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Book contents

Chapter One - Theory and Approaches in Research into Interaction, Corrective Feedback, and Tasks in L2 Learning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 August 2020

Alison Mackey
Georgetown University, Washington DC


The focus of this book is explaining how to do research that examines the relationships amongst interaction, feedback, tasks, and second language learning. The book begins, in the current chapter, by talking about some of the theoretical underpinnings for this sort of research, before moving to practical considerations in the subsequent chapters, including how to design studies, the many ways of collecting, coding, and analyzing data, and what sort of issues and fixes for them can arise in research on how interaction, feedback, and task research may contribute to second language learning.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

The focus of this book is explaining how to do research that examines the relationships amongst interaction, feedback, tasks, and second language learning. The book begins, in the current chapter, by talking about some of the theoretical underpinnings for this sort of research, before moving to practical considerations in the subsequent chapters, including how to design studies, the many ways of collecting, coding, and analyzing data, and what sort of issues and fixes for them can arise in research on how interaction, feedback, and task research may contribute to second language learning.

Although there are a number of different theoretical foundations for doing research in interaction, feedback, and task-based learning, this brief review begins with the paradigm that has been central to the majority of work in these areas, known as the cognitive–interactionist paradigm, or also as simply the interaction approach. This perspective posits that second language acquisition research in interaction and corrective feedback is concerned with how aspects of language can be learned through the various processes and products of interaction, including input, output, and feedback. These processes are commonly brought together through communicative tasks which are frequently used in second language research as well as in task-based instruction. The origins of this line of research into second language interaction and corrective feedback are usually traced back to Long’s (Reference Long1981) original interaction hypothesis, which has evolved over time to reflect a more expanded concept of interaction (see Long, Reference Long, Ritchie and Bhatia1996, Reference Long2015; Mackey, Reference Mackey2012a). The interaction hypothesis now encompasses how interactional processes create learning opportunities for language learners including the mechanism by which corrective feedback can be utilized to promote modification of learners’ linguistic output and L2 learning. More recently, the interaction hypothesis has become known as an approach and has evolved and expanded such that in addition to the originally primarily cognitive and information-processing focus, “social factors are now regularly considered and researched as a part of the agenda” (King & Mackey, Reference King and Mackey2016, p. 211). Despite these different iterations of the definitions and scope of the interaction approach over time, the area of primary research interest remains the same – L2 learners’ acquisition of language through interaction, which includes corrective feedback as well as modified input and output, and which is often realized through communicative tasks whether for research or practice.

From its roots in the 1970s, second language interaction and corrective feedback research has increased exponentially. Almost a decade ago, there were reports that the number of publications in this field had tripled since the 1980s (Plonsky & Gass, Reference Plonsky and Gass2011), and over the last ten years this has increased even more, such that an increasing number of papers, books, and conference strands have now led to book series, special issues of journals, and even a dedicated professional organization and conference (The International Association for Task-Based Language Teaching, and its biannual conference, as just one example).

While studies in the 1980s primarily focused on whether there was a positive relationship between second language interaction and production gains, the empirical focus moved towards an emphasis on the direct assessment of learning outcomes in the mid 1990s. In the 1980s the mainstream research practice was cross-sectional investigation, with the field expanding in the 1990s to include a body of pre-test/post-test studies that directly addressed the interaction–learning relationship. Further growth of interaction–acquisition research was characterized by a move towards mainstream theoretical status (Gass, Reference Gass1997; Gass & Mackey, Reference Gass and Mackey2006; Long, Reference Long, Ritchie and Bhatia1996; Mackey, Reference Mackey1999; Mackey et al., Reference Mackey, Abbuhl, Gass, Gass and Mackey2012; Pica, Reference Pica1994). One example of its increasing reach has been the expansion of interaction work to include technology applications through computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Sachs & Suh, Reference Sachs, Suh and Mackey2007; Smith, Reference Smith2012; Ziegler, Reference Ziegler2016).

In parallel to interaction work, task research began to take off with early definitions of task by Long (Reference Long, Gass and Madden1985) and later ones by Long (Reference Long2015, Reference Long2016), Long, Lee, and Hillman (Reference Long, Lee, Hillman, Malovrh and Benati2019), Skehan (Reference Skehan1998), and Ellis (Reference Ellis2003) as scholars and practitioners came to recognize tasks both as effective for research and as pedagogic tools within lessons and a guiding principle for developing syllabi (Long, Reference Long2015; Long & Robinson, Reference Long, Robinson, Doughty and Williams1998). Significantly, as compared to other approaches to language teaching that have fallen in and out of favor, task-based language teaching is distinguished by being based in syllabi grounded in the real-world (authentic) daily tasks a specific group of learners needs to accomplish in their second language. This approach to using tasks in L2 instruction has a number of theoretical underpinnings, ranging from focus on form (Long, Reference Long, Lambert and Shohamy2000, Reference Long2015) to the cognition hypothesis (Robinson, Reference Robinson1995) and makes a number of specific, testable, and empirical claims, for example, in relation to task complexity (Robinson, Reference Robinson2007). Other approaches to tasks in instruction also exist, and full discussions can be found in excellent overviews like Bygate (Reference Bygate2015), Bygate, Norris, and Van den Branden (Reference Bygate, Norris, Van den Branden and Chapelle2015), and Ellis, Skehan, Li, et al. (Reference Ellis, Skehan, Li, Shintani and Lambert2019).

