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Language Teaching Research 12,2 (2008); pp.

183210

Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax


Ahlem Ammar Universit De Montral, Canada

The merits of recasts have been widely debated and investigated in and out of the language classroom. This quasi-experimental study examines the impact of recasts in comparison to prompts and no corrective feedback on francophone learners acquisition of English third person possessive determiners. Sixty-four students from three intact intensive English as a second language classes carried out 11 communicative activities during which they received corrective feedback according to the condition they were assigned to. An oral picture-description task and a computerized fill-in-the-blank task that kept record of participants latency to retrieve the correct forms were administered prior to the treatment and immediately after it ended. Four weeks later the oral picture description task was readministered. Analyses of individual participants oral data revealed that prompts were more effective than recasts and no corrective feedback in helping learners move up to more advanced stages of a developmental possessive determiner scale. This was especially apparent for low-proficiency learners. Data from the computerized task showed that prompts allowed learners to retrieve possessive determiner knowledge faster than recasts. Keywords: automatization, corrective feedback, instructed second language instruction, possessive determiners, prompts, recasts

In his revised interaction hypothesis, Long (1996) contends that recasts can be effective in promoting second language (L2) development because they juxtapose the learners incorrect rendition and the teachers or native speakers reformulation. This juxtaposition is thought to create the optimal conditions to attend to the formal properties of the utterance because the meaning originally expressed by the learner is kept constant (Ellis, 1994; Long, 1996). This theoretical argument has generated considerable research about corrective feedback (CF) in general and recasts in particular. Three main questions at the centre of this research are as follows. (1) Do teachers/native speakers provide recasts? (2) Do learners notice recasts? (3) Do recasts promote L2 development? While descriptive research has established that recasts are the most frequently used technique in the language
Address for correspondence: Ahlem Ammar, Universit de Montral, C.P.6128. succursale Centre Ville, Montral, Qubec H3C 3J7, Canada; email: ahlem.ammar@umontreal.ca
2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore) 10.1177/1362168807086287

184 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

classroom (Braidi, 2002; Chaudron, 1977; Doughty, 1994; Ellis, Basturkmen, & Loewen, 2001; Fanselow, 1977; Iwashita, 2003; Loewen, 2004; Lochtman, 2000; Lyster & Ranta, 1997; Panova & Lyster, 2002; Sheen, 2004), the jury is still out about their noticeability and hence their effectiveness in promoting L2 learning.

1 The noticeability of recasts


Several studies have looked at the noticeability of recasts, measuring this construct in terms of learners immediate response to the teachers reformulations (i.e. uptake) (Braidi, 2002; Doughty, 1994; Lyster & Ranta, 1997; Mackey & Philp 1998; Panova & Lyster, 2002; Oliver, 1995, 2000; Sheen, 2004), learners retrospective recall (Mackey, Gass, & McDonough 2000; Mackey, Philp, Egi, Fujii, & Tatsumi, 2002; Slimani, 1992), and cued immediate recall (Philp, 2003; Trofimovich, Ammar, & Gatbonton, 2007). There seems to be agreement that despite their frequency, recasts are not the most effective in leading to uptake.1 In a study where he looked at the nature of recasts, Lyster (1998) reported that recasts and non-corrective repetitions had similar forms and functions and were used interchangeably. These similarities, according to him, may obscure the corrective intent of recasts rendering recasts less effective in leading to uptake and to L2 development especially in second language classrooms in which meaning and/or content is the focus of instruction. Similar concerns about the potential ambiguity of recasts were raised earlier by Fanselow (1977) and Chaudron (1977). Although plausible, it seems unwarranted to argue against the potential facilitative role of recasts only because they were found to lead to limited uptake. As argued by several researchers (Braidi, 2002; Gass, 1997; Long, in press; Lyster, 1998; Mackey & Philp, 1998; Oliver, 1995, 2000) immediate responses to teachers reformulations should not be taken as proof of noticing for two reasons. First, as explained by Ellis, Basturkmen, & Loewen (2001) and Loewen (2004) uptake is optional. That is to say, learners may opt not to react to the teachers feedback even when it is appropriate to do so. Besides, it is not always possible and appropriate to produce any uptake. Second, uptake does not necessarily imply noticing and interlanguage development as it may be parrot-like repetitions of the teachers or native speakers reformulations (Gass, 2003). Mackey et al. (2000) investigated learners noticing of recasts through stimulated recalls. They found that participants failed to perceive recasts targeting morphosyntactic errors and were more successful at doing so with lexical and phonological errors. The apparent inability to notice the corrective intent of recasts on morphosyntactic errors shed doubt, once again, on the effectiveness of recasts in promoting L2 development. However, firm conclusions could not be drawn because the methodology used (i.e. stimulated recall) is not without its problems. The findings based on this methodology

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depend heavily on the learners ability to fully reconstruct thought processes after they occurred and not while they are happening. Philp (2003) and Trofimovich, Ammar and Gatbonton (2007) used cuedimmediate recall to measure the extent to which recasts are noticeable as a function of different learner variables (proficiency level, for both Philp and Trofimovich et al. and memory capacity, attention skills, and analytical ability for Trofimovich et al.). Results from both studies indicated that low proficiency learners were less able to notice recasts than high proficiency learners. In addition, Trofimovich et al. showed that learners attention control and analytical abilities largely predicted the effectiveness of recasts. That is, efficient attention control and strong analytical abilities were associated with learners accurate production of L2 morphosyntax after hearing a recast. In summary, research about the noticeability of recasts indicated that learners ability to notice recasts is quite limited especially when provided in reaction to morphosyntax or/and to low proficiency learners. Although indicative, these results can not be taken as solid evidence against the utility of recasts in the language classroom. For those conclusions to be reached, more experimental and quasi-experimental research is required.

