Specialized Teacher Feedback: Teachers Have Some Say

by Reza Norouzian and Zohreh R. Eslami

Texas A&M University (Texas, United States of America)

Keywords: grounded theory, theoretical sampling, specialized feedback, EFL settings



Results from theory-driven research on error feedback are open to doubt as they come from comparing different techniques of error feedback under varying conditions. Using openended interviews and the sampling procedures of Grounded Theory, this article examines fifteen experienced EFL teachers’ perceptions to reveal the conditions that help teachers distinguish error feedback techniques to serve individual and group differences. The thoroughgoing coding system of the grounded theory method yielded a set of categories. Firstly, “Specialized Teacher Feedback” as the core category, together with sub-categories such as “Students’ Goal,” “Students’ Age Group,” and “Students’ Level of Language Mastery,” “Task Objective” and “Source of Error,” which justify, with the fewest possible categories, the conditions that determine the importance of error feedback. Further studies need to be conducted to discover more determining conditions in other contexts. This provides new impetus to turning the situated knowledge of feedback into a genuine understanding applicable to a wide array of professional EFL settings.



With the benefit of integrating theory and practice, it can be theorized that two crucial conditions promote progress in English as a Foreign/Second Language (EFL/ESL) contexts. One is involvement in communication or communicative tasks in which students can generate and test hypotheses about the target language (e.g. Rosa & Leow, 2004b). The other is providing error feedback which helps students evaluate, reflect and change their linguistic performance (e.g. Jensen, Kornell & Bjork, 2010). The general opinion is that error feedback makes it possible for language learners to notice the gap between the forms they produce and the target language forms. In cases where teachers emphasize meaning at the cost of the form, learners may achieve inadequate mastery necessary to tackle their accuracy problems.

Conversely, when they go for the latter and disregard the former, learners show low performance in communicating the desired meaning. While several feedback studies have signalled a massive void concerning teacher views in this respect (e.g. Lee, 2004; Norouzian & Farahani, 2012), there is a dearth of systematic research on teachers’ perceptions as to when and how to apply feedback. This, as the main reason of the current study, reflects the fact that research on error feedback has been theory-driven in method. Adding these together, the field is in pressing need of data-driven approaches to synthesize language teachers’ perceptions on error feedback rather than to test preconceived hypotheses based upon prevalent theories of second language learning. Adopting a grounded methodology, the researcher puts aside his preconceived notions about “Error Feedback” to study teachers’ perception on this matter and to find the criteria for their application of corrective feedback.


Background to the story

For many feedback scholars, error feedback is rooted in a backlog of polarized theories from the past that have culminated in two methodical outcomes. The early error treatment research approaches errors from a behavioral perspective (e.g. Skinner, 1957). Untreated errors of any sort are prone to becoming fossilized and demand immediate action by the language teachers.

This, over time, plants the early seeds of “form-focused instruction” with its disregard for learners’ ability in communicating the learned entities in the target language. This view, then, was deemed to produce learners with a relatively high command of L2/FL grammar but comparably poor performance in conveying the desired meaning. The approach offers learners explicit information before or during exposure to second language (L2) input. This is done by means of either grammatical explanation or negative evidence in the form of corrective feedback (Sanz & Morgan-Short, 2004). More often than not, error feedback is employed in this approach to advance accuracy. The relative lack in communicative competence is attributed to the following:

  1. Meta-linguistic knowledge does not actually transform into implicit knowledge (Hulstijn, 2002).
  2. Declarative memory cannot translate into procedural memory. Each uses a different part of the brain (Paradis, 1994).
  3. Language acquisition device (LAD) can only accept natural input (Schwartz, 1993).
  4. A skill must be practiced repeatedly, until no attention is required for performance (McLaughlin, 1990).
  5. Early focus on grammar inhibits the development of fluency (Vanpatten, 1986).