Just as tasks in language learning have been studied and used from different perspectives, interaction and feedback have also been considered in approaches other than the interactionist one. For example, sociocultural theorists (Lantolf et al., Reference Lantolf, Thorne, Poehler, VanPatten and Williams2015) believe, based on Vygotsky’s pioneering work, that developmental processes occur as a part and result of participation in cultural, linguistic, family, peer group, school, and other interactions and language learning is part of this. Studies of interaction, feedback, and tasks conducted in this paradigm use many of the same materials and methods as the ones carried out from the interactionist perspective, although the emphasis of many of them tends to be production rather than development. A number of interesting studies in this line of research have been carried out by Swain and her colleagues investigating how second language learners, often in classrooms, can progress their language learning by talking, either in the L1 or L2, about features of the new language (Swain & Lapkin, Reference Swain and Lapkin2002; Swain et al., Reference Swain, Lapkin, Knouzi, Suzuki and Brooks2009). Other approaches include language socialization, which focuses on how learners become members of a target-language group including, for example, classroom communities or second language learner communities. Learners’ and teachers’ identities are increasingly a focus of studies investigating beliefs. Investigations into the role of interaction, feedback, and tasks in L2 learning from the perspective of language socialization often take ethnographic or interpretative approaches to the collection and analysis of data, but mixed methods are also sometimes seen in this sort of research, hence, some of the methodologies described here may also be of interest to researchers grounding their work in socialization approaches. Duff (Reference Duff, Gass and Mackey2012) provides an excellent overview of work in this area.

Turning back to the approach that underpins the majority of work described in this book, the cognitive–interactionist paradigm, it is interesting to note that while interaction and feedback had been measured or valued in terms of their effectiveness on linguistic development since the mid 1990s, task-based language teaching was, until relatively recently, most frequently measured by changes to fluency, accuracy, and complexity, or simply put, production as opposed to development. However, over the last decades that has changed, with task studies, like interaction and feedback research, focusing on actual learning outcomes as well as changes in production. Currently, there are many hundreds of primary studies of interaction, corrective feedback, and tasks as well as an increasing number of syntheses and meta-analyses.

Accompanying this primary work and development of the approaches and underpinning for the theory, there have also been important innovations in research methods. Sometimes methodological advancement has driven theory and sometimes vice versa, which is quite typical in the social and psychological sciences in general. In the 1980s and 1990s traditional types of instruments and data collection methods tended to be recycled from study to study, and particular research questions and methods for addressing them showed a number of similarities across studies. This had one major advantage in that comparisons could be made of research that used similar or identical methods.

Over the last ten years in particular, though, methodologies have expanded and advanced, often driven by developments in technology and influenced by researchers who came to the area with a deeper understanding of fields like psychology, sociology, education, and even neuroscience.

With these developments, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of texts on the topic of research methodology in the general field of SLA (e.g. Mackey & Gass, Reference Mackey and Gass2016; Phakiti et al., Reference Phakiti, De Costa, Plonsky and Starfield2018). Some have examined specific domains of second language research such as child language (Hoff, Reference Hoff2011), narratives (Barkhuizen et al., Reference Barkhuizen, Benson and Chik2014), priming (McDonough & Trofimovich, Reference McDonough and Trofimovich2008), replication (Porte, Reference Porte2012), psycholinguistics (Jegerski & Van Patten, Reference Jegerski and VanPatten2013), and qualitative methods (Zacharias, Reference Zacharias2012). However, despite being one of the most researched areas in SLA (Plonsky & Gass, Reference Plonsky and Gass2011), the interaction approach, including research on feedback and tasks has, until now, lacked a book specifically covering research methodology in the area.

1.1 The Scope of This Book and the Inclusion of New Data

This book fills that gap by focusing on research methods in the three distinct but inter-related areas of second language acquisition: research on interaction, corrective feedback, and task-based language learning. One of the ways it does this is to include evidence from new data taken from two different studies that illustrate and exemplify various points and trends, including (a) a quantitative, experimental study of cognitive creativity, which shows how these three areas are related while driving forward the field’s understanding about individual differences in interaction and feedback-driven learning via tasks, and (b) a qualitative, descriptive study that exemplifies how knowledge about interaction, feedback, and task-driven second language learning can be shaped by the methodology used.

The book is designed to be both a reference and a guide for students, teachers, scholars, and anyone who is interested in conducting or appraising research on interaction in second language learning contexts, corrective feedback, and tasks. Written to be reader-friendly, features include highlighted boxes asking readers to pause and consider related questions, or read an article under discussion, together with key points highlighted as memory aids, charts, and graphics. By the end of the book, readers should have a good understanding of how key findings in the separate related areas of interaction, feedback, and task research have been obtained, as well as how these areas fit together, and, most importantly, feel confident in choosing amongst the various options and using them to carry out research in these three areas.

1.2 Theoretical Background

There are already a considerable number of published overviews of theories and research related to the topic of interaction in SLA, published in handbooks, in encyclopedias, in theories of SLA texts, and in standalone books (for just a few examples, see García Mayo & Alcón Soler, Reference García Mayo, Alcón Soler, Herschensohn and Young-Scholten2013; Gass, Reference Gass and Kaplan2010; Mackey et al., Reference Mackey, Abbuhl, Gass, Gass and Mackey2012; Mackey, Reference Mackey2012a). These overviews provide comprehensive summaries of the theory in the fields of interaction, corrective feedback, and tasks, including reviews of seminal works in the field. Rather than repeating such efforts, the current chapter briefly outlines key aspects of the cognitive–interactionist approach that are of interest, based on the different methodologies and instruments presented in this book, and then discusses some of the many places where interaction, corrective feedback, and tasks have already been thoroughly overviewed and explained, where readers are encouraged to go on to learn more about theory in the field of interaction, feedback, and task research. The focus of the rest of this book is on providing the information and tools needed to conduct a particular research project. Each section of the current chapter, then, concludes with open areas of research that I believe are ripe for new empirical investigations, presented to inspire new research projects for researchers to keep in mind as they read the remainder of the book.

1.3 Interaction Research

Research into interaction and its potential for affecting second language learning is based on investigations of the kinds of linguistic input learners receive, and the output they produce. Krashen’s (Reference Krashen, Brown, Yorio and Crymes1977) input hypothesis suggested that access to comprehensible input under facilitative conditions would support L2 acquisition. Swain’s (Reference Swain, Gass and Madden1985) output hypothesis proposed that learners also needed to produce the new language in order to learn it effectively. Long’s (Reference Long1980) interaction hypothesis suggested that SLA is facilitated by conversational interactions where learners have to negotiate for meaning and receive corrections of their productions. Schmidt (Reference Schmidt1990) added that learners need to consciously notice linguistic features in the input in order to acquire them. Table 1.1 presents some of the seminal articles that helped define key aspects of the interaction approach.