2 Experimental and quasi-experimental research on the effects of recasts


The majority of the studies looking at the acquisitional value of recasts have been carried out in laboratory settings (Carroll & Swain, 1993; Han, 2002; Ishida, 2004; Iwashita, 2003; Leeman, 2003; Long, Inagaki, & Ortega, 1998; Mackey & Oliver, 2002; Mackey & Philp, 1998). This body of research has shown that recasts can aid interlanguage development and can do so especially when the moderating effects of the linguistic structure (Ishida, 2004; Iwashita, 2003; Long et al., 1998) and learners proficiency level/readiness to acquire it (Mackey & Philp, 1998) are taken into account. In a study investigating the effects of recasts and models on the acquisition of Japanese fronted locative constructions and adjective ordering and Spanish object topicalization and adverb placement, Long et al. (1998) reported no differences between the two experimental conditions with respect to the Japanese grammatical targets. As for the Spanish structures, analyses of gain scores showed significant short-term benefits for recasts over models for adverb placement only. The findings pointing to the selective role of recasts were also reported by Iwashita (2003), Ishida (2004), and Leeman (2003). Mackey and Philp (1998) looked at the effects of recasts in relation to learner proficiency. Using three groups of ESL learners (i.e. recast, interaction, and control), they found that participants who were more ready to acquire the target form questions benefited from recasts more than those who were not ready to do so. Furthermore, results indicated that the readies in the recast group were able to produce more questions at higher developmental

186 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

levels than the readies in the interaction group. These findings revealed useful information about the selective effectiveness of recasts in relation to learner proficiency. Evidence for the beneficial role of recasts has been weaker in classroom research. This includes studies that have compared the effects of recasts to no corrective feedback (Doughty & Varela, 1998)2 and to other CF techniques (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Ellis, Loewen, & Erlam, 2006; Lyster, 2004). Using quasi-experimental research designs with pretest-treatment, immediate and delayed posttest structures, Ammar and Spada (2006) and Lyster (2004) investigated the effects of recasts and prompts defined as CF techniques that push the learners to self-correct on the acquisition of English possessive determiners and French grammatical gender respectively. Written and oral measures were used as dependent variables in the three testing sessions to measure the effects of the treatments. Ammar and Spada (2006) reported that the prompt group significantly outperformed the recast group on the immediate and delayed written post-tests. Results from the oral test indicated that the prompt group benefited more than the recast group. However, the difference between the two groups was found to be statistically significant only at the time of the delayed post-test. A similar pattern of results emerged from Lysters study insofar as the prompts group outscored the recast group in both written post-tests. No differences were found between the two groups in the oral tests. Another finding reported in Ammar and Spada (2006) is noteworthy. When both experimental groups were each divided into low- and highproficiency subgroups, analyses indicated that (a) prompts were more effective than recasts for the low-proficiency learners, and (b) prompts and recasts were equally effective for high-proficiency learners. This finding was obtained in the written and oral immediate and delayed post-tests. Finally, when the effects of recasts were compared to those of the control group, the recast group did significantly better than the control group in the oral task. Lyster, on the other hand, reported no significant differences between the recast group and the control group (called FFI in his study). Ellis et al. (2006) investigated the effects of recasts in comparison to metalinguistic feedback defined as feedback that provides the learner with metalinguistic information about the error after repeating it. An oral-elicited imitation task and a grammaticality judgement task were employed to measure the effects of the CF techniques on the acquisition of the past tense ed prior to the treatment (pre-test) immediately after it ended (post-test) and 12 days later (delayed post-test). Results indicated that the metalinguistic group did better than the recast group on both measures at the delayed posttest. When compared with the control group, results showed that the recast group did not perform significantly better than the control group. In sum, research about the effectiveness of recasts has not yet provided clearcut evidence to support the theoretical claims that present recasts as the ideal technique to draw learners attention to the formal properties of the language.

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This lack of evidence is more apparent in classroom research indicating that further research is warranted. Indeed, in a meta-analysis of studies that have examined the effects of CF on L2 learning, Russell and Spada (2006) contend that there is a need not only for a greater volume of studies on CF, but also for studies that investigate similar variables in a consistent manner (p. 32). The present study is an attempt to fulfill that research objective. Another finding that emerges from the present review of some of the L2 recasts literature points to the potential beneficial role of feedback techniques that push the learners to self-correct, referred to as prompts in Ammar and Spada (2006) and Lyster (2004) and metalinguistic feedback in Ellis et al. (2006). While suggestive, these findings need to be consolidated by designing more research comparing the same corrective feedback techniques.

