27.5050, Review: Applied Ling; Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition: Bitchener, Storch (2016)

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Subject: 27.5050, Review: Applied Ling; Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition: Bitchener, Storch (2016)

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Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 12:50:09
From: Jungmin Lim [limjung2 at msu.edu]
Subject: Written Corrective Feedback for L2 Development

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-1192.html

AUTHOR: John  Bitchener
AUTHOR: Neomy  Storch
TITLE: Written Corrective Feedback for L2 Development
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Jungmin Lim, Michigan State University

Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


Research on written corrective feedback (CF) has been driven by pedagogical
questions, not necessarily based on theoretical frameworks explaining how
second language (L2) learners cognitively develop L2 knowledge and how their
social interactions affect L2 development. This volume, “Written Corrective
Feedback for L2 Development” by John Bitchener and Neomy Storch, endeavors to
present theoretical backgrounds for exploring the joint between written CF and
L2 development from both cognitive and sociocultural perspectives. The authors
focus on how written CF contributes to all L2 developmental stages,
encompassing feedback and implicit and internalized knowledge. They organize
this book to fit a wide range of readers including those wanting a
walk-through of written CF research to those who strive for updated
discussions from different theoretical perspectives. The book starts by
operationalizing key terms for written CF studies (Chapter 1), proceeds to
introduce underlying theories for written CF from cognitive (Chapters 2 and 3)
and sociocultural (Chapters 4 and 5) perspectives, and gives concluding
remarks (Chapter 6). 

In Chapter 1, “Introduction”, the book opens with clarifying its aim, which is
to bring two theoretical perspectives—cognitive and sociocultural—to explain
what has been discovered and what we should know to better understand the
roles of written corrective feedback in L2 development. In this chapter, the
authors define written CF and L2 development and explain why it is important
to see the potential benefits of written CF to L2 development. For defining
purposes, they put forward L2 development as a notion encompassing all the
progress from input to the end product whose changes are dynamic and not
necessarily linear. They concisely describe previous debate on written CF and
its effectiveness,and discuss why written mode of corrective feedback needs
more attention. 

Chapter 2, “The Cognitive Perspective on Written CF for L2 Development”,
overviews SLA theories rooted in cognitive psychology relevant to looking at
written CF for L2 development. To discuss how written CF as a form of input
may or may not contribute to the development of implicit knowledge from
cognitive perspectives, they introduce interactionist approaches and skill
acquisition theories. They first introduce skill acquisition theories of
strong interface position to account for how written CF possibly affects L2
knowledge development. Since written CF is mostly intended to increase
explicit knowledge, it is hypothesized that contextualized practices on
linguistic forms, to which explicit written CF has been directed, help L2
learners’ explicit knowledge become proceduralized and automatized. Also, the
authors discuss interactionist points of view, where a written CF is
operationalized as an input, which is the starting point of a computational
framework of a learner’s input processing. Drawing on Gass’s (1997) single
written CF framework, the authors describe the information processing of a
written CF as a form of negative evidence contributing to learners’ more
accurate output, which is considered as a manifestation of explicit knowledge
development. This accurate, modified output can be consolidated by
contextualized practices. Fully aware of the cognitivist accounts of written
CF, the authors discuss possible mediator variables (e.g., individual
differences, contextual factors), which may play a role while processing
written CF and consolidating knowledge. 

Relying on the theories introduced in the previous chapter, Chapter 3,
“Cognitively Informed Research on Written CF for L2 Development”, expands on
how previous research driven from cognitive perspectives has contributed to
our understanding of written CF for L2 development. The authors review
previous studies guided by five key questions in terms of: 1) the
effectiveness of written CF on L2 development, 2) the types of written CF more
facilitative of L2 development, 3) the comparative emphasis of written CF on
linguistic category, 4) comparison between focused and unfocused written CF,
and 5) the roles of individual and contextual features in the learning process
including written CF. In answering each question, the authors provide not only
critical evaluation on previous research but also describes relevant studies
in detail. This chapter clearly suggests informative and systematic reviews on
the studies of written CF, especially focusing on the end-products.

Shifting to sociocultural perspectives in Chapter 4, “The Sociocultural
Perspective on Written CF for L2 Development”, the authors illustrate how
sociocultural theory of mind has described written CF, which is articulated as
a form of assistance in human interactions, and how written CF possibly
contributes to L2 internalization. Fully drawn from Vygotskian psychology, key
tenets of sociocultural theory—the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and
scaffolding, mediation and tools—and three generations of activity theory are
addressed in three subsections. First, the authors demonstrate that written CF
as a scaffolding can be helpful to learners within the ZPD. Second, written CF
as a mediational tool is introduced. Mediation is defined as a process of
connecting an individual to the society, and tools are either physical or
symbolic means to achieve such processes. Here, the authors focus on language
as a primary tool for human. In other words, L2 learners’ thinking process is
mediated by language, the symbolic tool, while engaging in both collaborating
and self-scaffolding. Lastly, historical changes of activity theory are
described in detail including how each generation of activity theory is
suitable for different scopes of written CF research. This chapter mainly
emphasizes the contribution of the sociocultural approach to explaining
written CF in order to expand the horizon of written CF in which social
contexts can be taken into account. Some interesting caveats by the authors
include the lack of discussion of learners’ emotional dimension which had an
original role in the definition of scaffolding (p.83). In addition, they
cautiously address the avoidance of the role of cognition in this research