Yet with the cognitive view, the resultant errors followed a logical development of rule generation occurring in the minds of learners rather than a vicious cycle of habit formation (Chomsky, 1959). Others tied errors to the dynamic stages of learners’ interlanguage development and thus regarded errors as the compelling sign of progress (e.g. Corder, 1967; Selinker, 1972). From the pedagogical perspective, however, some found no place for error feedback in their learning theory (Krashan & Terrell, 1983) and to some it was even construed as “erratic” and “ineffective” (Long, 1977; Truscott, 1996). Consequently, the latter view laid the groundwork for the emergence of the “meaning-focused instruction,” which fell into the paradigm shift of foreign language teaching in the communicative era.

With the advent of Communication, a common belief was that errors are not important as long as they do not affect communication (Littlewood, 1981). Understandably, products of this meaning-focused instruction are unable to address accuracy issues as they place too much emphasis on communication. This can be best captured by considering the following pieces of evidence:

  1. Despite the focus on communication, a disappointing proportion of pupils are making the transition to creative control of the target language system (Mitchell, 2000).
  2. The level of foreign language proficiency has deteriorated in the last 25 years. The median proficiency score for undergraduate majors is now probably no higher than 1+[1] (Vallette, 1991).

To remedy this situation, a suggestion was made by Long (1991) for CLT to focus on form, i.e., teaching rules in context, rather than on forms, i.e., teaching rules in isolation. This entails an integrated approach to language instruction, shifting attention to language structures within a meaning-focused activity or task. One method to achieve an integrated approach is to provide feedback in the course of communication. Many second language acquisition researchers argue that such a method is optimal for learners learning to use the language fluently and accurately (e.g., Doughty, 2001). There is also evidence from individual research studies that this type of feedback can be useful to L2 learners (Ellis, Loewen & Erlam, 2006; Loewen, 2005). Taken together, although there is controversy with regards to the value of corrective feedback, Russle and Spada (2006) in their meta-analysis of feedback research deduced that if delivered to learners in the course of communicating in the target language, feedback is, by and large, advantageous to learning.

Considering feedback of value to learners, language teachers apply different methods of providing feedback. One method that has received considerable attention recently is recasting. A recast, according to Lightbown and Spada (2006), correctly reformulates a student’s incorrect utterance while maintaining its central meaning. Recent research is divided on whether or not recasts are beneficial to learners. Several research studies have found that recasts facilitate language learning (Ayoun, 2001; Braidi, 2002; Doughty & Varela, 1998; Han, 2002; Havranek, 2002; Iwashita, 2003; Leeman, 2003; Mackey & Philp, 1998; Oliver & Mackey, 2003); however, these studies have only been able to show a positive effect for recast in the short run (Ayoun, 2001; Braidi, 2002; Doughty & Varela, 1998; Han, 2002; Havranek, 2002; Iwashita, 2003; Leeman, 2003; Mackey & Philp, 1998; Oliver & Mackey, 2003). Recasts are advocated as they are relatively implicit and unobtrusive.

However, Loewen (2007) believes that recasts are so implicit that learners often fail either to notice them or to perceive their corrective intent. Regardless of this constraint, Long (2006) contends that foreign and second language teachers cannot reject the use of recasts in their classrooms. Experts who do not support recasts tend to adhere to prompts or elicitations instead.

In prompting, the teacher does not offer the correct form but rather attempts to get the student to self-correct. Panova and Lyster (2002) discovered that students who received prompts achieved greater accuracy in subsequent language processing than those who received recasts. Lightbown and Spada (2006) maintain that trying to get students to correct themselves involves them in deeper mental processing and thus may have a greater impact on learning. It is critical to note that this technique is effective only if learners have some latent knowledge of the form. If the form is entirely new, prompting will not work.

Another type of error feedback is the provision of meta-linguistic information on the committed error. Recent literature is inconsistent as to the effectiveness of meta-linguistic explanations. Bitchener et al. (2005) and Sheen (2007) both found that there is an advantage for meta-linguistic explanations over direct feedback alone. On the other hand, Bitchener (2008) and Bitchener and Knoch (2008) found no advantage for those who received metalinguistic explanation after a two month period compared to the students who did not receive meta-linguistic explanation. From 2008 onward, the two mainstream trends continue to argue for and against corrective feedback. On the one side, Truscott followers try to show the inefficacy of feedback especially in formal contexts and question the validity of past feedback studies (Hartshorn and Evans, 2012; Truscott, 2010) and on the other side, Ferris adherents emphasize its necessity in educational and professional language settings (De Jong & Kuiken, 2012; Sheen, 2010).