3 Methodological limitations of CF research


In a meta-analysis of the 49 experimental and quasi-experimental studies investigating the effects of form-focused instruction (both proactive and reactive) on L2 development, Norris and Ortega (2000) highlighted that the majority of the studies were short-term in nature and employed measures that required the application of L2 rules in highly focused and discrete ways (p. 483) as dependent variable. The over-reliance on this type of measurement tools, according to them, might have biased the findings by disfavouring more implicit treatments, claims that have been reiterated by Doughty (2003). Since then, there has been a tendency to use oral tasks, mainly oral picture description tasks, as dependent variables. Although those tasks may differ in terms of the required response types (i.e. constrained vs. free) and therefore vary in their validity as measures of implicit knowledge, they are considered to be more appropriate than metalinguistic tasks (e.g. grammaticality judgements, or text completions). In a recent study designed to investigate how a test battery measured students L2 knowledge, Ellis (2005) contends that implicit and explicit knowledge can be distinguished along seven criteria, namely degree of awareness, time available, focus of attention, systematicity, certainty, metalanguage, and learnability. Having implicit knowledge implies that the learner can, under time pressure, respond to primarily meaning focused stimuli according to feel as opposed to rules. He or she must do so consistently with an elevated level of certainty and without having to draw on any metalinguistic knowledge. In light of these arguments and the claim that implicit types of CF such as recasts may aid the development of implicit knowledge in L2 classrooms, research designs should include more varied measurement tools. As before mentioned, many studies have used oral information-gap activities and picture-description tasks that are primarily meaning focused and feasible without having to rely on rules or metalanguage. However, these tasks do not necessarily impose time pressure on students one of the criteria outlined by Ellis (2005) and hence may permit

188 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

reflection and eventually monitoring especially if the participants know that they are being evaluated. Tests that impose time pressure or involve some measure of students reaction time are a good addition to the existing body of research. Apart from shedding light on the impact of different CF techniques on learners implicit knowledge, such measures may help keep track of another dimension of knowledge, namely how fast and automatic this knowledge is. Thus it is important to develop and use not only measures of learners implicit knowledge but also tasks that measure the speed with which they can access and retrieve this knowledge. In psycholinguistics research claims have been advanced about the potential benefits of pushing learners to selfcorrect on speed of retrieval. De Bot (1996) contends that pushing learners to produce modified output may help strengthen knowledge representations and automatize retrieval of linguistic forms. This argument has also been put forth by Lyster and Ranta (1997), who argued that prompts allow opportunities for learners to automatize the retrieval of target language knowledge that already exists in some form (p. 57). In a longitudinal study where he looked at the effects of practice (whether through comprehension, production or a combination of both) in the use of L2 grammar rules on learners error rate and reaction time, DeKeyser (1997) reported that learners became more accurate and more automatic by virtue of practice. While useful, these results can not be used to inform L2 pedagogy because they were obtained in a highly controlled environment and especially with an artificial language. In fact, DeKeyser acknowledges that no specific recommendations for teaching methodology should be made before the findings of this study have been put to the test in the more ecologically valid context of real second language classrooms (p. 215). The present study is an attempt to respond to this need and to validate the claim that pushed modified output can automatize retrieval of morphosyntax.

4 The current study


In accordance with research reporting that recasts positively affect L2 development, the first hypothesis of this study postulates that: H1. Learners who receive recasts in the process of performing communicative activities will benefit more than learners who do not receive any CF. In light of previous research indicating the superior effectiveness of techniques that push learners to self- or peer-correct (referred to as prompts), the second hypothesis posits the following: H2. Prompts will be more effective than recasts in leading to L2 morphosyntactic development. In line with the arguments about the potential effects of pushed output on speed of retrieval and eventually automaticity, the third hypothesis postulates that: H3. Prompts will affect the speed with which learners retrieve morphosyntax and that they will do so more than recasts.

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I Method
The data for the present study are part of a larger project (Ammar, 2003) in which a passage correction task, an oral picture-description task and a computerized fill-in-the-blank test were used as dependent variables to measure the effects of recasts, prompts and no feedback on L2 learning. Results from the quantitative analyses of the passage correction task and the oral picture description task were reported in Ammar and Spada (2006). Data from the computerized task and from the oral task were selected for the current analyses.

1 Participants
Three intensive English as a second language (ESL) teachers from three primary schools in the Montreal area and their respective intact classes (64 students in total) participated in this study. All participants were in grade 6 and in the second half of the school year. A questionnaire determined that they had limited exposure to English outside of school, a situation consistent with foreign language learning. The three teachers were selected on the basis of a preliminary observation of six volunteer intensive ESL teachers. This observation lasted 3 hours per teacher and was coded in real time by the researcher sitting at the back of the classroom. It established that (a) all the teachers had comparable styles insofar as they all emphasized fluency through activities that primarily targeted listening and speaking, and (b) they rarely dealt with the formal properties of the language, which aligns with the findings reported in Lightbown and Spada (1994). Part A of the communicative orientation of language teaching (COLT) observation scheme (Spada & Frlich, 1995) was used to determine the teachers teaching style (see Ammar & Spada, 2006, for complete information about the observation). Given that CF is the focus of the present study, a category was added to Part A of the COLT scheme to keep track of the teachers use of the two types of feedback techniques of interest to the study namely recasts and prompts. Two other categories were included: (a) ignore to keep a record of the errors to which teachers did not react, and (b) other to account for the use of any other CF techniques. This part of the observation revealed that among the volunteer teachers one responded only with recasts, two relied on a combination of techniques with prompts being the most frequent type (i.e. between 40% and 50% of the time), one teacher ignored her students errors, and one used explicit feedback (defined as CF that provides the correct form along with an explanation) most of the time. In light of these findings, the recaster, one of the prompters, and the teacher who did not provide CF were selected to participate in the study. It was deemed important to assign teachers to the treatment conditions compatible with their CF behaviour. This was done to avoid any salience that might be added to the treatments were teachers asked to provide CF in a way that differed from their habitual corrective styles.