Table 1.1 Foundational articles for the interaction approach to SLA

InputInput hypothesisKrashen (Reference Krashen, Brown, Yorio and Crymes1977, Reference Krashen and Alatis1980)
Comprehensible inputLong (Reference Long, Gass and Madden1985)
OutputOutput hypothesisSwain (Reference Swain, Gass and Madden1985)
Modified outputSwain (Reference Swain and Hinkel2005)
Negotiation for meaningCorrective feedbackCarroll & Swain (Reference Carroll and Swain1993)
Interaction hypothesisLong (Reference Long1980, Reference Long, Ritchie and Bhatia1996)
Gass (Reference Gass1997)
Pica (Reference Pica1994)
Mackey (Reference Mackey1999)
NoticingNoticing hypothesisSchmidt (Reference Schmidt1990)

Since the inception of this approach to SLA, hundreds of empirical investigations and several meta-analyses have connected interaction to successful L2 development (see, for example, Keck, et al., Reference Keck, Iberri-Shea, Tracy-Ventura, Wa-Mbaleka, Norris and Ortega2006; Li, Reference Li2010; Lyster & Saito, Reference Lyster and Saito2010; Mackey & Goo, Reference Mackey, Goo and Mackey2007; Russell & Spada, Reference Russell, Spada, Norris and Ortega2006; and see Chapter 6 on meta-analysis for more details).

Overviews and reviews of work in interaction are available in a variety of handbooks and encyclopedias.

Read It!

García Mayo, M. D. P. & Alcón Soler, E. (Reference García Mayo, Alcón Soler, Herschensohn and Young-Scholten2013). Negotiated input and output / interaction. In J. Herschensohn & M. Young-Scholten (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 209–229). Cambridge University Press.

“This chapter is organized as follows: Section 10.2 presents a historical overview of the origins of research on the role of learner interaction in language learning, where we will refer to the seminal work by Hatch (1978b) and Long (Reference Long1980, Reference Long1981) and the latter’s important revision of the Interaction Hypothesis (Long Reference Long, Ritchie and Bhatia1996). Section 10.3 describes the major theoretical constructs of input, output and feedback and illustrates how interaction is argued to facilitate learning by providing contexts in which learners are exposed to L2 input and are “pushed” (Swain Reference Swain and Hinkel2005) to make their output more accurate. Interaction also provides learners with an opportunity to negotiate meaning and form with their conversational partners and to receive feedback in response to difficulties that might arise during conversational exchanges. Both negotiation and feedback have been shown to play an important facilitative role in language learning (Mackey, Reference Mackey2006; see also Chapters 29 and 30, this volume). Section 10.4 considers several factors that influence conversational interaction and Section 10.5 concludes the chapter, highlighting lines for further research within the IM.”

(p. 210)

Note that these authors refer to the theory as the “Interaction Model (IM)” rather than the “interaction approach.”

Read It!

Mackey, A., Abbuhl, R., & Gass, S. M. (Reference Mackey, Abbuhl, Gass, Gass and Mackey2012). Interactionist approach. In S. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 7–23). Routledge.

“In the 30 years since the initial formulation of the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, Reference Long1980, Reference Long1981), there has been an explosion of studies investigating the ways in which interaction can benefit second language acquisition (SLA), with the most recent work documenting its evolution from hypothesis to approach (Gass & Mackey, 2007a). This review begins with an overview of the historical background of the interactionist approach and then discusses the core issues surrounding it, examines some of the ways in which data are collected in this area of SLA, and explores the practical applications of the approach. Directions for future research will be addressed in the final section.”

(p. 7)

Read It!

Gass, S. M. (Reference Gass and Kaplan2010). Interactionist perspectives on second language acquisition. In R. B. Kaplan (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics (2nd ed., pp. 217–231). Oxford University Press.

“This article analyses the idea of second language acquisition from an interactionist perspective. The field of second language acquisition has been studied from many angles. This broad scope is due in part to the myriad disciplinary backgrounds of scholars in the field. This article deals with the interactionist perspective and, as such, is primarily concerned with the environment in which second language learning takes place. It is important to note from the outset that this perspective is by and large neutral as to the role of innateness. In other words, it is compatible with a view of second language acquisition that posits an innate learning mechanism; it is also compatible with a model of learning that posits no such mechanism. This article deals with interactionist approaches focusing on how learners use their linguistic environment to build their knowledge of the second language. To summarize, the interaction approach considers production of language as a construct important for understanding second language learning.”

(p. 217)

Read It!

Gass, S. M. & Mackey, A. (Reference Gass and Mackey2006). Input, interaction, and output: An overview. AILA Review, 19(1), 3–17.

“This paper presents an overview of what has come to be known as the Interaction Hypothesis, the basic tenet of which is that through input and interaction with interlocutors, language learners have opportunities to notice differences between their own formulations of the target language and the language of their conversational partners. They also receive feedback which both modifies the linguistic input they receive and pushes them to modify their output during conversation. This paper focuses on the major constructs of this approach to SLA, namely, input, interaction, feedback and output, and discusses recent literature that addresses these issues.”

(p. 3)

You can also find shorter, more concise overviews of the interaction approach to SLA in encyclopedias such as the Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.

Read It!

Mackey, A. & Goo, J. (Reference Mackey, Goo and Chapelle2012). Interaction approach in second language acquisition. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics (pp. 2748–2758). Wiley-Blackwell.

“The interaction approach to second language acquisition posits that learners can benefit from taking part in interaction because of a variety of developmentally helpful opportunities, conditions, and processes which interaction can expose them to. These include input, negotiation, output, feedback, and attention.” [Topics covered] “Input, negotiation for meaning in interaction, output in interaction, feedback in interaction, and noticing, attention, and working memory in interaction research. The entry also includes examples from data for each topic”

(p. 2748).

Read It!

Abbuhl, R., Mackey, A., Ziegler, N., & Amoroso, L. (Reference Abbuhl, Mackey, Ziegler, Amoroso and Liontas2018). Interaction and learning grammar. In J. I. Liontas (Ed.), The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (pp. 1–7). Wiley-Blackwell.