It is also important to consider the response to feedback, often called uptake. Again, perhaps not surprisingly, there is controversy surrounding the importance of uptake. Some researchers argue that in recasting, it is not important for students to produce the correct forms themselves since such uptake may be mere parroting of the form provided by the teacher. Others, drawing on Swain’s (1995) Output Hypothesis, insist on learners’ producing the correct form since (a) it helps learners move somewhat beyond their current ability; (b) it helps teachers ensure that their feedback has been noticed by the learner. In contrast to recasting, prompting makes uptake a necessary and essential component of the interaction. Lastly, there are studies (Loewen, 2004) to suggest that successful uptake is one of the main predictors of students’ subsequent accurate test scores.

Despite the disagreements over the efficacy of different techniques of feedback provision, many scholars advise language teachers to incorporate form-focused activities and corrective feedback in communicative classes. Among others, the following assertions demonstrate how researchers consider provision of negative evidence or corrective feedback beneficial:

  • Both repetition and focus on form have measurable benefits for L2 speech processing (Trofimovich & Gatbonton, 2006).
  • Within the context of second language acquisition (SLA), negotiation of meaning and feedback facilitate language acquisition (Gass, Mackey & Ross-Feldmann, 2005).
  • Attention and awareness have been identified as two cognitive processes that mediate input and L2 development through interaction (Mackey, 2006).
  • Students naturally want the English they produce to be understood, and they usually expect to be corrected (Ur, 2000).
  • Feedback that allows students to evaluate, reflect and change their behavior is conducive to learning (Jensen et al., 2010).
  • Feedback has been directly linked to the process of hypothesis formation and testing, which has been shown to facilitate restructuring and system learning (Rosa & Leow, 2004b).

While these studies provide the reader with researchers’ views on error feedback, they barely synthesize language teachers’ perceptions on error feedback. This is probably due to the fact that all of the aforementioned studies are theory-driven and explore classroom practices through hypothesis testing. The findings of these studies need to be complemented by studies that incorporate teachers’ views on error feedback. These perceptions may throw new light and complement these researchers’ views. At issue here is the pressing need for data-driven studies to place teachers’ views about error feedback in wider practical contexts.


Research method


Intent on entering the field with no preconceived notions about error feedback, this study started with an experienced male teacher who consented to share his views on corrective feedback through an interview with the researcher. Analysis and coding of this first interview shaped the questions to be used in subsequent interviews with other participants.

All teacher participants were selected from urban schools in Tehran. The researcher sought out experienced EFL teachers—those who had been teaching for at least seven years. Fifteen participants who taught EFL to secondary school students at five public high schools were purposefully sampled. The participant pool included two females and thirteen males. Six of the participants had earned their Masters’ degrees in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL); three had received their Bachelors’ degrees in English translation and six held

Bachelors’ degrees in other fields of science.


Sampling procedure 

The current study adopted theoretical sampling to bring together the data and the sources of data, and to facilitate the development of the theory as it emerges. Contrary to the statistical sampling that selects a representative sample of participants, theoretical sampling selects subsequent subjects based on the information gathered from the data already coded (Sarantakos 2005). Webb (2003) views theoretical sampling as central to the development of grounded theory. Glaser & Strauss (1967) describe theoretical sampling to be:

“…the process of data collection for generating theory whereby the analyst jointly collects, codes, and analyses his [sic] data and decides what data to collect next and where to find them, in order to develop his [sic] theory as it emerges” (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p.45).

Participants were sampled based on their willingness to share their views with the researcher and their adequate experience in the use of error feedback. The process of data collection and further interviewing ended when the researchers believed the point of data saturation was reached and new data seemed to be redundant.