190 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

2 Target structure
Third person possessive determiners (PDs) his and her were the target of this study because they have been shown to be problematic for francophone ESL learners (Lightbown & Spada, 1990; Martens, 1988; J. White, 1998; Zobl, 1984, 1985). Gender assignment in PDs is at the source of this difficulty. French and English assign gender to PDs differently. Whereas PDs agree with the gender of the determined noun in French, PDs in English agree with the gender of the possessor. The following example illustrates this difference in the directionality of agreement. Le garon joue avec sa maman. *The boy is playing with her mother. The boy is playing with his mother

3 Design
A pre-test-treatmentimmediate post-testdelayed post-test design was used to identify the effects of prompts and recasts. As explained earlier, the recaster was assigned to the first experimental group (i.e. recasts, n 22), the prompter to the second (i.e. prompts, n 22) and the no corrector to the control group condition (n 20). The first experimental group teacher was asked to reformulate her students ungrammatical utterances and to never provide any grammatical explanations. She was also told not to push her students to self-correct. The prompter was asked to always push her students to self-correct through three techniques of Lyster and Rantas (1997) negotiation of form namely elicitation, repetition, and metalinguistic feedback. She was explicitly informed that she was under no circumstances to provide the correct form (see Ammar & Spada, 2006 for examples of the corrective feedback instructions provided to the experimental group teachers). The control-group teacher was asked not to use any CF technique, which parallels her normal teaching style.

4 Materials a Treatment materials: The instructional intervention was spread over a


four-week period and consisted of two main parts: a three-phase instruction session that lasted 45 minutes and 11 communicative activities, each of which lasted 30 to 45 minutes. In the first phase of the instruction session, the three teachers provided a rule of thumb about PD use adapted from J. White and Ranta (2002). Then students engaged in some semi-controlled practice of that rule. In this phase, participants were required to provide the appropriate PDs in three cloze passages. After correcting these passages and further explaining the rule when deemed necessary, a one-way information-gap activity was performed to further practice PD use but in a less-controlled manner. The instruction session was included in the present study to control for previous

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knowledge. Given that prompts cannot be used to elicit forms students do not know already (Lyster, 2004), an instruction component in which the PD rule was explained and practiced was deemed necessary. This component was provided to the three groups in order to disentangle its effects from the effects of the experimental variable of interest (i.e. corrective feedback).3 Once the three-phase instruction was provided, students from the three participating groups engaged in the 11 communicative activities during which the experimental teachers were asked to provide CF in accordance with the experimental conditions to which they were assigned.

b Testing materials: A computerized fill-in-the-blank task and an oral picturedescription task were used. In the oral picture-description task, students were required to describe cartoons from the For Better or For Worse series (Johnston, 1978), each of which portrayed a child with one or two parents in the midst of a problem (see Appendix A). Six pictures were used in each testing session. To ensure equal use of the two target PDs, three pictures were about a girl and three pictures were about a boy. The interviewer presented the pictures, one picture at a time, to each learner individually and asked him or her to describe what was happening with the little girl or boy. All of the interviews took place in a separate classroom and were tape-recorded, transcribed and analyzed. Results pertaining to the different groups performances on this oral task are reported in Ammar and Spada (2006). For the purposes of this paper, individual participants performances will be analyzed in terms of developmental stages (see the analysis section). The computerized test consisted of 90 simple-line drawings depicting members of two families (see Appendix A), each consisting of two grandparents, two parents and their children (one male, one female),3 all engaged in ordinary daily activities like playing and eating. Each of these drawings was paired with a fill-in-the-blank sentence. Of these 90 sentences, 64 were test items testing knowledge of PDs and 26 were distractors testing different lexical targets. The first event in each sequence was picture viewing. Here the learners saw a drawing on the screen and were asked to press the space bar as soon as they were ready for the next event. The second event was a fill-in-the-blank sentence. Here the learners read a sentence with a missing word in it. The word corresponded to a PD for the test items and to a lexical item for distracters. After reading the sentence, students were asked to press the space bar again for the third event. The third event was a multiple-choice task. Students were required to choose, as fast as possible, from three possible options to fill in the blank. The time that elapsed between pressing the key to view the options and pressing another key to choose the correct form was recorded. This procedure made it possible to measure the speed with which students retrieved the correct PD form. Figure 1 displays the different steps of the computerized fill-in-the-blank test.

192 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

Figure 1

Schematic representation of the computerized fill-in-the-blank task

5 Procedure
The oral task was administered on the three testing sessions to all the participating students except for the prompt group on the delayed post-test. Given that the delayed post-test was administered during the last week of the school year, all the teachers were busy evaluating their students. Consequently, only 12 random students from the prompt group took the delayed oral test. All students did the computerized test on the pretest and immediate post-test. The task was not administered on the delayed post-time because of the same time constraints. Before doing the computerized fill-in-the-blank task some training was undertaken to: (a) familiarize the students with the semantic content of the test and to ensure that they knew it; (b) familiarize them with the technical logistics of the task. To achieve the first objective, students were told that they were going to answer questions about two families: the Browns and the Whites. They were shown the family portrait of each family and were told how each family member was related to the other members. Then, students were required to do two oral exercises to make sure that they knew who the people in the pictures were and how they were related to each other.4 For instance in one of these exercises, students saw a list of names and a picture set of each family member. Their task consisted of matching the names with the corresponding pictures (see Appendix A). To familiarize the students with the technical aspect of the task, they were given a chance to try it out before the actual test to allow them to become more at ease with all the predetermined and labelled keys that they had to

