Monday, October 3, 2016

Why feedback on pronunciation (often) fails--and how to make it work better.
We are getting a much better idea from research as to what kind of feedback from teachers seems to produce best results in a range of contexts (various mixes of explanation, modeling and guided practice). Notice that I said SEEMS to produce best results. New research by Winstone and colleagues at the University of Surrey and Aston University (summarized by Science Daily) suggests there may be something else going on here that significantly contributes to the puzzle: what learners DO with the feedback, not the feedback, itself.

In a meta-analysis of a large number of studies in education, they found that the actual form of feedback was not contributing as much variance to results as was how students followed up on that feedback, either on their own, or preferably in some kind of ongoing dialogue with their instructor. Their primary recommendation is that we "talk" with learners more, seeing feedback more as a process rather than an event. If you do process writing, you certainly know what they are getting at.

A good example of "one way" feedback in pronunciation work is a nice study by Darcy and Ewert (2013) where explicit feedback and improvement on suprasegmentals (rhythm, stress and intonation) was associated with the kind of feedback provided. From the absract:

An analysis of classroom treatment recordings demonstrates that explicit phonetic instruction that makes learners notice L2 features (i.e., explicit presentation of contents, guided analysis and
practice, and corrective feedback.

What that research report did not look at systematically is how those four classroom activities actually happened. You could imagine a wide range of "interactivity" between instructors and students going on during any of those. In other words, something worked . . . but why exactly. According to Winstone et al., just listing those classroom pedagogical practices, especially the last does not tell really tell us much--or help us predict how well the same study would go with a different instructor who might be more or less "dialogic" in her teaching style.

In a 2016 study which complements that research, Feedback on second language pronunciation: A case study of EAP teachers beliefs and practices, Baker and Burri examine what EAP teachers believe about feedback and providing it. From the extensive literature review and the data analysis one question or theme in effect, did not even come up: What do students actually DO with the feedback you (or teachers, in general) provide--and how important is that?

That the researchers did not probe that line of inquiry, itself, reflects the near complete absence of research on what students consistently do either in class or out of class with pronunciation feedback, i.e., correction of various kinds. Teachers in the study did see the value of individualized feedback, which, if done face to face, would almost certainly involve monitoring of student response to feedback and a more dialogic approach to exploitation of feedback.

Granted, studying dialogic classroom engagement between instructors and learners to find out what is really going on is both time consuming and expensive, but you almost have to go there to figure out some of this. You can at least do that in your own classroom. 

Baker and Burri conclude by recommending use of oral journaling, for example, where students can be directed in any number of ways to actively work with teacher-provided feedback. That practice is, in fact, quite popular with language instructors in general, but I have been unable to find published research examining, in depth, what learners actually do with feedback in journaling or elsewhere that may significantly impact effectiveness of learning and uptake of targeted forms.

Welcome your contribution of other research sources and  feedback on this! 


Baker, A. and Burri, M. (2016) Feedback on second language pronunciation: A case study of EAP teachers beliefs and practices, Australian Journal of Education 41(6). 
Gordon, J., Darcy, I., and Ewert, D. (2013) Pronunciation teaching and learning: Effects of explicit phonetic instruction in the L2 classroom. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th
Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference. Aug. 2012. (pp. 194-206). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.University of Surrey. (2016, September 21). Research shows that how students engage with feedback is as important as its content. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 2, 2016 from

1 comment:

Angelina Van Dyke said...

That is a good question for the haptic attending skills and small talk paper - what do students do with the feedback we give!

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