Data collection and analysis

Data collection, coding, and analysis were iterative, i.e., cyclical rather than linear. Analysis led to the development of concepts and categories but they were constantly manipulated (see coding procedure below) in light of new data. Since the study was data- driven, the researcher tried to come to the field fresh carrying no preconceived notion about error feedback. In keeping with this research method, literature review came after the data collection and analysis rather than before it as is the case with quantitative research. In fact, the researcher entered the field to find the real concerns and views of participants about error feedback through open-ended interviews.

Grounded Theory is built on the formation of ideas through coding. It uses a method of constant comparison. Through analysis, interview transcripts were fractured into conceptual codes. Then, during a process of comparison these individual codes were compared, and were pieced together to form meaningful categories. Finally, through a process of selective coding, a core category that pulls all concepts and categories together was selected. As the analysis is abstract in time, place and people, it lends itself to modification in light of new data (Glaser, 2001; Glaser & Holton, 2004). Complying with this principle and through a process of constant comparison, the emergent concepts and categories were constantly modified to suit new data. In practice, the concepts and categories were modified so that no data was left out.

In brief, the coding schemes of the Grounded Theory method resulted in a series of categories. First, “Specialized Feedback” as the core category and such sub-categories as “Students’ Goal,” “Students’ Age,” and “Students’ Language Mastery Level” together with “Task Objective” and “Source of Error” to justify, with the fewest possible categories, the conditions that determine the process of error feedback provision. More precisely, these categories reported how participants distinguished between their feedback practices. Throughout this research, participants were informed that their identities would remain confidential. This was because concepts developed by participants shaped the whole study and not the identity of individual participants (Glaser, 1978). With respect to findings credibility, as suggested by Yin (2003), via member checking, all evolved concepts and categories were validated.



Unlike theory-driven views on error feedback, which take one technique or another to apply to varying conditions, this data- driven study clearly indicates that error feedback is contingent upon a host of factors including students’ need, age, and level of language mastery, as well as task objective and source of error. More importantly, whereas theorydriven views suggest that teachers use recasts, prompts and meta-linguistic feedback uniformly regardless of actual classroom conditions, this data-driven study, which is grounded in instructors’ views, shows that one technique that is beneficial under one set of conditions may be inefficient and, at times, limiting under another set of conditions. Rather than being universal, knowledge and application of error feedback is widely static. The clarification of these determining conditions accounts for distinguished error feedback as implied by the participants. Connor, Morrison and Petrella (2004) found that one-size-fits-all instruction simply would not be as effective as specialized instruction. In the same vein, participants in this study realized that direct-feedback-fits-all can be as erroneous as indirect- feedback-fits-all. As such, they distinguished between the processes of error feedback provision in the light of the determined conditions to create the best learning experience possible. What follows is an elaboration of the conditions that form teachers’ approaches to providing error feedback.


Students’ specific need

Students’ specific need clearly shows that the process of error feedback provision is decided on via a number of factors including students’ specific need of learning English. In one class, there may be different groups of students who learn English for different purposes. There may be some who learn English because they need it for academic purposes. Alternatively, there may be some who learn English for social purposes such as travelling. Whereas the first group may want their errors to be rectified because accuracy is a main concern for them, the second group may not want their flow of speech to be interrupted because communication and fluency is vital for them. Saeed, one of the participants, believes that he should differentiate his error feedback to address these two distinct needs:

“Your feedback techniques are inseparable from students’ need. There are some learners who need English for social communication. Focusing on form for such learners is very stifling. Still, there are some students who need English for academic purposes. This group takes form as an unalienable objective. Thus, you should attend to the form of their speech through treating errors. Moreover, there are some who are learner teachers. That is, they learn English to teach it. This group should not only produce the correct form, they should also have some sort of meta-linguistic awareness of the forms of language to make use of it in clarifying these forms for the students in future. Thus, as you see, different levels of feedback are at work.”