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press at each level of the task. A training exercise replicating the format of the distracter items was developed to attain that goal. Once, the training exercise was over, students did the actual test. Two versions of the test were administered in a counterbalanced order. Half of the students in each group got the first version on the pretest and the second version on the post-test and the second half got the versions in reverse order. One day following the pre-test, a briefing session was held. The researcher met with the teachers and gave them two booklets to assist them in their participation in the study. One of the booklets contained all of the teaching materials and was given to the three participating teachers. The second booklet was given to the experimental group teachers only. It described the objectives of the study and provided a detailed description of the CF techniques to use during the experimental treatment. Each teacher received the information corresponding to the CF condition she was assigned to. The experimental treatment started the day following the briefing session and lasted 4 weeks after which the immediate post-test was administered. Four weeks later the delayed post-test was administered. Figure 2 illustrates the different components of the experimental intervention and their chronology. Unfortunately, all three participating teachers did not agree to any videorecording or audio-recording of their classrooms, nor were they willing to have observers in their classrooms on a regular basis to avoid any potential disruptions

Day 1: Pre-test

Day 2: Teacher briefing session Session 1: Instruction for 3 groups Day 3: Start of experimental treatment + 11 Communicative sessions for 3 groups + feedback for experimental groups 4 weeks

Day 30: Immediate post-test

Day 60: Delayed post-test Figure 2 Schematic representation of the experimental intervention

194 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

that might accrue from such interventions. Consequently, several steps were taken to ensure that the different conditions were implemented as intended. First, all the instructional packages that were developed for the teachers were tightly organized and, as explained above, thoroughly explained during the briefing session that preceded the experimental treatment. Second, the researcher stayed in regular contact with the teachers to respond to their questions and to ensure that they were not having problems implementing the activities. Finally, the researcher was given permission to observe the first two activities in each class to make sure that the teachers were providing corrective feedback as intended. Although these measures did not allow the researcher to determine the frequency with which feedback was provided, they helped determine that the teachers were providing the type of feedback required by their assigned condition. It is important to remember that teachers were asked to provide their students with the type of CF (i.e. recast, prompts, and zero feedback) that was observed to be consistent with their own natural feedback styles.

II Analysis
Students performance on the oral test was analyzed by assigning participants to developmental stages using the scale developed by Zobl (1984, 1985) and adapted by J. White (1996, 1998). The eight-stage scale was divided by J. White (1996) into three main categories: (1) stages 12: pre-emergence; (2) stages 34: emergence; and (3) stages 57: post-emergence. Table 1 illustrates the PD developmental scale (see Appendix B, Table A.1, for the criteria used to assign people to the different stages). Given that only 12 participants from the prompt group participated in the delayed oral post-test, it was decided to carry out the stage analyses with a total of 36 participants, 12 participants from each group. The choice of the 12 participants from each of the groups was random. The quantitative analysis of the oral task (see Ammar & Spada, 2006) revealed that the effects of the treatments depended heavily on the learners proficiency level. In light of these findings, students progress along the developmental scale was also analyzed in relation to their proficiency level.5 Data from the computerized task were analyzed in terms of accuracy and speed. While data from all the students who took the test were examined in relation to accuracy, only those who obtained an accuracy rate of 90% or more on the pretest were included to investigate the effects of feedback in relation to speed of access. Each participants mean reaction time (RT) was calculated in terms of milliseconds. Only RT scores pertaining to the participants correct responses were used to calculate these means. Before computing the RT mean for each participant, the data were trimmed: the two highest and the two lowest RT values were discarded from each students range of

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Table 1 Possessive determiner stage development. Adapted from J. White (1996) Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 pre-emergence Avoidance of his and her and/or use of definite article pre-emergence use of your for all persons, genders and numbers Emergence Emergence of either or both his/her Emergence preference for his or her (accompanied by overgeneralization to contexts for the other form) post-emergence differentiated use of both his (not with kin-different gender) post-emergence agreement rule applied to either his or her (kin-different gender) post-emergence agreement rule applied to both his and her (kin-different gender) post-emergence error-free application of agreement rule to all domains

Stage 5 Stage 6 Stage 7 Stage 8

Note: Kin-different: contexts in which the possessor and the possessed entity have different genders, e.g. He is playing with his mother.

scores to reduce the variability within his/her performance on the one hand and within his or her groups on the other. An analysis by coefficient of variability (CV) was undertaken to determine the extent to which the change in latency scores reflected a qualitative change (i.e. automatization or proceduralization). CV is defined as standard deviation (SD) divided by mean RT and was treated by Segalowitz and Segalowitz (1993) as an indicator of the nature of change (i.e. qualitative or quantitative). A quantitative change (i.e. a simple speed-up) is obtained from a change in speed with little or no change in SD. A qualitative change is obtained when the performance becomes faster (i.e. shorter reaction times) and especially more stable, more efficient and automatic (i.e. smaller SDs). In fact, for this change to occur, Segalowitz and Segalowitz contend that the reduction in variability should exceed the reduction in latency.

