Have you ever got the impression that no matter how many times you corrected a mistake, it just kept creeping up?
As English teachers, providing feedback and correction is a critical aspect of the learning process. It is a moment when students can truly learn and improve their language skills.
However, if not done correctly, correction can have a negative impact on students, causing them to shut down or become discouraged. In this post, we will explore tips and techniques for correcting English students based on the insights shared by Rodolfo Mattiello.
Mattiello reminds us that the terms “error” and “mistake” are often used interchangeably to refer to a deviation from the standard forms of language use. However, there is a subtle difference between the two terms.
An error is a systematic deviation from the norm or rule of a language. For example, a learner of English who consistently uses the wrong verb tense, such as using present tense instead of past tense, is making an error.
On the other hand, a mistake is a random or isolated deviation from the norm or rule of a language. For example, a learner of English who accidentally misplaces a word in a sentence, such as saying “I eat bread with knife” instead of “I eat bread with a knife,” is making a mistake.
According to Mattiello, one of the main benefits of correcting has to do with avoiding fossilization in English learners. Fossilization refers to the process of acquiring language habits that are difficult to change, even after years of study and practice. This can result in learners continuing to make the same mistakes repeatedly, hindering their progress and limiting their ability to communicate effectively.
By providing timely and appropriate correction, teachers can help students recognize and correct their errors before they become ingrained habits. This helps to create a supportive learning environment that encourages students to develop their language skills and reach their full potential. Correcting mistakes is therefore an essential aspect of language teaching, helping learners to avoid fossilization and make lasting progress.
Rodolfo’s tips are:
1. Be delicate
Correction should not be a punishment, but rather a learning opportunity. It is essential to approach correction in a subtle and delicate manner, so students don’t feel discouraged or demotivated.
In noisy English classes, students need to express themselves and talk, so feedback should be subtle and preferably followed by a follow-up activity to help students internalize the correction.
2. Use explicit and implicit feedback
According to Ellis, Loewen, and Erlam (2006), language acquisition takes place through feedback.
There are two types of feedback we can use: explicit and implicit.
Explicit feedback makes it evident to the student that they have made an error and need to be corrected. For example:
Student: Yesterday I eat a burger.
Teacher: You need past tense here.
Student: Yesterday I ate a burger.
Implicit feedback, on the other hand, is subtle and less obvious to the student. One way of providing implicit feedback is through recasts. For example:
Student: She eated a sandwich last night.
Teacher: Oh! She ate a sandwich What type of sandwich did she eat?
The type of feedback that works best depends on the proficiency level of the student. For younger students or beginners, explicit feedback is more effective as it provides a clear correction.
For students with a higher proficiency level, implicit feedback through recasts can be more effective, as it encourages the student to notice the proper model of the language and reproduce it. However, make sure that students understand they are being corrected and allow them to try again with the correct form so that they can practice.
3. Avoid blocking students
Poorly offered feedback can have the opposite effect of what we hope to achieve – it can block English in students’ minds and discourage them. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that corrections are made delicately, so students don’t feel discouraged or blocked. It’s always a good idea to remember things like:
- Foreign Language Learning Anxiety/Affective filter
- Safe/welcoming learning environments
When students understand that we should not stigmatize errors and mistakes, then they feel freer to try more often.
When people are corrected or told that they are wrong, it can be a difficult and humbling experience. It’s natural to feel defensive or embarrassed, especially if it happens in front of others. However, it’s important to remember that being corrected is a learning opportunity and it is essential for growth and improvement. By embracing feedback and correcting our mistakes, we can gain a deeper understanding and mastery of a subject. Overcoming the negative feelings associated with being wrong is a key aspect of personal and professional development.
It’s worth saying that, in general, errors are seen as more problematic than mistakes because they indicate a lack of understanding or mastery of the language. It’s important to distinguish between errors and mistakes as they often require different approaches to correction. For example, errors may need to be addressed through explicit instruction and practice, while mistakes may simply require the teacher to provide a model or example of the correct form.
In conclusion, correction is a crucial aspect of English learning, and as teachers, it’s essential to approach it carefully and thoughtfully. By being delicate and subtle, using both explicit and implicit feedback, and adapting to the student’s proficiency level, we can help our students internalize corrections and continue to grow as English speakers.
Author: André Hedlund
Rodolfo Mattiello holds a BA in Languages from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Campinas, MSc in Applied Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh specializing in Language Acquisition under the Usage-based perspective with an interest in Cognitive Linguistics, a specialization degree in Lesson Planning from the University of Oregon, Education Technology for EFL Classes of Iowa State University and he also co-authored the book: Formação de Professores (Paco Editorial). Founder of Mattiello Consultoria Acadêmica, a center for teacher development, and BELíngue, an online English school.