confusion The two that may be confused are “focus on form” and “focus on forms.” The first (in the singular) refers to integrating form and meaning and drawing learners’ attention to specific linguistic forms in meaningful interaction. Typically, the form in question is causing some kind of communicative difficulty and the response involves requesting clarification or recasting (reformulating the learner’s utterance using the target form or grammatical structure to be learned). The second (in the plural) refers to teaching grammatical forms in isolation, outside of communication, and sequencing the order of instruction according to degree of linguistic complexity. A third approach, “focus on meaning,” refers to instruction that assumes exposure to substantial input in meaningful contexts will lead to acquiring the grammatical structure of the second language.

Bayley noted several limitations of the literature. Although many studies have examined different types of form-focused instruction, most of these studies have included international college students: few of them have included K-12 learners and fewer still have focused on K-12 learners in U.S. schools. There are also limitations in scope. For instance, Saunders and O’Brien (2006) report that the corpus of articles they examined yielded studies of only two areas of oral-language development that had been studied: (1) vocabulary and (2) question formation. Norris and Ortega (2000) performed a meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of the effectiveness of focus on form and focus on forms interventions. That meta-analysis included 77 studies published between 1980 and 1998; however, only 16 of them involved K-12 learners, and only one was specific to elementary-age children. Many of the best-designed studies of school-age learners have been conducted in Canada and included intensive English-language programs in Quebec or French immersion programs. There is no comparable research base for school-age English-language learners in the United States.

Although a small number of forms approaches have been studied, Bayley suggested some conclusions that can be drawn from the studies he reviewed:

  • Properly designed focus on form instruction can be beneficial, even for students in the very early years of primary school.

  • Focus on form instruction does not compromise gains in fluency.

  • Prompts appear to be more effective in promoting learning than recasts because the latter do not require a student to reformulate the utterance.

  • The effectiveness of different types of interventions is related to the complexity of the target structure. Forms that require only a lexical substitution (e.g., French possessive determiners) appear



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement