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Minimizing Verb Tense Errors

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5488 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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In 21st century, globalization, development of information technology and increase of population in English learners expand interests and demands on English writing skills (Warschauer, 2000). This gets connected to interests on effective composition strategies and it leads to promote development of effective English composition approach.

While facilitating at a school of secondary level as student-teachers the researchers were able to notice that most students have a lot of difficulties when it comes to writing activities during English classes. It was also observable when one of the researchers was checking second year students’ formal theme writing. They are regularly required to write formal theme writing, and it was found out that most of them still commit grammatical errors. Although, they are monthly given time to write journal entries as writing activities, researchers could not observe clear improvements on their written outputs. English teachers at Paco Catholic School (PCS) usually check students’ thoughts within essays but not for grammatical errors in depth. When checking formal theme writing, the content is usually prioritized rather than grammar.

As mentioned above, since writing is one of the significant factors in learning and teaching ESL and due to the existence of many problematic areas in writing, this study aims to build awareness about some L2 writing difficulties among learners and teachers with possible solutions to it.

Problem Description and Documentation

The present study is an attempt to observe and analyze the needs about specific difficulties among high school second year students in writing class. The data for this study are based on the analysis of formal theme writing, survey questionnaires given to the students, and interview of teacher.

Analysis of Grammatical Errors in Formal Theme Writing

The researchers collected and analyzed the formal theme of students from one section (II-13) in order to obtain some information about common grammatical areas that students commit errors. The purpose of this document analysis is to establish that the second year, section thirteen students have problems with their grammar problems in writing skills. First, formal theme of 40 students was checked by focusing on grammar. Overall, ten grammatical areas were classified, including verb form, tenses, verbs, preposition, pronoun, connectives, infinitives, article, degree of adjectives, and fragmentary. With all those areas, 324 grammatical errors were committed by the participants. Also, among those grammatical errors, verb tenses was identified as the highest rate by getting more than half percent.

Taking the mean values of the overall errors, the results indicate four most common errors that the students made, which are verb tenses (5.25), verb forms (1.1), followed by pronouns (0.65), and preposition (0.55). The next visible error was verbs and infinitives (0.2) while article is reported 0.075 respectively. Next are connectives, degree of adjectives and fragmentary (0.025).

This implies that the students have difficulty in the use of verb tenses when writing their formal theme. Through the results, researchers could figure out that most students failed to be consistent in using verb tenses. Even though they were discussing about the past events, past and present tenses were used alternatively. According to Darus and Subramaniam (2009), mistaken application of verb tense can be seen when the students did not apply the proper tense to the verb in the sentences. Meaning to say, it can be assumed that most of the students are not conscious of the different rules about tenses application. As an example, one student wrote:

“One day I have my family problem and I tell her (my friend) about this she listen and I can’t expect that she tell my family problem to other people …”

From the result of the formal theme writing, it was found out that there are grammatical areas for students to improve in their writing activities, especially correct use of verb tenses. Thus, it will be a big help for them if they receive error correction feedback from the teacher, either the feedback is implicit or explicit. It would be much better if the students check the feedback over and over, so that they will learn from the experiences and be aware of their mistakes or errors.

Survey Questionnaire Results

On October 18, 2012, the survey was conducted with one section (II-13) at Paco Catholic School. One of the researchers facilitated thirty-five students to respond on survey questionnaire. Among forty students (whose formal theme writings were analyzed), only thirty-five students were involved in this Survey due to out of school activity. About thirty minutes were taken to conduct this survey.

The questionnaire is managed with the aim of collecting data on the personal information of the respondents’ ideas of writing feedback. Most of the survey questionnaires items (from 2 to 5) are based on Ishii’s (2011) study (Refer APPENDIX B). This question adopts 5-Likert scale item (1=poor; 2=fair; 3=good; 4=excellent; and 5=perfect).

First of all, researchers would like to show the results of the subjective interpretation of the participants’ writing skill stands in class. The results showed that more than half of the respondents feel that their writing skill stands at fair. Followed by 28.57% answered their writing skill stands at good, 17.14% of students stated their writing skill stands at poor and lastly only 2.86% of students answered their writing skill stands at excellent.