“This entry discusses the interaction hypothesis and how input, output, feedback, and attention are believed to facilitate the acquisition of second language (L2) grammar. Following a brief overview of the central tenets of the approach, the entry addresses recent research on the role of interaction, including negotiation for meaning and corrective feedback, and how empirical findings might be practically applied in the L2 grammar classroom”

(p. 1).
There are also several books dedicated to the interaction approach and its implications for research in SLA, which give useful overviews.

Read It!

Mackey, A. (Reference Mackey2012a). Input, Interaction, and Corrective Feedback in L2 Learning. Oxford University Press.

“The question of how interaction and corrective feedback affect second language (L2) learning has increasingly attracted the interest of researchers in recent years. This book describes the processes involved in interaction-driven second language learning and presents a methodological framework for studying them. A substantial amount of research on interaction has been carried out over the past two decades; the author provides a timely, comprehensive, and up-to-date survey of this significant body of work. In particular, she explores the recent growth in research into the role of cognitive and social factors in evaluating how interaction works. Researchers, research students, and all those working within the field of second language acquisition will find this book an authoritative and valuable resource.”

(Back matter)

Read It!

Gass, S. M. (Reference Gass2017). Input, Interaction, and the Second Language Learner (2nd ed.). Routledge.

“The volume provides an important view of the relationship between input, interaction, and SLA. In so doing, it should prove useful to those whose major concern is with the acquisition of a second or foreign language, as well as those who are primarily interested in these issues from a pedagogical perspective. The book does not explicate or advocate a particular teaching methodology but does attempt to lay out some of the underpinnings of what is involved in interaction – what interaction is and what purpose it serves. Research in SLA is concerned with the knowledge that second language learners do and do not acquire, and how that knowledge comes about. This book ties these issues together from three perspectives: the input/interaction framework, information-processing, and learnability”.

(p. i)

Other volumes explore specific interlocutors for interaction such as peer-to-peer interactions and the potential benefits for SLA.

Read It!

Philp, J., Adams, R., & Iwashita, N. (Reference Philp, Adams and Iwashita2013). Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning. Routledge.

Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning synthesizes the existing body of research on the role of peer interaction in second language learning in one comprehensive volume. In spite of the many hours that language learners spend interacting with peers in the classroom, there is a tendency to evaluate the usefulness of this time by comparison to whole class interaction with the teacher. Yet teachers are teachers and peers are peers – as partners in interaction, they are likely to offer very different kinds of learning opportunities. This book encourages researchers and instructors alike to take a new look at the potential of peer interaction to foster second language development. Acknowledging the context of peer interaction as highly dynamic and complex, the book considers the strengths and limitations of peer work from a range of theoretical perspectives. In doing so, Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning clarifies features of effective peer interaction for second language learning across a range of educational contexts, age spans, proficiency levels, and classroom tasks and settings”.

(p. i)

1.4 Open Research Areas in Interaction

One place to look for more ideas is the end of published research articles in the section called “future directions.” Often, authors will provide ideas for follow-up studies or identify gaps still existing in the line of research. Here are a few ideas from recently published articles:
  • Longitudinal studies of L2 development. The majority of experimental studies of interaction examine development via pre-, post- and (sometimes) short-term delayed post-tests. More studies could follow up with learners using longer delayed post-tests to identify the durability of treatments and quite a few articles finish with statements like “more longer-term research is needed.”

  • Studies of interaction in non-laboratory, non-classroom settings, such as in informal conversation groups, study-abroad interactions, or other non-traditional contexts and with learners who are more diverse than the typical college-aged educated young adults. For more information on this, see the discussion in Chapter 9. In a book called Second Language Interaction in Diverse Educational Contexts (Reference McDonough and Mackey2013), Kim McDonough and I included work in laboratory, classroom, and computer-mediated settings, but pointed out at the end that non-traditional settings such as conversation groups (e.g. Bryfonski & Sanz, Reference Bryfonski and Sanz2018; Ziegler et al., Reference Ziegler, Seals, Ammons, Lake, Hamrick, Rebuschat, McDonough and Mackey2013) could still yield many important and interesting new insights.

  • Studies of interaction with nontraditional learners like refugee populations. These are important because they get beyond the classic tertiary education settings. Tarone (Reference Tarone2010) for example has studied low-literacy learners, and King and Bigelow (Reference King and Bigelow2018) conducted SLA research with East African transnational adolescents.

  • Aptitude-treatment interaction (ATI) studies. This type of study examines the relationships between the effectiveness of instructional treatments and the unique characteristics, or individual differences such as in working memory, motivation, or aptitude, of the language learners. ATI studies often use mixed methods in classroom or experimental contexts. While research is increasingly taking these individual differences into account, the research presented in the current book on cognitive creativity represents one important avenue (Mackey et al., Reference Mackey, Gass, VanPatten and Williams2015; Mackey et al., Reference Mackey, Park, Akiyama and Pipes2014; Pipes, Reference Pipes2019) and other aspects, such as shame and guilt (Teimouri, Reference Teimouri2018) should be considered.

  • Action research conducted by classroom teachers for authentic learning purposes. These are very beneficial to other practicing language teachers and promote generalizability of findings by examining learning in diverse contexts with diverse groups of students.

1.5 Corrective Feedback Research

The provision and potential use of oral corrective feedback during interactions is both an element of the interaction approach described above, as well as a strand of research in second language acquisition that, in the context of instruction, is often discussed independently of interaction. In interaction, feedback typically occurs during instances of negotiation for meaning in which the learner’s interlocutor indicates in some way that an error or misunderstanding has occurred. Corrective feedback is frequently discussed in terms of its relative explicitness or implicitness. An example of an explicit form of corrective feedback is metalinguistic explanation in which the interlocutor points out the learners’ error and provides some explication of the problem, for example, a grammar rule to correct the error (e.g., You said “He walk.” You’re missing the 3rd person plural –s on the verb.) An example of more implicit feedback is a recast. Recasts are typically understood as when an interlocutor simply repeats back what a learner said, but with some or all of the learner’s errors corrected (e.g., “He walk” or “He walks”?) There are other types of feedback as well. Some examples are clarification requests (e.g., Sorry, what was that?), and simple repetitions of the error, but with rising intonation (e.g., He walk?). All vary in the degree to which they are explicit or implicit (or in some researchers’ terms direct or indirect, most often described so in the case of written corrective feedback; see Ellis, Reference Ellis2008 for an overview) depending on how the error is pointed out, how it is corrected, and the context of the interaction. As with work on interaction, there are original research papers, meta-analytic works, and handbooks and encyclopedia entries on this topic, where these concepts are concisely defined and described. Some examples are given in Table 1.2.

