Thursday, March 19, 2009
What’s the Best Way to Correct?
Recently there have been several blogs about the importance of correcting errors. Students beg for it, and teachers know it is an essential part of language learning. So, if we all agree that corrective feedback is helpful, what are our options? How can we best address student mistakes? In terms of correcting spoken errors, we have several options:
|Correction||Definition||Example: “He go.”|
|recasts||repeat with correction||“He goes.”|
|confirmation checks||request meaning clarification by supplying corrected form||“Did you mean he goes?”|
|explicit||overt explanation and correct form||“No, not he go.You want to use the 3rd person singular.He goes.”|
|repetition||repeat the error with emphasis||“He go?”|
|clarification questions||signal a lack of understanding||“I don’t understand.”|
|metalinguistic clues||overt explanation without correct form||“That’s not correct.You need to use the third person singular.”|
As a teacher, I have used each of these methods at various times in my many years in front of a class. As a French student, I have (depressingly often) been on the receiving end of a variety of these correction techniques as well.
For the first several weeks of my French class, I repeatedly said “dans les Etats-Unis” when I referred to my life in the USA. My teacher patiently recasted and recasted and recasted: “aux Etats-Unis.” It was almost like a running joke in the class, but for some reason, I just could not get it right … until one glorious day when I just remembered. The entire class applauded, and since that day, I have said it correctly. Although researchers have often doubted the effectiveness of recasts, I am living proof that our patience is not in vain. I think the key is to keep them short and emphasize the correction.
Your Error for All to See
Another error correction strategy that my French teacher is fond of using is a variation of metalinguistic clues. When she hears an error and doesn’t want to interrupt, she writes it on the board. I do this, too, with my students. There is something about seeing the mistake that makes it easier to correct, most of the time. I use this a lot with my private lesson students, so I can offer the error correction they want and avoid the dreaded accusation that I am not helping them, but not interrupt the flow of speech unnecessarily. Some students have gotten so good, they actually correct themselves when they see me pick up my pen.
What Works for You?
In the end, we need to think about the preferences of our students and our own personalities as teachers. I would be interested to hear which of the above techniques you have used successfully or unsuccessfully, and which you have been on the receiving end of. In other words, what do you prefer as a teacher and a student?
Lyster, R., & Ranta, L. (1997) Corrective feedback and learner uptake: Negotiation of form in communicative classrooms. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 37-66.
O’Relly, L.V., Flaitz, J. and Kromrey J. (2001) Two Modes of Correcting Communicative Tasks: Recent Findings. Foreign Language Annals, 34/3, 246-257.