Similarly, Kourosh, another participant, distinguishes his feedback based on the same learner variable. He stated that his being lenient or strict towards learner error depended on learners’ expectations of the course. Similar to teaching, error feedback should respond to learners’ needs. He explained:

“If they are trying English for university purposes, I tend to be strict on all errors as accuracy issues in academic arena are of great use. In contrast, if their purpose is to use English in social contexts, I place higher priority on the fluency issues, that is comprehensibility of their utterances. When my audiences are novice teachers, I comprehensively correct all errors because it helps them be sensitive about their own errors when speaking to the learners as a language teacher.”

In a similar vein, Mahmood, another participant, believes that the ‘what’ of error feedback provision should be derived from learners’ concerns. For students who need English for social communication, pronunciation is the major concern. Quite the reverse, for those who need English to master academic tasks, grammar is especially of particular importance. What follows better illustrates how he details his approach to serve different needs:

“Let’s focus on pronunciation. It is so central to establish effective communication. Therefore, a need-based error feedback would account for pronunciation errors of those with a need to use language in the society. This is the case when pronunciation, stress and intonation are not a concern for academic purposes as in Iranian schools and universities students’ communicate is in writing. As far as these aspects of language are comprehensible, their use of language is accepted. This being the case, I ignore errors of grammar for social communication; I try to provide feedback on grammatical errors for those with a need to use language in the academic contexts.”


Students’ age group

Studies focused on direct vs. indirect feedback have reported different findings. Some have shown an advantage for indirect feedback (Ferris & Helt, 2000; Lalande, 1982), others have indicated no difference between the two approaches (Robb et al., 1986; Semke, 1984), and still other studies (e.g., Chandler, 2003) have reported positive findings for both direct and indirect feedback. The results are inconclusive and in most studies the conditions under which the technique was applied is not well specified. Participants in this study believed that while direct feedback is effective for adults, children respond better to indirect feedback. They believed that children grasp better the target language form through implicit, inductive approaches. Conversely, adults come to grips with the target language form better through explicit deductive approaches. In contrast, children rarely understand it if the teacher explains a target language rule. Mehrdad pointed out:

“During young learners’ talks, I prefer to skip their errors. If I have to give feedback, I correct them in such a way that does not hurt their feelings. As long as they proceed, I never correct. Instead, I write the erroneous forms and guide them through the correct form inductively. As young learners do not know technical jargon, they cannot understand it if I explain the rule. Again, I usually plan to immerse them in examples of the correct use of the erroneous form, and I leave the rest to the learners. It is my belief that they would find the correct form from patterns presented.”

While Mehrdad prefers the implicit approach for children, Iman explained why he does not use this approach for adults. He related his preferred approach toward error feedback to the nature of language education in Iran. In Iranian high schools, teachers mostly present grammar deductively. Over time, learners get used to it and like the technical jargon of grammar. He stated, “No matter how many examples I present, they expect me to give them the rule.” Moreover, he believed that adults are mature enough to come to grips with abstract rules. On the efficacy of meta-cognitive awareness for adults he explained:

“In Iran, a good language teacher is one who dissects grammar to show learners how it works. If you do not teach grammar that way, they do not accept you as a language teacher. To respond to this cultural expectation, I often prepare a list of ill-formed sentences learners made during their communicative efforts. Then in the practice phase of my class, I help learners get the correct form through giving rules and explanations. I like delayed error feedback for two reasons: first, it helps me approach errors systematically through planning, and second, it does not interrupt students as they struggle to convey their meaning.”

While both participants prefer delayed feedback rather than the immediate, on-the-spot feedback, they follow two different approaches to help learners become aware of the target language form. Young learners get the right form better through discovery provided that teachers present them with ample examples. Conversely, adults better understand the target form via explanation. This, however, does not imply that adults do not need examples.