Next finding is on how often they read over their composition again when teacher returns their formal theme writing with score. Figure 2 indicates percentages of the responses given to this question. Most of the students stated that they seldom read over their composition when teacher returns formal theme writing.

The other result is pointing out whether they check written comments or correction of teacher carefully or not. Figure 3 showed that 60% of respondents rarely check teacher’s comments and correction carefully. While only one student stated that she always checks teacher’s comments and correction carefully.

Next survey question revealed the result of how they treat importance of having few errors in English as possible in their written work. Figure 4indicates the percentages of the responses given to the questions on how they treat importance of having few errors in their written activities. The results showed that 42.86 % of the students think it is somewhat important having few errors in written activities while only 17% of respondents think it is very important having few errors in written activities.

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As similar with previous question, following question is reported how respondents treat importance of teacher points out grammatical errors in their written output. The results indicated 26 students, that constitute 74% of the whole population, consider a teacher point out grammatical errors on their written output in class is important. While none of the respondents think there is no importance on pointing grammatical errors in their written work.

The respondents were also asked about whether they are conscious about grammatical errors when doing written works in class or not. Figure 6 shows that 19 respondents are sometimes conscious about grammatical errors while only one respondent said that she is always conscious about grammatical errors when doing written works in class.

Interview of the Teacher

Ms. Azuilo is an English teacher of second year high school students at Paco Catholic School (PCS). She has been teaching for four years. This year, Ms. Azuilo is handling three boys’ classes (sections 10, 12 & 14) and two girls’ classes (sections 11 &13). Researchers observed and taught on all five of Ms. Azuilo’s classes during practicum at PCS. Since Ms. Azuilo was the one, who suggested to the researchers to write about participants’ problematic area in writing, researchers decided to have an oral interview with her for a better understanding of this problem. The interview was conducted last October 18, 2012 inside the High School English faculty room and the interview took about twenty minutes.

The first question was about particular difficulties her students seem to encounter when they deal with writing activities. Her response was that:

“It would be the grammar usage. When it comes to content, their thoughts are good but the grammar is not.”

In relation to first question, Ms. Azuilo was asked that if they commit any grammatical errors in their writing activities. She mentioned that:

“They do, specifically the verb tenses, as well as subject-verb agreement and some with the pronoun antecedent agreements. The students were able to use the grammar properly during the lessons, but since they can use English only during the lesson and not at home, they tend to easily forget the correct grammar usage.”

Lastly, researchers asked how the students deal with those difficulties and what teachers usually do to deal with their difficulties. Her response was that:

“Some of the students would have interventions, remedial or even ask questions to the teachers for clarifications. Therefore, I would usually have remediation classes or simply talk to the students personally. I also edit their papers and puts in the right grammar usage on it.”

Description of Work Setting

This study will be conducted in Paco Catholic School (PCS), an educational institution known as the largest Catholic school in South East Asia that first opened its doors in 1912 by the Franciscan missionaries. PCS is currently celebrating its 100th Foundation Anniversary or its Centennial Year this 2012. Co-institutional system is implemented in PCS where the girls and the boys are separated into different sections (i.e. odd numbers for girls’ and even numbers for boys’ sections) PCS is divided into three departments: Early Childhood Education, Grade School, and High School Department.

There is an average of 45 students in each class. There are bulletin board, teacher’s desk, air-conditioner (only for the boys’ sections), mini-library, plasma television, and blackboard in each classroom. The seating arrangement is traditional in most classrooms in a way that all the students are facing in front.

Writers’ Role

The writers are currently having their Practice Teaching or Practicum as student teachers in Paco Catholic School (PCS). The Practicum will last for three months, starting from September 2012 to December of the same year. It is required for them to accomplish 170 hours of direct teaching, 10 hours of classroom observation, and 120 hours of indirect activities. From Mondays to Thursdays, the writers have Practicum from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. On Fridays, they stay in PCS for whole day, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. One was assigned to handle second year and the other to handle third year English classes.