Chapter 5, entitled “Socioculturally Informed Research on Written CF for L2
Development” gives a critical review of the previous literature on written CF
studies from sociocultural theories. The outline of this chapter was similar
to that of Chapter 4, which introduces scaffolding, mediational tools, and
activity theory somewhat discretely. First, they present studies focusing on
written CF as a form of scaffolding in interactions between a student and a
teacher and between peers. In terms of mediational tools, according to this
chapter, research has described language as a symbolic tool to process written
CF and a computer as a material tool for the computer-mediated written CF.
Lastly, the authors review how previous studies adopting activity theory
contributed to establishing a holistic view on written CF. Given that only a
limited number of studies have exclusively looked at the written mode of CF,
this chapter includes some oral CF during conferences on students’ writings.
Throughout this chapter, the characteristics of postmodernist point of view
are discussed as merits and shortcomings at the same time. Socioculturally
informed written CF research focuses primarily on a rich description of
students’ (and teachers’) behaviors on written CF, thus informing us about the
holistic view on individual learners in a specific context. However, this line
of research delves less into how learners internalize what they may have
learned from the activities. 

This book ends with a comprehensive conclusion (Chapter 6) where Bitchener and
Storch encapsulate cognitive and sociocultural accounts for written CF and
reiterate what has been known and what needs to be supplemented to give a
coherent and comprehensive picture of the relationship between written CF and
L2 development. In this conclusion chapter, they emphasize the importance of
complementing various sources of evidence from different perspectives for
effective use of written CF in classrooms. They finally suggest future
directions for research on written CF provided by humans and automated writing
evaluation systems, which has received increasing attention as a supplementary
feedback giver.  


“Written Corrective Feedback for L2 Development” gives a comprehensive picture
of theories and empirical studies on how written CF possibly contribute to L2
development. This volume is invaluable for both novice and experienced L2
writing researchers, who seek theoretical foundations of written CF and
empirical evidence of effective implementation of written CF in the classroom.
The authors clearly define key concepts, introduce two main complementary, but
not mutually exclusive, approaches for written CF, critically review relevant
studies from cognitive and sociocultural perspectives and suggest future
research directions. 

Among many merits of this book, two points are worth mentioning. On the
organization side, the authors seem to put great efforts to give a big picture
of written CF and L2 development in both cognitive and sociocultural
perspectives theoretically and empirically. This integrative organization is
noteworthy in that the two approaches have been largely regarded as disparate.
Methodologically, cognitive research mainly adopts a positivist (quantitative)
approach, whereas sociocultural research practices a postmodernist
(qualitative) approach. Empirical research on written CF has also been
developed in cognitive and sociocultural perspectives somewhat independently.
Thus, the authors’ insightful comments to balance and integrate different
viewpoints are beneficial. Additionally, the extensive and coherent coverage
on a research topic helps readers understand how a similar phenomenon can be
interpreted or questioned in different ways. For example, in Chapter 3, one of
the key questions that previous cognitive approach seeks to answer is whether
a specific type of written CF is more effective for L2 learners. On the
contrary, research with a sociocultural background disputes such
predisposition about the presence of certain types of feedback superior to
another type. The authors devote to illustrating the strengths and weaknesses
of each theoretical perspective coherently and equally, leaving some
thought-provoking remarks.

Another significance of this book is the updated review on previous research
and the authors’ comments on it. Their critical reviews of the literature and
their commentaries on the research practices are valuable resources for
researchers and teachers interested in written CF. In Chapters 3 and 5, where
previous capstone studies are introduced, the authors comment on what needs to
be done to advance our knowledge. If readers expect more discussion on the
computer-assisted language learning, however, they may seek more discussions
on the automatized corrective feedback, which is generated by computer
algorithms (e.g., Criterion by Educational Testing Service, CyWrite by Iowa
State University). This book mainly discusses computers as an alternative
means of delivering CF, except for a few commentaries on the emergence of
automatized corrective feedback in the conclusion chapter. Considering the
rapid development of machine-generated written feedback, this book can be well
supplemented with related articles on automated corrective feedback (e.g.,
Lavolette, Polio & Kahng, 2015 for the accuracy of Criterion and students’
response to the computer-generated feedback; Li, Link, & Hegelheimer, 2015 for
the use of and evaluation on Criterion by teachers and students).

This book is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in how and why
written corrective feedback may or may not work. Reading this book, which is
fully fledged with theoretical discussions and critical reviews on the
specific topic, will help practitioners become more convinced to provide such
assistance to students, and will offer researchers an opportunity to build
their arguments from multiple perspectives. 


Lavolette, E., Polio, C., & Kahng, J. (2015). The accuracy of
computer-assisted feedback and students’ responses to it. Language, Learning &
Technology, 19(2), 50-68.

Li, J., Link, S., & Hegelheimer, V. (2015). Rethinking the role of automated
writing evaluation (AWE) feedback in ESL writing instruction. Journal of
Second Language Writing, 27, 1-18.


Jungmin Lim is a PhD student in Second Language Studies program at Michigan
State University. Her research interests are in second language writing,
computer-assisted language learning, and language assessment.


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