Table 1.2 Foundational articles and empirical examples of research on corrective feedback

FoundationsFeedback and focus on formGass & Varonis (Reference Gass, Varonis and Eisenstein1989)
Lightbown & Spada (Reference Lightbown and Spada1990)
Doughty & Varela (Reference Doughty, Varela, Doughty and Williams1998)
Implicit versus explicitLong (Reference Long, Ritchie and Bhatia1996)
Negotiation for meaningPica (Reference Pica1994)
Theoretical issuesLearner uptakeLyster & Ranta (Reference Lyster and Ranta1997)
Ellis, Basturkmen, & Loewen (Reference Ellis, Basturkmen and Loewen2001)
Sheen (Reference Sheen2004)
Noticing of feedbackMackey, Gass, & McDonough (Reference Mackey, Gass and McDonough2000)
Egi (Reference Egi2010)
Types of feedbackMackey & Philp (Reference Mackey and Philp1998)
Lyster (Reference Lyster1998a, Reference Lyster1998b)
Leeman (Reference Leeman2003)
Ammar & Spada (Reference Ammar and Spada2006)
Contexts of feedbackLaboratoryMcDonough & Mackey (Reference McDonough and Mackey2006)
Computer-mediatedSachs & Suh (Reference Sachs, Suh and Mackey2007)
ClassroomLyster (Reference Lyster2004)
Mackey (Reference Mackey2006)

The relationship between corrective feedback and L2 development has been investigated in classroom and laboratory settings (there are several meta-analyses on the topic as well, e.g., Brown, Reference Brown2016; Li, Reference Li2010; Lyster & Saito, Reference Lyster and Saito2010; Russell & Spada, Reference Russell, Spada, Norris and Ortega2006; and see below), with the majority reporting positive effects for development following receiving corrective feedback, although some studies, particularly in the Canadian classroom context did not find this trend (e.g., Lyster, Reference Lyster2004). Corrective feedback is a relatively high-frequency topic in SLA research with studies investigating how different variables such as the target of the feedback (e.g. phonological versus morphosyntactic feedback), how salient or explicit it is in terms of type, the interlocutor (e.g., a peer versus a teacher), and other learner individual differences (e.g., age, proficiency) affect how feedback is interpreted and the extent to which feedback promotes L2 development. The interaction approach and research on corrective feedback are closely intertwined in SLA research, meaning there are also a number of reviews of the interaction approach that include sections dedicated to corrective feedback and vice versa (see the reviews of interaction above, e.g., Gass & Mackey, Reference Gass and Mackey2006). These reviews provide more thorough explanations of the different types of feedback and the ways in which they have been defined and studied in prior literature. Meta-analyses on the topic of corrective feedback can be helpful to read to obtain overviews of the many ways in which corrective feedback is operationalized and studied.

1.5.1 Meta-Analyses of Corrective Feedback Research

Read It!

Russell, J. & Spada, N. (Reference Russell, Spada, Norris and Ortega2006). The effectiveness of corrective feedback for the acquisition of L2 grammar: A meta-analysis of the research. In J. M. Norris & L. Ortega (Eds.), Synthesizing Research on Language Learning and Teaching (pp. 133–164). John Benjamins.

“In this chapter, we report on a meta-analysis of research that investigated the effects of corrective feedback (CF) on second language (L2) grammar learning. We describe the rationale for undertaking this research and the steps taken in the collection and coding of 56 primary studies in preparation for the meta-analysis. Of these 56 studies, 31 were considered suitable for the meta-analysis and 15 provided sufficient data to calculate effect sizes. Due to this small number, a broadly inclusive approach was taken in meta-analyzing their findings. We report the results in terms of the overall effectiveness of corrective feedback for L2 learning.”

(p. 133)

Read It!

Li, S. (Reference Li2010). The effectiveness of corrective feedback in SLA: A meta-analysis. Language Learning, 60(2), 309–365.

“This study reports on a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of corrective feedback in second language acquisition. By establishing a different set of inclusion/exclusion criteria than previous meta-analyses and performing a series of methodological moves, it is intended to be an update and complement to previous meta-analyses. Altogether 33 primary studies were retrieved, including 22 published studies and 11 Ph.D. dissertations. These studies were coded for 17 substantive and methodological features, 14 of which were identified as independent and moderator variables. It was found that (a) there was a medium overall effect for corrective feedback and the effect was maintained over time, (b) the effect of implicit feedback was better maintained than that of explicit feedback, (c) published studies did not show larger effects than dissertations, (d) lab-based studies showed a larger effect than classroom-based studies, (e) shorter treatments generated a larger effect size than longer treatments, and (f) studies conducted in foreign language contexts produced larger effect sizes than those in second language contexts. Possible explanations for the results were sought through data cross-tabulation and with reference to the theoretical constructs of SLA

(p. 309).

Read It!

Brown, D. (Reference Brown2016). The type and linguistic foci of oral corrective feedback in the L2 classroom: A meta-analysis. Language Teaching Research, 20(4), 436–458.

“Research on corrective feedback (CF), a central focus of second language acquisition (SLA), has increasingly examined how teachers employ CF in second language classrooms. Lyster and Ranta’s (Reference Lyster and Ranta1997) seminal study identified six types of CF that teachers use in response to students’ errors (recast, explicit correction, elicitation, clarification request, metalinguistic cue, and repetition) as well as target linguistic foci (lexical, phonological, and grammatical errors). These taxonomies have remained dominant in observational studies conducted in a growing range of second language teaching contexts. Several studies have acknowledged that contextual factors may influence how teachers provide CF (e.g. Mori, 2002; Sheen, Reference Sheen2004) with few generalizable conclusions. The present study brings together research in this area in the first comprehensive synthesis of classroom CF research seeking to aggregate proportions of CF types teachers provide, as well as their target linguistic foci. Findings reveal that recasts account for 57% of all CF while prompts comprise 30%, and grammar errors received the greatest proportion of CF (43%). The study further identifies a range of contextual and methodological factors (i.e. moderators) that may influence CF choices across teaching contexts, such as student proficiency, teacher experience, and second/foreign language context. A clearer picture of the patterns of CF that teachers provide and the variables that influence these choices serves to complement the growing body of research investigating the efficacy of CF in second language pedagogy”

(p. 436).