Generally, English subject for secondary level consists of literature and grammar. So far, the writers were assigned to facilitate the classes about the students’ reporting and assigned to facilitate the lessons more on grammar in English. Before conducting the lessons, the cooperating teachers require to make lesson plans according to the format of PCS (i.e. Understanding by Design Lesson Plan).

Review of Related Literature

According to British Columbia Ministry of Education (1999), English as a Second Language (ESL) is defined as what refers students, those whose mother tongue language(s) or language(s) of the home, is other than English and who may therefore necessitate supplementary learning in order to build up proficiency in English or it simply refers students who speak disparities of English that differ significantly from the standard English.

Writing with using different language is proved to be very difficult than writing with one’s native language. Thus, ESL educators are often finding that there are some common mistakes among L2 writers make. Generally, these mistakes appeal when the writers apply the rule of their native languages rather than their new language’s rules (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 1999).

According to Supaproofread (n.d.), unfortunately, little errors among L2 writers’ paper can distract reader from what they actually try to deliver from written output. Proper usage to write numbers, capitalization, when to utilize the article ‘a’ or ‘an’, appropriate usage of verb tenses and having the subject and verb agreement in numbers are a main mistakes as an ESL writer might make. Meaning to say, committing grammatical error in writing is very common for L2 learners. For those students who do not have enough language background, to articulate what they try to deliver in intelligible way is difficult in writing (Supaproofread, n.d.).

Growing significance of English in L2 writing is becoming gradually more dominant in both instructive programs and in proficient writing in non-English dominant countries (Leki, 2001, cited in Giridharan & Robson, 2012). Although, academic writing is an aspiration skill in secondary students, academic writing is frequently recognized as irresistible among L2 learners due to lack of grammatical and vocabulary competent (Giridharan & Robson, 2012).

In the context of this paper, the participants are all learners of English as Second Language (ESL). In this respect, ESL learning, specifically second language writing, becomes an important aspect of this study.

Accuracy in Second Language Writing

Writing is normally viewed as a complex skill and a difficult task (Graham, Harris & Mason, 2005, cited in Jahin & Idrees, 2012). This is frequently pointed to its intrinsically multifaceted features which mentioned by Wall (1981) as a “range from mechanical control to creativity, with good grammar, knowledge of subject matter, awareness of stylistic conventions and various mysterious factors in between.”

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According to Abu-Rass (2001), writing is a procedure for the writers throughout the investigation of thoughts and ideas, and the writers build them to be concise and concrete. It is a quite complicated skill for both native and nonnative speakers identical. In writing, learners should have sense of balance in various issues such as content, organization, purpose, audience, vocabulary, punctuation, spelling, and grammar structure. Thus, writing is particularly intricate for nonnative speakers because they are expected to produce written outputs that show mastery of all the aforesaid matters in a new language (Abu-Rass, 2001).

Verb Tenses as a dominant problem in Second Language Writing

The Writing Center (2009) reported that the top rated common grammatical error in writing is an incoherent usage of verb tenses. Moreover, it is proven that the participants of this study were found to be committing verb tense mistakes very commonly in their formal theme writing composition. Verb tense errors are not only committed by non-native English writers, but also native English writers. According to Lane and Lange (2011), verb-tense errors are worldwide (more serious) errors which builds a piece of writing to be complicated for the reader to comprehend content. Verb tenses express the time in sentence. Since the time controls a significant factor to deliver a message, a writer must be able to manage verb tenses in order for the reader to comprehend when actions and events go on (Lane & Lange, 2011). In addition, writers necessitate controlling verb tenses in order to converse other information such as duration (as combat to the completion of an event in the past). To summarize, proper usage of verb tense is a significant factor in writing because if writers did not (or are not able to) manage verb tenses, readers will have a big difficulty following the progression of events in writing (The Writing Center, 2009).