Level of language mastery 

Participants believe that depending on students’ levels of language mastery they use different methods and different degrees of feedback. They specialize their feedback techniques based on two distinct objectives: fluency and accuracy. Most of the participants seemed to agree that at lower levels of proficiency they should focus on fluency. When learners are able to convey their intended meaning fluently, they focus on accuracy. It is at this stage that feedback comes into play. Mahgol explained:

“At lower levels, I focus on communication and learners’ communicative intent rather than the form of their speech. At these levels we should rarely correct learners’ errors for two reasons: first, correcting de-motivates learners, and second, they are likely to encounter and discover the correct form at other higher levels. At higher levels, I correct learners directly by showing what the erroneous form is and then try to present them with the relevant linguistic information through explanation.”

While Samaneh related infrequent feedback at the early stages to learners’ motivation to communicate, Samira linked it to creating confidence in beginners. Samira believes that feedback might create the feeling of incompetency in learners. To justify her position she explained:

“It depends on how well students can communicate. At lower levels, I ignore ill-formed structures because the main objective is to enable students to communicate. Correcting errors may erode their confidence and they may come to the conclusion that they are not able to communicate. At this stage, I try to appreciate their efforts to get their meanings across. At higher levels, I try to devote some time to form-focused tasks. In these tasks, I clearly state that the purpose is language learning rather than communication and I try to correct their errors through exposure and explanation.”


Task objective

One teaching unit may be organized around different types of tasks. While some aim to involve students in communication, others may aim at presenting learners with practice. Moreover, some tasks are devoted to developing pronunciation and some to improving grammar and vocabulary. One of the common pitfalls of error feedback is to correct all errors irrespective of the objective of the task. This unsystematic approach not only disrupts communication, it is also useless in terms of creating form-awareness. Participants believe that what to correct depends on the task objective. Sadegh stated:

“In observing classes, I have found that error feedback is very unsystematic. That is, each and every mistake is corrected on the spot. I believe that error feedback should be systematic. I believe that error feedback should be in line with the objectives of the task in hand. That is, if we teach grammar, we should correct grammatical mistakes. If the purpose of the task is to improve learners’ pronunciation, I focus on their pronunciation errors and try to ignore errors in other areas such as grammar or word choice. I believe if you correct everything, you correct nothing; the reason being that students lose the objective of the task and they do not learn anything at all.”

Another participant stated that her teaching objectives are twofold: communication and practice. Thus, she divides class time into two phases to respond to the specified objectives respectively. The interesting point about her approach is that she limits error feedback to the practice phase. She stated:

“There are two distinct phases in my class: a communication phase and a practice phase. When my students communicate, I never correct their errors. I encourage them to concentrate on meaning and get it across by any means. On the other hand, in the practice phase of the class I focus on form. During communication, I write students’ major errors down. Then in the practice phase, I write the errors on the board and help the students internalize the correct form through inductive and deductive approaches: inductive for children and deductive for adults.”


Source of error

One cannot start “feedbacking” without first distinguishing the source of errors. In audiolingualism teachers’ used to recognize interlingual errors, i.e., errors that are caused by first language habits, as the only source of errors. Today, however, this view is not accepted. Thus, teachers should differentiate their approach to error feedback depending on the source of the error. Participants in this study distinguish two main sources of error: interlingual errors and intralingual errors.

This realization helped them select different approaches for each. Abbas explained:

“While students are communicating, I write their errors down. Then I classify them into interlingual and intralingual errors. For each group, I follow a different strategy. For interlingual errors, I try to juxtapose the first language form and the target language form on the board. Then through explanation, I try to make students aware of the differences. As for the second group, i.e., intralingual errors, I never correct them, since I believe that through further exposure to the target language, learners will discover the correct form and they will self-correct the faulty rule that produces the faulty form.”

Similarly, Sepehr reiterated that it is the realization of the source of error that helps him differentiate between which errors to correct and which errors to ignore. Sometimes students wrap target language words in first language structures.