III Results 1 Oral test


Results of the individual participants performance on the oral test are illustrated in Table 2. As Table 2 shows, the three participating groups behaved similarly on the pre-test. Nearly all students were at emergence stages (stages 34). By the time of the immediate post-test, different patterns emerged. All participants from the prompt group moved up to post-emergence (stages 57), in particular

196 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax


Table 2 Stage assignment Participant Group Pre-test Stage Immediate posttest stage 6 4M 7 7 7 4M 4M 4F 6 3 4F 4F 7 7 7 5 4 6 7 4F 4M 3 6 7 7 7 7 7 6 7 7 6 7 7 7 7 Delayed posttest stage 6 4M 6 7 6 4F 4M 4M 7 3 5 6 6 6 6 5 6 5 7 4M 4M 3 8 4M 7 7 6 7 6 7 6 6 6 7 7 6

1* 2 3 4 5 6 7* 8* 9 10* 11* 12* 13* 14* 15 16 17* 18 19 20* 21* 22* 23 24 25 26* 27* 28* 29 30* 31 32 33* 34* 35 36

Control Control Control Control Control Control Control Control Control Control Control Control Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Recast Prompt Prompt prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt Prompt

3 4F 4M 4M 4M 4M 3 2 4M 2 3 4F 3 4M 6 4M 3 3 4M 1 3 3 3 6 4M 4f 4M 4M 4M 3 1 4M 4M 2 6 4F

Note: 4M overgeneralization of his: 4F overgeneralization of her. * participants who were assigned to the low proficiency group in Ammar and Spada (2006).

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stage 7. Some of the recast group students (65%) moved to post-emergence stages but not many (40%) qualified for stage 7 and 35% remained at emergence stages (stages 34). Finally, while some participants from the control group were able to reach advanced stages (40%), many were classified as emergent (60%). These same patterns were maintained at the delayed posttest. While all participants from the prompt group were able to stay at postemergence stages, only two thirds of the recast and control group were able to do so. Apart from showing that the prompts group benefited the most in terms of developmental stages, Table 3 reveals that learners who were assigned to the low-proficiency level in the quantitative analyses of the same task behaved differently, depending on the treatment they received. While all low-proficiency participants from the prompts group were classified as postemergent on both post-tests, only 33% of the recast group students were assigned to post-emergence stages on the immediate post-test and 50% on the delayed post-test. Low-proficiency students from the control group revealed a poorer performance in that 83% and 50% remained at pre-emergence stages in the immediate and delayed post-tests respectively.

60 50
Mean

40 30 20 10 0 Pre-test Post-test

Recast Prompt Control

Figure 3

Accuracy results from the computerized task

2 Reaction time task


Results from the computerized task revealed no differences between the groups in terms of accuracy (see Figure 3) at the post-test. Analyses of co-variance with the pre-test as the co-variant revealed that the difference in accuracy means was not significant, F (2, 56) .359, p .7. In terms of reaction time, Figure 4 displays the effects of the different treatments on the learners speed to access and retrieve the correct PD form. At a descriptive level, the control group seems to be the biggest beneficiary in terms of RT with the prompt group coming second and the recast group third. However, one fact is noteworthy. The prompt group was the slowest at the pre-test and was able to catch up with and outperform the recast group on the immediate post-test but

198 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

remained slower than the control group. However, both the prompt and control group recorded the same gains from the pretest to the post-test (i.e. 1000 milliseconds). ANCOVA analyses revealed that the difference between the groups was significant at the post-test, F (2, 37) 6.20; p .001. Post hoc pair-wise comparisons revealed that the prompt group was significantly faster than the recast group who in turn was slower than the control group. The difference between the prompt group and the control group was not significant. Analyses by CV indicated that only the prompt and control groups showed a decrease in their CV from the pre-test to the post-test. The recast groups CV, on the contrary, increased from one test to the other. Table 3 summarizes the findings. To see how the different participants in each group related to one another, within-group analyses of correlation were undertaken. The purpose of this analysis was to see whether the participants RTs and CVs were correlated. These analyses revealed that there was a significant correlation between the learners RT and CV for both experimental groups on the pretest. This positive correlation implies that the faster participants within each of the two experimental groups showed less variability and more automaticity than the slower ones. Post-test results indicated that the difference between the fast and slow participants was maintained for the recast group but not the prompt group. In fact, the post-test within-group correlation for the recast group became highly significant indicating a more clear-cut division between the slow and fast participants. This division no longer held for the prompt group suggesting one of two things: (a) the fast participants lost some of the automaticity they showed at the pre-test; or (b) the slow participants caught up with the fast ones who initially had a head start. The findings from the correlation analyses are displayed in Table 4.

IV Discussion
This study set out to investigate the differential effects of recasts, prompts and no corrective feedback on L2 learners acquisition of English possessive determiners. Analyses of individual-learner performance on the oral test
5000
Reaction time (MSCs)