In another article, titled “Inconsistent Tenses” by Beckham (n.d.), the dominant problem encountered by ESL students is the verb tenses of their writing and more specifically, the consistency of usages in verb tenses. According to Beckham (n.d.), all the way through an ESL writing composition, it is not unusual to see tenses are messed up within incorrect form. As mentioned above, committing an error of verb tenses in writing composition is not only a concern for second language writers but also for native English writing students.

Beckham (n.d.) specified with ESL students that they utilize verb tense errors very commonly in their written outputs. He further reported that there are several reasons for it. Second language writers may be confused about how to form the verb tense properly since selecting a proper verb tense is a complicated task for ESL students. In other words, they may choose the verb tense mistakenly due to lack of knowledge about proper usages of verb tense (e.g. irregular verb, present and past forms of verb, etc.). Another reason is that there may be different rules about using verb tenses in their mother tongue language hence, ESL students tend to apply their mother-tongue language’s grammar rules in English grammar alike British Columbia Ministry of Education’s (1999) study as mentioned above (Beckham, n.d.). Also, it is related with the study of Escamilla and Hopewell (2007). They further discussed about it through code-switching [1] theory. They asserted that ESL students do not easily convert skills, strategies and languages transversely; students may relocate themselves and their understandings living and growing up in concurrent worlds. This kind of code-switching is obvious in the theoretical code-switches. Particularly where learners appropriately displayed that when they lived experiences in one language and were inquired to notify about them in a second language, they necessitated utilizing code-switching to precisely explain the event (Escamilla & Hopewell, 2007).

Form-Focused Instruction

In order for Second Language learners to have better application about forms of verb-tenses in writing composition, researchers decided to integrate Form-focused Instruction (FFI) in present study. The Form-focused Instruction refers to “any planned or incidental instructional activity that is intended to induce language learners to pay attention to linguistic form” (Ellis, 2001: 1-2). In Spada and Lightbrown’s (2008) study, they use the terms ‘isolated’ and ‘integrated’ form-focused instruction. Isolated FFI in language activities is separated from communicative language use in teaching language forms, while in integrated FFI, the language learners are taught the language forms with combination of communicative or content-based activities. The limitation of isolated grammar lessons is that it may be hard for learners to retrieve learned language features through isolation when applying in the context of communicative interaction.

In this reason, this paper will highlight more on integrated FFI where the students will be taught the selected language form by being exposed to communicative activities, in order for students to be able to retrieve and apply forms (i.e. verb tense).

In the study of Han (2002) titled “A Study of the Impact of Recasts on Tense Consistency in L2 Output,” Han tried to investigate on whether recasts would help L2 learners maintain tense consistency in their written output. With the participants, who are divided into groups of recast and non-recast groups, written and oral tasks were administered. In giving treatment, the participants were given “form-focused exercises” in relation to the past and present tenses. Han used cartoon strips with consideration of the participants’ interest and familiarity as well as primarily because its stories can be described with the mention of a past or present time when narrating. The participants were first to see the cartoon strip for a few minutes and then write the story based on it. It was revealed that recasts helped students in maintaining tense consistency in written outputs.

Error Feedback on Student Writing

To integrate Form-focused Instruction (FFI) in intervention of this study, researchers will utilize Error Feedback as a method. However, giving an error feedback in writing has been a controversial topic as many related studies argued the efficacy in helping develop student’s linguistic accuracy in students’ writing. This controversial issue is the momentum for additional studies that attempts to take in hand whether written error feedback smooths the progress in second language acquisition. In relation to the error feedback on student writing, there are two fundamental issues, which are ‘adequacy of teacher feedback’ and ‘student uptake of error feedback.’ The teacher’s role is crucial in many ways in order to provide accurate and adequate corrective feedback. Through the investigation of student or learner uptake, it is a good way to see how students cognitively perceive teacher’s corrective feedback.

