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Councourse 2

Strand 1: Giving feedback on error

error

You arrived here because you agreed or fully agreed with this statement:

I’m not always sure whether I should correct an error, make a note for later or ignore it

As was noted on the previous page, this is a judgement call and nobody gets it right all the time.  However, there are some ways to make our judgements more reliable and more consistent.  You need to develop a conscious system for pausing when you hear error and considering the best way to deal with it.  It's complex and depends on a number of variables.

understand

Understanding error

First you need to revise or learn about some of the key concepts concerning errors learners make.  Go to either the in-service guide to the technicalities of error analysis or an easier guide to error.  (Both those links will open in a new tab or window so just close the page to come back to this point.)

As you know, we can view error as something to be avoided at all costs and make sure our learners make as few of them as possible or treat error as part of the learning process.
If you hold the first view, then you will have to correct all errors in the language as they occur.  You have no choice because the theory is that errors will become habitual and permanent parts of the learner's language if they are not eradicated or avoided.
However, if you have started this development strand, it's more likely that you hold the second view and want to investigate what to correct and how to correct it.  That's the assumption here.

target

Whether and what to correct: targeting feedback

The first step in developing your skills in handling error is to make the process of deciding whether to correct as automatic as you can.  At first, this may slow down your responses to students but, as experience grows, the time-lag shortens.  What questions do you ask of yourself to decide whether to correct?
Click here when you have reflected briefly.

Clearly, you will need to take a bit of time to process these questions before you decide whether to correct or not so here are two suggested self-training programmes:

Programme 1:

Decide before the lesson what you will correct.  For example (select only one for each lesson you target):

"In this structure lesson I will only focus on the targets of my lesson and will ignore all other error." or
"I will ignore any error in the lesson which is not systematic." or
"I will not interrupt anyone in this skills lesson but will make a note of errors and set aside two phases in my lesson, one in the middle and one near the end, when I will focus on students' errors and get them to try to correct them before I teach."

Programme 2

Negotiate what to correct with your learners and let them know what you will correct.
You could, for example, establish a routine of having a 20-minute opinion-sharing exercise at the end of each day on a different topic but, on certain days, you will focus exclusively on pronunciation while on others, lexical choice will be your focus and at other times only grammatical and structural errors will be corrected.
You can do the same kind of thing with lots of different types of activities.
(Some learners, it is true, think they want the teacher to correct all and every error they make.  Trying that for one lesson usually persuades them that it is not actually what they want at all.)

correcting

How to correct

A lot of learners expect their teacher to do the correction work and, yes, that is sometimes the appropriate way.  It is, however, not the only way.  What questions should we be asking here?
Reflect for a moment about how you correct and then click here for some ideas.

You can follow a similar procedure to train yourself to apply these criteria automatically by focusing on one at a time.
Decide at the start of your day's teaching, for example:
"Today I will always try to elicit the correction from the learners before I provide the answer." or
"Today, my first response to an error will always be a quizzical look, followed by "Try again, please.""

Gauging progress

There's a guide to gauging progress for any development process in this section for some general ideas about how to gather data on your classroom behaviour.
In the case of handling error, however, your own and your learners' opinions are very important.  Specifically, you could ask yourself whether you feel more confident handling error after trying out some of these suggestions.  And you could explain to the learners what you are trying to achieve and get their feedback on whether they feel your error handling seems more helpful and more relevant.
Ways of getting feedback from learners are covered in the guide to gauging progress.