The Most Useful Corrections Techniques in the EFL Classroom
Whether in the classroom or at the grading desk, the word “corrections” might bring to mind an answer list or possibly a red pen. For English language, linguistic and spelling errors are generally the focus of these corrections. However, where English language acquisition is concerned, such a focus can interrupt the natural flow of conversation and even set the learning process backwards.
This post was written by our ITTT graduate Petra W.
Kudos Before Criticism
In the classroom, a good first rule is to offer kudos before criticism. During lessons, major errors are best addressed during the portion of the lesson dedicated to study and practice. The nature of the skills being honed, as well as age group and class size, should be considered when deciding a method to achieve this.
For Group 1, L2 students, games and songs with repetition help drill language in a fun way. Repetition of mistakes, then, risks enforcing them. Teachers should try to vary activities around target language and let students self-correct instead. Activities that engage total physical response (TPR) and multiple themes and intelligences will also help this information sink in at the unconscious level.
For Group 2 learners, learning is self-conscious. The teacher should consider likely mistakes when preparing study materials and decide how each of these can be addressed in a way that will minimize calling out individuals. Also, since older students can learn through reading and writing as well as listening and speaking, the teacher can make use of group and pair work. Students can learn through teamwork and in the meantime the teacher can check any individual’s progress less publicly.
Errors in Writing
In the case of errors in writing, outside of requisite testing, red pen remedies should be avoided: Simply crossing out the wrong answer and writing the correct one is faster when checking papers, but when working one to one with students, it is as effective as tending a garden with a lawnmower. Red marking leaves a glaring reminder of a mistake rather than evidence of things learned. Instead, teachers should guide student writing and rewriting, whenever possible letting students self-correct their own words. This will preserve the student’s self-confidence and help him or her build personal learning strategies.
In both groups, feedback’s phrasing is also important: Saying, "Oh, that's close! You've almost got it!" is far more motivating than “That’s wrong.” This is true of classroom management in general: “Don’t run,” is not as effective as saying “Walk slowly.” In conversation, communication strategies like echoing, reacting, and questioning will serve as cues by which students can judge their own clarity and attempt self-correction. Prompts can also be effective, but it’s important not to hijack the conversation. Students learn language more naturally by using their own words and thoughts. Direct corrections should be a last resort if they are even used at all.
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The temptation to control mistakes by simply marking them can seem easier, but in the end, it demotivates students. It turns meaning into formulas and success into a number. Whatever the correction strategy, a teacher's focus should be on the students, always with the goal or helping language acquisition develop as organically as possible. In the end, these will be what make correct and effective language stick.
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