their peers’ electronic feedback. In addition, electronic feedback was used by L2 students mainly “for larger blocks of text like ideas, examples, introductions, and conclusions rather than smaller elements like grammar, punctuation, or single word changes” (p. 230). This finding, however, was incompatible with that of Schultz (2000), who found that students receiving electronic feedback made more local (grammar) changes because they could follow detailed guidance from the peers’ comments. On the other hand, since face-to-face feedback may be more helpful in rapid interaction to understand student writers’ intentions, more global (content, organization, and style) changes were made. Schultz argued that a combination of both types of feedback can help students achieve their optimum results in writing. Yeh and Lo (2009) also found that electronic feedback improved L2 students’ error recognition greatly. The researchers proposed an online corrective feedback and error analysis tool Online Annotator for L2 Writing, with which L2 writing teachers marked students’ errors online. Fifty Taiwan college students were divided into two groups and were asked to write a short essay online. Writings of the experimental group were graded by a rater who gave electronic feedback with the developed system, while the control group received feedback from the same rater who gave paper-based error correction. Afterwards, participants in both groups corrected one identical essay from an L2 student using a paper-based method and participants’ corrective feedback practices were evaluated by the researchers. The results showed that corrective feedback practices performed significantly better by the experimental group who identified more errors and missed a lower number of incorrect texts than the control group. In sum, the studies reviewed in this article showed us the possibilities and potential of using technology in L2 writing teaching. Teachers need to consider the timing for using these programs or software with caution. Teachers may also need to learn how to correct students’ writings effectively and build learner autonomy with the help of technology.



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臺大寫作教學中心電子報No. 020