Articles in special editions of journals and encyclopedia entries also provide concise overviews of common operationalizations of corrective feedback variables and overviews of research questions.

Read It!

Sheen, Y. (Reference Sheen2010). Introduction: The role of oral and written corrective feedback in SLA. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32(2), 169–179.

“Oral CF research has been largely grounded in SLA theories and hypotheses, whereas written CF research has drawn on L1 and L2 writing composition theories. These differences notwithstanding, there are a number of issues common to the study of oral and written CF: (a) whether oral and written CF works, (b) what constitutes the most effective approach for implementing CF, (c) what contextual and individual learner factors contribute to the effectiveness of oral and written CF, and (d) whether it is possible to develop a common methodology for investigating the effectiveness of oral and written CF. I will briefly consider these key issues and pinpoint articles in the special issue that address them.”

(p. 169)

Read It!

Nassaji, H. (Reference Nassaji2016). Anniversary article: Interactional feedback in second language teaching and learning: A synthesis and analysis of current research. Language Teaching Research, 20(4), 535–562.

“The role of interactional feedback has long been of interest to both second language acquisition researchers and teachers and has continued to be the object of intensive empirical and theoretical inquiry. In this article, I provide a synthesis and analysis of recent research and developments in this area and their contributions to second language acquisition (SLA). I begin by discussing the theoretical underpinnings of interactional feedback and then review studies that have investigated the provision and effectiveness of feedback for language learning in various settings. I also examine research in a number of other key areas that have been the focus of current research including feedback timing, feedback training, learner–learner interaction, and computer-assisted feedback. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the issues examined with regard to classroom instruction.”

(p. 535)

Read It!

Lyster, R. (Reference Lyster and Chapelle2019). Roles for corrective feedback in second language instruction. In C. A. Chapelle (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.

“This entry addresses the roles of oral corrective feedback in classroom settings in terms of its various types, functions, and effects. It concludes with suggestions for future classroom‐based research on corrective feedback.”

[Topics covered] “Types of corrective feedback, functions of corrective feedback, effects of corrective feedback, future directions.”

(Wiley-Blackwell, 2019)

Suggestions for further reading also include chapters from two handbooks dedicated to corrective feedback research.

Read It!

Nassaji, H. & Kartchava, E. (Eds.) (Reference Nassaji and Kartchava2017). Corrective Feedback in Second Language Teaching and Learning: Research, Theory, Applications, Implications. Taylor and Francis.

“Bringing together current research, analysis, and discussion of the role of corrective feedback in second language teaching and learning, this volume bridges the gap between research and pedagogy by identifying principles of effective feedback strategies and how to use them successfully in classroom instruction. By synthesizing recent works on a range of related themes and topics in this area and integrating them into a single volume, it provides a valuable resource for researchers, graduate students, teachers, and teacher educators in various contexts who seek to enhance their skills and to further their understanding in this key area of second language education.”

(p. i)

Read It!

Nassaji, H. & Kartchava, E. (Eds.) (Reference Nassaji and Kartchava2019). The Cambridge Handbook of Corrective Feedback in Language Learning and Teaching. Cambridge University Press.

“Provides an in-depth analysis and discussion of the role of corrective feedback in second language learning and teaching. The overall aims are to synthesize recent works on a range of related themes and topics in this area and integrate them into a single volume that can serve as a comprehensive resource for those interested in error correction and feedback in various contexts. To meet these goals, the book brings together cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art articles that address recent developments in core areas of error correction and examine their implications for second language acquisition and instruction. Although many studies have investigated corrective feedback and ample evidence exists about its role in language learning, there is clearly a missing link between the findings of this research and what is actually practiced in many second language classrooms. Thus, another major aim is to help bridge this gap between research and pedagogy by identifying and discussing principles of effective feedback strategies and how to use them successfully in classroom instruction”.

(Cambridge University Press, 2019)

1.6 Open Research Areas in Corrective Feedback

Researchers interested in corrective feedback might consider reading some of the overview and seminal articles described above, followed by closely related meta-analyses to identify gaps in prior research that their project could address. A few potential areas for new studies include:
  • Understudied targets of corrective feedback (e.g., pragmatics, phonology). Some examples of understudied targets exist such as pragmatics (e.g., Culpeper et al., Reference Culpeper, Mackey and Taguchi2018; Fukuya & Zhang, Reference Fukuya and Zhang2002) and phonology (e.g., Bryfonski & Ma, Reference Bryfonski and Ma2019; Parlak & Ziegler, Reference Parlak and Ziegler2017), however more work is needed.

  • Less commonly taught, learned, and studied L2s (i.e., languages other than English, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean).

  • Individual differences (e.g., age, proficiency) in sensitivity or receptivity to different types of corrective feedback. New data on awareness and preference for corrective feedback, and the complex issues of learner age and gender and how these play into interlocutor effects are also discussed in this book.

  • Timing of corrective feedback (immediate versus short term versus delayed).

  • Modality of corrective feedback (e.g., CALL, written versus oral).

  • Contexts for corrective feedback (classrooms, labs versus naturalistic environments), including more variety in socioeconomic contexts.

  • Effects of opportunities and expectations to modify output following corrective feedback. Again, a small dataset of new data is presented to address this issue, but in general, research seems somewhat divided as to the benefits of participating in and observing feedback episodes. In other words, there is still a limited understanding of the benefits of self-correction following the various forms of corrective feedback.

