Rethinking the (In)effectiveness of Unfocused Feedback in the L2 Writing Classroom

Guest Editors
Barry Lee Reynolds, University of Macau
Chian-Wen Kao, Chihlee University of Technology

Teachers’ correction of language learners’ grammatical errors has been hotly debated in the published literature. Error feedback researchers have been interested in investigating what types of feedback will effectively reduce students’ errors in subsequent writing. One of the main areas of this debate concerns whether the written corrective feedback administered by language teachers should be focused (i.e., only one or a few grammar error types are targeted for correction) or unfocused (i.e., all error types are targeted for correction). These debates and the empirical research studies inspired by them have been insightful to language learners and teachers alike; however, the arguments concerning teacher feedback continues to be complicated and controversial even to this day. Feedback-comparison research is the main design of most error correction studies. Researchers have devised different feedback content and assessed their effects on learners’ writing accuracy. It is widely assumed that by comparing different feedback content, the most effective feedback type could be uncovered. Nevertheless, up to now, it is still unclear and uncertain which feedback content is beneficial to students even though numerous feedback types have been investigated and analyzed (Ellis, 2009; Hyland & Hyland, 2006).

A large number of feedback studies have been conducted with the intentions to investigate and discover which variables play a determining role in facilitating the learning and teaching of L2 writing. In terms of short-term effects, researchers have found error correction beneficial to students (e.g. Ashwell, 2000; Cardelle & Corno, 1981; Fathman & Whalley, 1990; Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Heift & Rimrott, 2008; Lalande, 1982; Lee, 1997; Miao, Badger & Zhen, 2006; Sachs & Polio, 2007) while others did not (e.g. Fazio, 2001; Kepner, 1991; Polio, Fleck & Leder, 1998; Robb, Ross & Shortreed, 1986; Semke, 1980; Sheppard, 1992). Truscott (1996) criticized the feedback studies with short-term learning benefits as being simple pseudo learning. After this criticism, researchers started to investigate which variables might influence the effects of correction, including what kinds of feedback are offered (Chandler, 2003; Ellis, 2009) and what types of errors are corrected (Bitchener, Young & Cameron, 2005; Ferris, 1999; Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Truscott, 2001; Bruton, 2009). Others have investigated how many error types should be corrected (Ellis, Sheen, Murakami & Takashima, 2008; Sheen, Wright & Moldawa, 2009), students’ L2 proficiency levels (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Bitchener, 2009; Iwashita, 2001), research designs (Ferris, 2004; Guénette, 2007; Truscott, 2007), students’ ethnic backgrounds (Bitchener & Knoch, 2008) and many other issues. However, the best feedback giving practice is still considered an enigma.

A large number of these studies seemingly point towards the conclusion that unfocused feedback (i.e., feedback provided on all errors that occur in a piece of writing) is less effective than focused feedback (i.e., feedback provided on one or only a select number of errors). However, the majority of these studies collectively drawing this conclusion have overwhelmingly been concerned with the improvements of one grammatical error type (usually English article usage). These studies have overwhelmingly been concerned with feedback given to grammatical rule-based errors at the expense of the investigation of unfocused feedback on phraseological or lexical errors. Furthermore, these studies have often compared focused feedback to unfocused feedback for several rounds instead of investigating the effects of a single round of unfocused feedback on the grammatical accuracy of subsequent writings. Furthermore, while the lion’s share of the research has been conducted in language classrooms in the form of quasi-experimental studies, what occurs in the classrooms where the data for feedback giving studies was collected does not mimic the type of feedback giving practices that often occur in classrooms. Therefore, more ecologically valid studies that include the administration of unfocused feedback are needed in order to more accurately measure its effectiveness in the correction of multiple L2 writing grammar and lexical error types.

To address these pertinent issues, this JLE special issue aims to publish ecologically valid quasi-experimental classroom research that reconsiders the (in)effectiveness of unfocused feedback for varied grammatical and lexical error types for various learner groups.

Possible paper topics may include:

  • Longitudinal unfocused feedback practices
  • L2 lexical error correction
  • Unfocused feedback on logographic (non-alphabetic) L2 writing
  • Automatic error correction
  • The notion of error types in unfocused feedback practices
  • Students’ language proficiency levels as a determinant in unfocused feedback effects
  • Direct vs. indirect error feedback practices
  • L2 writers’ beliefs of unfocused grammar feedback practices
  • L2 writing teachers’ beliefs of unfocused grammar feedback practices

Proposed timeline:

Manuscript Submission Due Date: November 30, 2021
1st Round Review Notification: February 28, 2022
1st Round Revision Submission Due Date: April 15, 2022
2nd Round Review Notification: May 15, 2022
2nd Round Revision Submission Due Date: June 30, 2022
Final Acceptance Notification: July 15, 2022
Final Camera-ready Manuscript Due Date: September 20, 2022
Editorial Preface Submission: September 20, 2022
Estimated Publication Date: December 2022

Submitted manuscripts must be written in English and use the template for papers for regular issues. Each submission must contain two files: a main document and a cover letter. The submitted document must be anonymized for double blind review. The cover letter must have the following details: authors’ names, email address, affiliation, abstract of the paper, and declaration of authorship and publication conflict. Authors can consult for Ethics Policy and for Information for Authors. Papers which do not follow the guidelines will be returned to the author. Your cover letter must indicate “FOR THE SPECIAL ISSUE”.

All the papers published in the special issue will be screened by the guest editor and then double-blind reviewed by at least two external scholars in the field. High quality papers which will not be published in the special issue will be considered for publication in a regular issue. This will be recommended by the guest editor, agreed by the author, and decided by the Editorial Board. The journal will not charge any fee for review, processing, and publication.