In study of Ellis (2009, cited in Vyatkina, 2011), the effectiveness of Error Feedback is written as “context-dependent”. She discussed about several specific types of error feedback and said those specific feedbacks may be advantageous for the improvement of particular second language learner writing abilities in specific instructive contexts. Feedback can be offered as a direction for ultimate writing development (as far as learners are with apprehension) (Hyland, 2003). In the study of Chandler (2003), he experimented about whether teacher feedback in several types of errors could help East Asian college learners get better their writing accuracy and whether the effects would remain the rest of one semester. The results indicated that formal accuracy of student writing developed significantly.

As there are varying options accessible to teachers to offer Writing Corrective Feedback (WCF), teachers need to take into account the appropriateness of each depending on learners’ language level (Herrera, 2011). Language teachers have a duty to help learners to revise errors, in particular, regarding the fact that the learners worth and expect teachers’ feedback on their written outputs (Jimena, Tedjaatmadja & Tian, 2005). Meaning to say, language instructors play several significant roles as follows:

Once language teachers have an authoritative in classroom, they should have the right to settle down objectives of what the students have to attain in the writing class (Crème & Lea, 1997; Scott, 1996). However, level of students should be taken into consideration in this part, so that students will be able to achieve the expectations of teachers (Ferris, 2003). Therefore, language instructors need to amend anticipation of students’ achievements and teaching strategies to fit the students’ level. In this part, the teacher also should classify common errors what learners might make so that they will gain some ideas of what to do next with teachers’ teaching methodology (Leech, 1994).

According to Jimena et al. (2005), language instructor also has a role as a designer; teachers should, for all time, concern about what is best fittingly for students. Teachers should modernize themselves with what is currently going on inside the classroom. It is to be able to make accurate educational conclusion and also to apply exacting error correction schemes to language classroom instruction. If possible, teachers have to be advocated to interchange information, experience and knowledge with other colleagues to enlarge their insights, and to obtain new ideas on error correction schemes (Jimena et al., 2005).

In order to make available correction to students, teachers must take an action as scholars, who are fully attained with knowledge of the target language, such as grammar, vocabulary to facilitate them with supplying correction to students’ writing (Leech, 1994).

Another role as a language instructor is that they need to enhance learners’ self-confidence and coach them to be more independent in their learning (Ferris, 2002). At this moment, teachers will help learners to identify their individual errors; then learners will have more time to pay attention to those errors (Ferris, 2002; Xiang, 2004).

In the study of Wright (1987), learners’ affective surface also acts as a significant factor in improving their language growth. However, giving error feedback is unlikable practice for learners since some of them feel frustrated to be corrected their error. This is the reason why teachers have to encourage and persuade students to welcome their questions and worries. Encouraging comments, compliments about good points on their written outputs are also cooperative to motivate students to follow more (Wright, 1987).

When it comes to learners’ uptake of corrective feedback on writing, it is more on learners’ cognitive processes. Due of the difficulty in data collection, few studies have been investigated this area. Those studies have collected cognitive feedback processing data through think-aloud protocols, retrospective interviews, or pair discussions, including the observations about depth of processing and learners’ attitudes toward the feedback provided (Storch & Wigglesworth, 2010). In the study of Storch and Wigglesworth (2010), titled “Learners’ Processing, Uptake, and Retention of Corrective Feedback on Writing,” they implemented a case study composed of three sessions. The authors utilized pair discussions in order to collect data about the participants’ cognitive processing when given different types of corrective feedback. The discussions between all the pairs were audio-recorded. Through this study, it was found out that extensive engagement with the feedback on errors of certain grammatical areas led to high levels of uptake. In the case of this study, it could be better if extensive engagement with feedback on verb tenses might lead to uptake and correct use of these verb tenses (Storch & Wigglesworth, 2010).

Counter-Argument on Effects of Error Feedback on Student Writing

Regardless of the arguments, as mentioned above, the effects of error feedback has been controversy on whether error feedback helps L2 students improve the accuracy and the quality of their writing. Truscott (2007) showed a strong view against error feedback through his several studies. He argued that all forms of error feedback of ESL learners in writing are not only unsuccessful but also damaging and should be abandoned. Moreover, he gave attention to that although most ESL learners evidently need grammatical error feedback, teachers should not give it to them (Truscott, 2007).