1.7 Task-Based Research

Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is generally understood as an approach to language pedagogy that centers around authentic tasks, as opposed to grammar points, as the main focus of language instruction. Developed by Long and his colleagues (particularly in a 2015 book, described below) in response to traditional approaches to language teaching that did not take SLA research findings into account, most approaches to TBLT take cognitive–interactionist theories about SLA as a theoretical orientation. In this approach to teaching, the needs of learners (what they need to do with the second language) are evaluated and the curriculum is designed to prepare these learners to accomplish tasks matched to their authentic needs. In a task-based language classroom, learners interact with each other, hear corrective feedback from the teacher and their peers, while carrying out a target task (e.g., giving directions on a map, or in a more advanced class, critiquing each other’s conference abstracts, for example). Many studies of TBLT have investigated the ways tasks can be manipulated to promote different aspects of L2 development. Reading the foundational works (see Table 1.3) can be helpful in understanding the implications of the empirical work described below.

Table 1.3 Foundational articles for research on task-based language teaching

Foundations of TBLTTheoryLong (Reference Long1980, Reference Long, Gass and Madden1985)
Empirical beginningsBeretta & Davies (Reference Beretta and Davies1985)
Task-based syllabus designLong & Crookes (Reference Long and Crookes1992)
Task-based instructionSkehan (Reference Skehan1996)
PedagogyEllis (Reference Ellis2000)
Teaching TBLTNeeds analysisVan Avermaet & Gysen (Reference Van Avermaet, Gysen, Van den Branden, Bygate and Norris2006)
Task typesPica, et al. (Reference Pica, Kanagy, Falodun, Crookes and Gass1993)
Task complexity and sequencingRobinson (Reference Robinson and Robinson2001)
Task cyclesWillis (Reference Willis1996)
AssessmentNorris, et al. (Reference Norris, Brown, Hudson and Bonk2002)
Task variablesTask repetitionBygate (Reference Bygate, Bygate, Skehan and Swain2001)
Pre-task planningFoster & Skehan (Reference Foster and Skehan1996)
TeachersRole of the teacherSamuda (Reference Samuda, Bygate, Skehan and Swain2001)
Teacher trainingVan den Branden (Reference Van den Branden2006)

Tasks and the resulting outcomes have been meta-analyzed by several researchers (e.g., Cobb, Reference Cobb2010; Keck et al., Reference Keck, Iberri-Shea, Tracy-Ventura, Wa-Mbaleka, Norris and Ortega2006) finding positive trends in favor of the TBLT approach. Other work has investigated specific features of tasks such as task complexity (Jackson & Suethanapornkul, Reference Jackson and Suethanapornkul2013; Sasayama et al., Reference Sasayama, Malicka and Norris2015), methods of TBLT research (Plonsky & Kim, Reference Plonsky and Kim2016), and contexts of TBLT interactions and programs (Bryfonski & McKay, Reference Bryfonski and McKay2017; Ziegler, Reference Ziegler2016).

Read more about some foundational meta-analyses in the following Read It! boxes.

Read It!

Keck, C. M., Iberri-Shea, G., Tracy-Ventura, N., & Wa-Mbaleka, S. (Reference Keck, Iberri-Shea, Tracy-Ventura, Wa-Mbaleka, Norris and Ortega2006). Investigating the empirical link between task-based interaction and acquisition: A meta-analysis. In J. M. Norris & L. Ortega (Eds.), Synthesizing Research on Language Learning and Teaching (pp. 91–131). John Benjamins.

“Despite the seemingly rich context that task-based interaction provides for acquisition and the large amounts of research fueled by the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, Reference Long, Ritchie and Bhatia1996), oft-cited findings to date appear to be conflicting. While some studies (e.g. Ellis, Tanaka & Yamazaki, 1995; Mackey, Reference Mackey1999) demonstrate that task-based interaction can facilitate acquisition of specific linguistic features, others (e.g. Loschky, 1994) support no such relationship. This has promoted a variety of SLA researchers to question whether interaction can be empirically linked to acquisition. Over the past decade, however, and perhaps motivated by this criticism, the study of direct links between interaction and acquisition has gained momentum. The present meta-analysis was undertaken to synthesize the findings of all experimental, task-based interaction studies published between 1980 and 2003 which aimed to investigate the link between interaction and the acquisition of specific grammatical and lexical features. Results from 14 unique sample studies that satisfied stringent inclusion and exclusion criteria show that experimental groups substantially outperformed control and comparison groups in both grammar and lexis on immediate and delayed posttests. In addition, consistent with Loschky and Bley-Broman’s (1993) proposal, tasks in which use of the target feature was essential yielded larger effects over time than tasks in which use of the target form was useful, but not required. Initial support was also found for Swain’s (Reference Swain, Gass and Madden1985, 2000) arguments that opportunities for pushed output play a crucial role in the acquisition process. Drawing upon these findings, and the synthesis of study design features, we propose specific recommendations for future interaction research.”

(p. 91)

Read It!

Cobb, M. (Reference Cobb2010). Meta-analysis of the effectiveness of task-based interaction in form-focused instruction of adult learners in foreign and second language teaching [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of San Francisco.

“Research into the effectiveness of task-based interaction in acquisition of specific grammatical structures of the target language has been scarce and sometimes has presented conflicting findings. Task-based interaction engages learners in focused face-to-face oral-communication tasks that predispose them to repeated use of the target structure in meaningful contexts. This meta-analysis synthesized the results of 15 primary studies. On average, learners who received task-based interaction treatments through completing focused oral-communication tasks with native or nonnative interlocutors performed better than learners who received no focused instruction in the target structure and somewhat better than learners who received other types of instruction such as traditional grammar instruction, input processing activities, and so forth. The effect sizes were medium and small, respectively. Both the learners who received task-based interaction and those who received other instruction showed large within-group gains, whereas the gains demonstrated by the learners who received no instruction in the targeted form were insignificant or small based on Cohen’s 1977 classification. The effects of task-based instruction were durable”.

(p. ii–iii)

For an overview of the theoretical orientation and pedagogical implications of TBLT, read the short and clear encyclopedia entries cited below.

Read It!

Robinson, P. & Gilabert, R. (Reference Robinson, Gilabert and Chapelle2012). Task‐based learning: Cognitive underpinnings. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.