Sometimes, however, they use the target language structure but it is faulty or limited. He believes that the latter type does not require any correction since through further exposure to the target language structure the learner will realize the correct structure and self-correct his or her speech. As to the former, he added:

‘Some of my colleagues distrust theoretical findings but I personally believe that if they are applied in the right time and place they pay off. For instance, I always rely on contrastive analysis to correct errors that are rooted in their first language. When my students do not know a target language structure, they suppose that they can pick it up from their first language. For instance, when a student says “I am agree” or “Parviz married with Mahnaz” I am sure that he is using Persian structures to speak English. By juxtaposing the first language structure and target language structure, I make them aware of the differences. I do believe that leaning a new language involves overcoming the differences between first language structures and target language structures. Although very useful, it never works for intralingual errors. I never correct these errors since I believe that students will discover the correct rule on their own.”


Discussion and conclusion

Aside from the intellectual rigor and theoretical sensitivity of formulating a grounded theory, there are certain limitations on the application of the findings. It is prudent to consider how interviewer and interviewees negotiate face or manage impressions— that is how one can elicit honest answers from the interviewees (Goffman, 1959) in an interview. An interview is but a snapshot in time. Much goes unexplored about events and persons even when the intention of the interviewer is to provide a holistic account. Without a doubt, more interviews in other contexts would offer fuller insights into data-driven error feedback research.

Although participants in this study may not be up-to-date with the literature of error feedback, years of teaching experience have led them to the realization that the type and frequency of error feedback they give to their students depends on individual differences. These differences included background, age, level, purpose, etc. That is why they believe they should not apply one technique of error feedback for all. This realization, although derived from both knowledge and practice, is in parallel with the latest theoretical findings concerning instruction. Connor et al. (2004) found that students achieved more growth when their instruction was matched to their needs— different children with different needs benefited from different opportunities. Similarly, the participants in this study realized that error feedback leads to language development if it is tailored to meet individual differences. Connor, Morrison, and Petrella (2004) found that one-size-fits-all instruction simply would not be as effective as differentiated instruction. Along the same lines, participants in this study reached out to individuals and small groups and varied the “what” and “how” of error feedback provision in order to create the best learning experience possible. Thus, they distinguished error feedback to meet the needs of individuals and groups within one and the same class or at different levels of proficiency. Even though many findings from oral corrective feedback studies in second language acquisition research point to an advantage of direct over indirect corrective feedback (Carroll, 2001; Carroll & Swain, 1993; Ellis et al., 2006; Havranek & Cesnik, 2003), there are others (Kim & Mathes, 2001; Leeman, 2003) who claim the opposite. The contradictory results may lie in the fact that the individual differences among learners in relation to the type and frequency of error feedback have not been given due attention.

This data-driven study, which is deeply grounded in practitioners’ perspectives rather than in top-down theories, shows that one technique that is beneficial under one set of conditions may be inefficient and, at times, limiting under another set of conditions. Moreover, it indicates that studies such as the ones referred to in the literature review need to take into account the classroom conditions that shape teachers’ actions. Instead of being universal, knowledge of error feedback is situated in such conditions. The clarification of these determining conditions is central to the differentiated error feedback discussed by these participants. Having theorized teachers’ views, the study has implications for second language acquisition researchers and curriculum designers. The studies signify the importance of incorporating practitioners’ views in designing and developing content-focused and form-focused materials. The findings are also significant in that they plug the gap between researchers and practitioners. More importantly, the findings are significant in that they give voice to an oft-silent group in the language education circle, i.e., language teachers, specifically in centralized educational systems such as the one in Iran. Further studies need to be done to clarify more determining conditions in other contexts. Clearly, this is the only plausible way to replace situated knowledge of error feedback with a genuine understanding applicable to a wide range of settings.



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About the authors

Reza Norouzian is an ESL Education PhD student at Texas A&M University, in the United States. His main areas of interest are feedback, L2 pragmatic development, and ESL/EFL qualitative research. He has published a number of articles in internationally renowned journals.

Zohreh R. Eslami is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. She has more than 15 years’ experience in language teacher education in the USA, Iran, and Qatar. She has numerous publications in the area of ESL/EAP/EIL, intercultural pragmatics, pragmatics and language teaching, and language teacher education.

[1] The 1+ is ACTFL’s Intermediate High rating which reported to be 2+ (Advanced High) in past studies (see Carroll, 1967).

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