Truscott’s (2007) review of studies written within several studies (Kepner, 1991; Semke, 1984; Sheppard, 1992, cited in Bitchener et al., 2005), it is claimed that error correction does not have a significant effect on improving L2 student writing. Given this issue, Truscott (2007) sought to investigate the effect of three different types of feedback on the accuracy performance of three targeted linguistic error categories in new pieces of writing (Bitchener et al., 2005). The study found that the type of feedback provided did not have a significant effect on accuracy when the three targeted error categories were considered as a single group (Bitchener et al., 2005). From this finding, one could easily jump to the conclusion that Truscott (1996) was right when he claimed that the provision of corrective feedback on L2 writing is ineffective.

Ferris (1999; 2002; 2004) on the other hand, makes a stand for the use of error correction in writing instruction. In her opinion Truscott’s (1996) conclusions are premature. She reasons that results from prior research have shown to be inconclusive because of its inadequate methodology, with the main problem that most studies did not include a proper control group. Hence, she argues that well organized or constructed study must be arising with unless any conclusions can be drawn about the incompetence of error feedback to develop learners’ upcoming writing (Ferris, 2002).

Direct and Indirect Feedback

It may be helpful to define some of the terms associated with corrective feedback in the literature. Two important terms are direct and indirect feedback (Ferris & Hedgcock, 1998; Ferris & Roberts, 2001; Lalande, 1982; Robb, Ross & Shortreed, 1986; Terry, 1989; Zamel, 1985, cited in Jafarpour & Sharifi, 2012).

Several studies have been compared between the effect of direct and indirect Written Corrective Feedback (WCF). These studies are controversially indicating ambiguous results. For example, Ferris (2003, cited in Vyatkina, 2011) figured out that indirect WCF strategies are more beneficial than direct WCF, while Chandler (2003) asserted that a better accuracy upgrading results are within direct WCF strategy, and Robb et al. (1986, cited in Vyatkina, 2011) mentioned no distinction between the two WCF strategies.

According to Lee (2003), direct feedback refers to “overt correction of student errors, that is, teachers locating and correcting errors for students,” while indirect feedback refers to “teachers’ indicating errors without correcting them for students.” For direct location of errors, teachers put the symbols, codes or comments right above or next to the errors by indicating underlines or circles on the errors. For indirect location of errors, teachers simply put a code or symbol in the margin on a certain line where the error is indicated to identify the error type (Lee, 2003). Though Ferris (2006) points out that those codes have not always been used consistently among researchers, she also distinguished direct feedback from indirect feedback. She said that direct feedback is provided when a teacher gives the student a particular correction, Ferris calls it as coded, and indirect feedback is provided when the teacher simply marks the error but does not correct it, termed as un-coded. According to Ferris (2006), in providing indirect feedback, some teachers tend to put marks on the mistakes to indicate the exact location and type of error, while others provide un-coded feedback that simply locates the error without directly revealing the error type. It then becomes the student’s task to check over and over again and correct the mistakes by seeing un-coded feedback (Ferris, 2006).

Acting upon this call, this study will report on investigation on the effect of error feedback on students’ accuracy of new pieces of writing. The researchers will compare the effectiveness of direct error feedback and indirect error feedback with two different experimental treatments.


The purpose of this action research is to investigate an intervention that would help reducing grammatical errors in ESL learners’ written outputs regarding the provision of error feedback. Through researchers’ observation on survey questionnaire and analysis of formal theme writing, researchers were able to notice that only a few learners have no problems to write with clear grammar usages (e.g. verb tense). Moreover, during interview of teacher, researchers were able to confirm that participants of this study lack proficiency in writing with English language due to the only uses of English during English class but not at home. Therefore, they tend to easily forget the correct grammar usage. In this part, researchers felt a need for teachers to provide an error feedback on their written output in order for learners to be aware of their weaknesses in writing proficiency and to be conscious about grammatical knowledge even they are in where mother tongue language is primarily used. Therefore, this study is purposed to conduct PCS secondary schools that adopted a language sensitive appr


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