“Over the past thirty years, proposals for task‐based language teaching (TBLT) have drawn on a variety of claims about, and research into, the cognitive processes thought to promote successful second language acquisition (SLA).”

[Topics covered] “Cognitive processes in task‐based learning, design characteristics affecting the cognitive processing demands of tasks (planning time, single/dual tasks, intentional reasoning, spatial reasoning, here-and-now/there-and-then), effects of cumulative increases in the cognitive demands of tasks (output, uptake, memory, automaticity, aptitudes).”

(Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

Read It!

Bygate, M., Norris, J., & Van den Branden, K. (Reference Bygate, Norris, Van den Branden and Chapelle2015). Task‐based language teaching. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.

“Task‐based language teaching (TBLT) is an approach to pedagogy in which communication tasks are fundamental to language learning. In TBLT, the notion of task indicates language‐learning activities in which students are required to use language with a primary focus on meaning, in order to achieve some communicative outcome. They range in scope from brief spoken exchanges to extended written performances to integrated, multimodal language use in face‐to‐face or virtual environments.”

[Topics covered] “Tasks as educational constructs, tasks and language, tasks and learning, tasks and teaching, tasks and assessment, the future of TBLT.”

(Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)

There are several books that provide overviews of the TBLT pedagogy and its theoretical underpinnings.

Read It!

Long, M. H. (Reference Long2015). Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching. Wiley-Blackwell.

“This book offers an in-depth explanation of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) and the methods necessary to implement it in the language classroom successfully

  • Combines a survey of theory and research in instructed second language acquisition (ISLA) with insights from language teaching and the philosophy of education

  • Details best practice for TBLT programs, including discussion of learner needs and means analysis; syllabus design; materials writing; choice of methodological principles and pedagogic procedures; criterion-referenced, task-based performance assessment; and program evaluation

  • Is written by an esteemed scholar of second language acquisition with over 30 years of research and classroom experience

  • Considers diffusion of innovation in education and the potential impact of TBLT on foreign and second language learning” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).

Read It!

Ellis, R. (Reference Ellis2003). Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford University Press.

“This book explores the relationship between research, teaching, and tasks, and seeks to clarify the issues raised by recent work in this field. The book shows how research and task-based teaching can mutually inform each other and illuminate the areas of task-based course design, methodology, and assessment.”

(Oxford University Press)

As mentioned earlier, there is also a dedicated book series on topics in TBLT published by John Benjamins. In particular, the volume summarized in the Read It! box below provides a good overview of the field of TBLT and its history, and provides re-prints of seminal articles.

Read It!

Van den Branden, K., Bygate, M., & Norris, J. (Eds.). (Reference Van den Branden, Bygate and Norris2009). Task-Based Language Teaching: A Reader. John Benjamins.

“Over the past two decades, task-based language teaching (TBLT) has gained considerable momentum in the field of language education. This volume presents a collection of 20 reprinted articles and chapters representative of work that appeared during that period. It introduces readers – graduate students, researchers, teachers – to foundational ideas and themes that have marked the emergence of TBLT. The editors provide a first chapter that locates TBLT within broader discourses of educational practice and research on language learning and teaching. The book then features four sections consisting of important, often difficult to find, writings on major themes: fundamental ideas, approaches, and definitions in TBLT; curriculum, syllabus, and task design; variables affecting task-based language learning and performance; and task-based assessment. In a concluding chapter, the editors challenge simplistic notions of TBLT by reflecting on how this body of work has initiated the possibility of a truly researched language pedagogy, and they highlight critical directions in TBLT research and practice for the future”.

(John Benjamins, 2009)

Task-based language teaching represents the pedagogical classroom implications of the interaction approach to SLA described above and tests out the theories laid out in the interaction hypothesis (and other related hypotheses), along with negotiation for meaning and corrective feedback in educational settings. Therefore, this line of research is both important in terms of its implications for classroom teachers, administrators, and learners and is also ripe for further investigation.

1.8 Open Research Areas in TBLT

As a relatively new and still emerging area of research in the field of SLA, there are a number of interesting and open or understudied areas of research still to be investigated, as well as a few areas where a number of interesting studies have been carried out, but where the results are contradictory or not conclusive. A few possibilities include:
  • Effects of tasks when task variables are measured in terms of linguistic production and development (using traditional measures like complexity, accuracy, lexis, and fluency). For example, studies that investigate how different tasks encourage fluency at the expense of accuracy or complexity, and vice versa.

  • Outcomes of implementing TBLT in diverse language-teaching environments (i.e., contexts outside of the U.S. and Western Europe) in terms of school and student buy-in.

  • The role of teachers, their perceptions, individual differences like teacher anxiety (Goetze, Reference Goetze2018), and teaching practices on TBLT implementation, syllabus, and task design.

  • The role of individual learner differences in task performance (e.g., aptitude, proficiency, cognitive creativity, personality traits such as introversion/extroversion, etc.)

  • The role of teacher education and training programs for TBLT programs (e.g., Bryfonski, Reference Bryfonski2019b).

  • Program evaluations of TBLT in classrooms and schools to determine authentic learning outcomes of the pedagogy.

  • Case studies of TBLT and task implementations in worldwide contexts.

1.9 Conclusions

The goal of this chapter has been to provide a brief overview of the main theoretical and pedagogical approaches that provide the foundation for the studies and methodologies you will read about in the rest of this book. If you are a researcher looking for a topic, it may be helpful to read some of the suggested foundational work, or overviews and seminal articles referenced in this chapter before continuing on to read the rest of this book. This should help you find an area, perhaps using one of the “open research areas” sections, as a point of departure to orient your thinking as you progress throughout the rest of this book. For more experienced researchers who already have a study or research program in mind, this chapter has intended to provide a review, and illustrate how the three areas – interaction, feedback, and tasks – can be seen as related yet distinct. The remainder of the book provides detailed descriptions of the various steps involved in successfully completing an interaction, corrective feedback, and/or TBLT research project, including tips, tricks, and common pitfalls along the way.

Figure 0

Table 1.1 Foundational articles for the interaction approach to SLA

Figure 1

Table 1.2 Foundational articles and empirical examples of research on corrective feedback

Figure 2

Table 1.3 Foundational articles for research on task-based language teaching

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