4000 3000 2000 1000 0 Pre-test Post-test


Recast Prompt Control

Figure 4

Reaction time results

Ahlem Ammar 199


Table 3 Coefficient of variability analyses Group RT Prompt Recast Control 4204 3912 3880 Pre-test SD 1724 1531 1678 CV 0.397 0.385 0.425 RT 3214 3563 2895 Post-test SD 1223 1510 1180 CV 0.377 0.408 0.402

indicated that learners who received CF benefited more than those who did not. When the effects of prompts and recasts were compared, findings indicated that all learners who were pushed to self-correct via prompts were able to move up to post-emergence stages and that only two thirds of the recast group students were able to do so. The obtained pattern of results applied to the immediate as well as the delayed post-test. When the oral data were analyzed in relation to the learners proficiency, results indicated that all low proficiency learners from the prompt group were able to orally produce post-emergence PD forms on both post-tests as opposed to 50% for the recast group. None of the control group participants reached post-emergence on the immediate post-test and 33% of them did so on the delayed post-test. Results about the overall comparative effects of recasts and prompts corroborate the findings obtained from a quantitative analysis of the same data (see Ammar & Spada, 2006), but refute the overall pattern reported by the other classroom study that compared the effects of the same two CF techniques on the development of French L2 morphosyntax (i.e. Lyster, 2004). In fact, Lyster reported that even though learners who were pushed to self-correct via prompts obtained higher accuracy scores on the written tasks than the recast group, they were unable to achieve the same superiority on the oral task. Results about the effects of CF as a function of proficiency level align with the findings reported in Mackey and Philp (1998) and Trofimovich et al. (2007). Students inability to benefit from recasts to the same extent as prompts may be due to the differential noticeability of both corrective feedback techniques. Although no direct measure of noticing was used in the present study, it may be argued that learners were unable to notice recasts. This interpretation becomes more plausible in light of CF research which showed how difficult it is for L2 learners to notice morphosyntactic reformulations (Mackey et al., 2000). Arguably, learners in the recast group might have been able to detect the reformulations but could not store them in long-term memory for subsequent retrieval and accurate use. Prompts, on the opposite, by explicitly signalling the presence of an error and pushing the learners to modify their own output, might have been more noticeable and hence more effective. A second goal of the study was to investigate the effects of CF on L2 automatization. Although participants were equally fast in retrieving PDs at the time

200 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax


Table 4 Group r Prompt Recast Control *p .05 **p .001 .606 .559 .387 Correlation findings Pre-test p .028* .030* .191 r .158 .749 .403 Post-test p .606 .001** .173

of the pre-test, with the prompt group being the slowest, a different pattern emerged by the time of the post-test. In fact, while results indicated that all groups witnessed a drop-off in their latency scores, the prompt group and control group achieved the highest gains. These results corroborate the findings from Dekeyser (1997) who reported gradual drop-offs in reaction time as a result of practice. However, unlike Dekeyser who reported equal effects for all kinds of practice (i.e. comprehension practice, production practice, and a combination), this study indicated that type of CF made a difference. Corrective feedback that pushed the learner to self-correct and no corrective feedback technique led to more gains than CF that provided the learner with the correct form. The positive effects for the control group treatment, although surprising, can be explained by the apparent difference between the teachers teaching style and the experimental intervention. As explained before, the control group teacher rarely drew her students attention to the formal properties of the language. She always ignored their errors and did not provide grammatical explanations. The experimental intervention consisted of an instructional session in which a rule of thumb was provided and practiced through different types of structured and semi-structured activities and of 11 activities during which students had to produce possessive determiners repetitively. This contrast between the way the teacher used to teach and the way she was doing it during the intervention might have increased the saliency of the target structure and contributed to the effects obtained in the computerized task. It might be argued that similar positive effects should have been obtained at the oral test. While that is true, it may be that, based on the instruction they received, the control group students developed the capacity to quickly judge PDs but are still not able to utilize that same capacity to orally produce them correctly. This can be taken as evidence that the oral picture-description task and the computerized fill-in-the-blank task measured different constructs. The findings from the prompt group, on the other hand, provide support for DeBots claim that repetitive pushed modified output helps learners automatize retrieval of L2 forms. However, the drop-offs in reaction time scores obtained in the present study should not be treated as signs of automatization

Ahlem Ammar 201

because analyses by coefficient of variability indicated that this change was not qualitative. That is gains in reaction time should be looked at as evidence of a speed-up effect (Segalowitz & Segalowitz, 1993). Arguably, qualitative changes could have been obtained had there been a delayed computerized fillin-the-blank task. This is plausible especially in light of research showing that the effects of prompts take longer to emerge (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Lyster, 2004) and that the effects of recasts can be short lived (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Doughty & Varela, 1998; Ellis et al., 2006; Lyster, 2004; Trofimovich et al., in press). An important finding that emerged from the analyses by coefficient of variability is noteworthy. When participants latency scores and their CV scores were correlated, results indicated that the gap between the slow and faster students that used to exist within the two experimental groups at the pre-test still existed only within the recast group at the post-test. The gap within the prompt group disappeared, which can have one of two meanings: (1) the fast participants became less automatic at the post-test; or (2) the slow participants became more automatic and caught up with the fast ones who initially had a head start. While the reaction time data could not be used to favour any of these interpretations, the second one seems more plausible in light of the findings from the oral task. As explained before all the low-proficiency learners, who might have been the slower ones at the computerized pre-test, moved up to post-emergence stages at the immediate and delayed oral posttests as a result of being pushed to self-correct. This improvement might have been coupled with a change in the latency with which they retrieved the correct PD forms. The low-proficiency learners from the recast group did not achieve the same significant change, which might explain why the gap between fast and slow students still remained within that group at the posttest. While plausible, further research is required before any conclusive interpretations can be provided.

