Error correction and appraisal. Finding the balance
Reflective Diary submitted by Mia, Valencia.
Errors are a frequent part of the process of learning, and as such they are nothing to be afraid of. Each teachers deals with errors on daily basis and thus it is of crucial importance to know how to act accordingly when a student makes an error.
Firstly, it is important to determine whether a student committed an error or a mistake. From a linguistic point of view, these words carry distinct meaning, the former being a result of the lack of knowledge, whereas the latter could be a mere slip caused by carelessness. To further explain, H. Douglas Brown defined linguistic errors as “a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflecting the interlanguage competence of the learner.” (p. 205)
In my teaching practice, I would correct the occasional slips without devoting special attention to them. On the other hand, if I would notice an error which I was sure to be a result of a lack of knowledge, I would spare some time to explain the certain area that might cause difficulties to the student. It can be very effective to allow the student to correct his or her own errors. This can be done by writing down the erroneous sentence and asking the student to try to pinpoint what is wrong about the specific utterance.
Furthermore, it is important to establish whether an error should be corrected immediately or afterwards. Immediate correction can be beneficial because in that way the student will be more focused not to repeat the mistake within the same conversation. On the downside, this can obstruct his stream of thoughts and distract him from what he wanted to say. Another option is to point out the errors afterwards. This can be done by writing down the errors and presenting them after the conversation. This method leaves more space for digressions and allows the teacher to go into greater detail if necessary.
Finally, how many mistakes should a teacher correct? If a student is at an elementary level, the chances are he or she will be making mistakes frequently. Excessive correction might create a negative effect, rendering the student apprehensive and reluctant to speak. On the other hand, the absence of correction might be interpreted as approval by the student, which in return might generate even more errors. Thus, the key is to find the right balance, recognise the student’s efforts and appraise them, at the same time devoting special attention to more severe errors.
- Brown, H. Douglas (1994). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regents. p. 205.