V Conclusions and future research


It has been argued in the form-focused instruction literature that research investigating the comparative effects of explicit and implicit techniques should use proper measurement tools in order to avoid biased findings disfavouring implicit treatments (Norris & Ortega, 2000; Doughty, 2003). Using an oral picture-description task, the present study revealed that prompts and recasts are more effective than no feedback and that prompts may be more effective than recasts in leading to L2 morphosyntactic development especially for low-proficiency learners. While suggestive, this finding should be interpreted with caution because factors other than the ones investigated could have contributed to the reported outcomes. The target feature could be one of those factors. Researchers from cognitive psychology (e.g. Reber, 1993) contend that implicit learning is more likely to show advantages for

202 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

complex and difficult structures. In a paper where he presents the criteria for judging the comparative difficulty of different L2 structures, DeKeyser (2005) contends that the transparency of form-meaning relationships determines the level of difficulty of forms and hence the ease with which they will be learnt. Redundancy is a factor that determines this transparency. A form is said to be redundant when it does not contribute to the meaning being communicated because the meaning of that same form is already conveyed by another element of the sentence (e.g. third-person singular s). Redundant forms are difficult to learn. Possessive determiners (PDs) were chosen in the present study because of the difficulties they pose for francophone ESL learners. However, PDs are not redundant because they determine the meaning in a sentence (e.g. He is playing with his mother vs. He is playing with her mother). Spada, Lightbown and J. White (2005) explained how a misused PD is very likely to cause communication problems. Given that the relationship between PDs and the meaning they express is quite transparent, they can be classified as an easy structure that is likely to benefit more from explicit CF techniques (e.g. prompts) than implicit ones (recasts) and therefore perhaps not the best choice for a test of the basic hypothesis. Research that investigates the effects of prompts and recasts on the acquisition of a more complex structure or more than one structure at a time is required. The superior effectiveness of prompts was further strengthened by the reaction time data which indicated that the speed with which learners retrieved correct PD forms dropped by virtue of being pushed to produce modified output. Learners whose errors were reformulated did not show the same benefits. The questions that follow are: what did the computerized fillin-the-blank task measure? Did it measure the same construct as the oral picture description task? The unexpected results obtained especially from the control group suggest that implicit knowledge might not have been the construct measured by the computerized task. However, this is an empirical question that remains to be investigated.

Acknowledgements
I gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the participating teachers and students. I thank Nina Spada, Pavel Trofimovich and the two LTR anonymous reviewers for their valuable input and feedback on earlier versions of this paper.

Notes
1

Lyster and Ranta (1997) and Panova and Lyster (2002) reported that even though recasts were the most frequent CF technique in French immersion and adult ESL classrooms respectively, they were the least likely to lead to uptake and repair. However, in a study where she compared the occurrence of uptake in four different contexts French immersion, adult ESL, New Zealand ESL, and Korean ESL Sheen (2004) reported that recasts led to much more uptake in the New Zealand and Korean contexts highlighting, therefore, the moderating effects of context.

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2

It is worthy to note that Doughty and Varela (1998) operationalized corrective recasts as a combination of emphasized repetitions and recasts. In fact, recasts were provided only when learners failed to self-correct after the emphatic repetitions. While the provision of the instruction component to the three participating groups ensured their comparability and helped isolate the effects of feedback, it changed the function of the no feedback group from that of a true control to that of a comparison group. A true control group that does not get the instruction could add valuable information. Given that the use of PDs is context dependent insofar as the use of a feminine PD can be correct when the possessor is masculine (as in he is playing with her mother in reference to a girls mother as opposed to the masculine possessors mother), it was deemed necessary to develop pictures about pre-established people whose relations to each other were predetermined. For that reason all the 90 pictures were about two families: the White family and the Brown family) In Ammar and Spada (2006) students were divided into high- and low-proficiency groups in accordance with their pretest performance. Students who were less than 50% accurate were assigned to the low-proficiency group and those who were 50% or more accurate were assigned to the highproficiency group.

VI References
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Appendix A Oral picture description task

208 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax

Family portraits

Appendix A (continued)

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Computer-practice excrcise

210 Prompts and recasts: Differential effects on second language morphosyntax


Appendix B Table A. 1 Criteria of stage assignment

Stage 1 Pre-emergence Avoidance of his and her (01 correct uses, 12 incorrect uses) and/or use of definite article Stage 2 Pre-emergence Use of your (minimum of 2 times) for all persons, genders and numbers; 01 correct uses of his or her Stage 3 Emergence of either or both his/her 26 combined total correct uses of his and her, neither to criterion ((4 correct uses) Stage 4 Emergence: preference for his or her 4m) Preference for his; use of his to criterion (4 correct uses); probably accompanied by overgeneralization of his to contexts for her; 03 instances of her 4f) Preference for her; use of her to criterion (4 correct uses); probably accompanied by overgeneralization of her to contexts for his; 03 instances of his Stage 5 Post-emergence: differential use of both his and her without agreement rule Differentiated use of both his and her to criterion (4 correct uses); below criterion (01 correct uses) with kin different gender for his and her Stage 6 Post-emergence: agreement rule applied to his or her (kin different) Differentiated use of both his and her to criterion (4 correct uses); agreement rule applied to kin different gender to criterion (3 correct uses) for either his or her Stage 7 Post-emergence: agreement rule applied to his and her (kin different) Differentiated use of both his and her to criterion (4 correct uses); agreement rule applied to kin different gender to criterion (4 correct uses) for both his and her; errors with body part may continue Stage 8 Post-emergence: error-free application of agreement rule Rule applied to his and her (all domains, including body parts)

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