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Correction techniques

When to correct written work

While the writing is being done or as soon as possible afterwards. You can correct at 10 times the rate that they can produce. It is counter-productive to correct fully. Indicate the mistake and re-create the situation. Spare them of embarrassment - public humiliation. Tactful: can you see what's wrong with this?

How much should you correct?

Explain your marking system

Distinguish between three main categories of errors

  1. Those which lead to misunderstanding or breakdown of communication - caused by:
  2. Lesser but often irritating errors -
  3. Stylistic errors - inappropriate style formal/informal, wrong register.

Samples of students' writing:

  1. Poor grammar: I has driven to London shopping. In the afternoon I come back, and I've eaten anything, after this I went tio a pub. At 11 o'clock I went home in my bed.
  2. Poor graphical skills - letters aren't vertical enough: He coming from Airport Hintero by Train to Prighton From ppighton to my flat by taxi I have flat near school. I walking from my flat to school.
  3. Poor spelling & punctuation - I give you Some instrustions how to get to my adreas or my place You can comeing from heathrou airport to victory station buy anderGraon and after you can comeing by trian to Hove.
  4. Direct translation - I'm very pleasant for me that you spend some days with me in my town, but you needn't go to a hotel, I think is much better that you go to my house. The form easier to get there is that you take a taxi, and indicate my address.



ESSAY TITLE: If used positively, correction can play an extremely important role in language learning. Give examples of the ways in which you correct both oral and written work at the elementary and intermediate levels.

A positive correction strategy firstly depends on the approach or approaches which underlie the planning of the programme.

It is not too difficult to anticipate some of the problem areas - the structures, functions, areas of pronunciation which cause general problems to individual students (L1 backgrounds). An entry test will confirm many of our pre-suppositions.

Having anticipated these problem areas, we must decide whether to adopt a behaviourist approach (steering round errors - simplicity, minimal steps, reinforcement of correct utterances) or whether to draw our learners into these danger areas (Dakin)

I am influenced by both theories in my selection of materials - the value of consolidation through repetition is not overlooked. Many students (e.g. Germans) demand the rules! Lessons are a forum for better knowledge of the language system. Cognitive!

When and what to correct pre-supposes a system of priorities. If I have just presented a new piece of language and my aim is that students produce and practise it fairly accurately, I'm likely to correct more immediately than if I am monitoring practice in free production. Accuracy v Fluency hats. If a mistake is likely to hinder comprehension or lead students into further errors (especially if it is based on a fundamental misconception) then it gets corrected.

It could be discouraging to pounce on "slips of the tongue" or lapses resulting from lack of thinking-time. If students learn by successive approximation, some balance between giving them time for self-correction & evaluation and deliberately earmarking their mistakes must be achieved. The earmarking of mistakes, however, is a duty which the teacher must not ignore. I owe the students feedback. The Yes/No Right/Wrong True/False function of the teacher. Divergeance in T & students' attitudes:

Neither the behaviourist or cognitive strategies of correction will succeed unless something tells the students that a mistake has been made. (Ts following communicatively based programmes are justifiably reluctant to deal with each and every error).

How to correct or earmark a mistake:

  1. Pure repetition of the right answer = the behaviourist's way, but does not encourage students to think about the meaning of the utterance they have incorrectly made.
  2. Reference to a picture provides a good context for correcting lexis.
  3. spatial relations - time lines using the whiteboard or OHP.
  4. Clocks with moveable hands
  5. Cuisenaire rods, systematically used to prompt the insertion or omission of auxiliary verbs, concord, use of articles, countable and uncountable nouns
  6. Facial gestures, counting on fingers, arm movements, hand signals, mime, use of nearby furniture (e.g. "on" "under" "in") and visual aids all contribute to this inventory of correctives.

In many ways, the use of the above as correctives shadows their use in the presentation phase. This time the visual aids act as memory joggers and the students remember the correct linguistic forms associated with them.

There are also linguistic correction techniques:

  1. Long utterances can be broken down into phrases, words and syllables through backchaining or frontchaining. They are then resynthesized.
  2. Asking the student's peer something similar and then return to the student.

If I am uncertain about what mistakes my students are making, teaching through testing may help in the diagnosis. Written dictation is both a test of listening comprehension and sometimes a guide to errors students are making in their own production (e.g. writing).

For positive correction of written work at these levels, it is necessary to recognise what is good as well as what is bad. For example, at the intemediate level, real beginnings in connected writing, a few compound sentences etc) would be worthy of praise.

At the elementary level, correct transformations, subject verb agreements, the correct choice of present tense and even correct copying could be earmarked as "good".

Use a correction scheme and illustrate it by getting students to proof-read faulty scripts.

For positive correction organised records on the part of both teacher & students are desirable. Provide all learners with a (written) KEY to the scheme before you set assignments which are to be corrected. Do not tell them about it retrospectively, as they will see you as someone who is always 'changing the goalposts'.

Adopt a correction scheme and illustrate it by getting students to do some correcting of a sample of work illustrating:

  1. poor selection
  2. incorrect word order
  3. unnecessary addition
  4. omission
  5. grammatical mistake
  6. poor punctuation
  7. spelling mistake
  8. Avoid the trap of using corrections of students' written work as the basis of a monologue which becomes all too large a part of their next lesson.

    Critical ability on the students' part is probably better developed through self-correction and discussion in pairs or small groups and through comparison of two or more pieces of writing.

    Brumfit's 1977 staged approach

    For mistakes which students cannot identify and correct for themselves, the teacher can make a written comment (even "see me" - note: too many "see mes" could create chaos if you teach a lot of students).

    Teach good study skills / learner skills - documentation: not long strings of bilingual vocabulary, coherent illustration and examples of connected speech.

    Give time for students to make last minute checks before assignment is handed in. Encourage them to proof-read their own work.

    students taught under the audiolingual regime (c.f. 4 phase drills: stimulus, learner's response, correct response & learner's repetition) where all errors are to be corrected immediately, are likely to demand frequent correction.

    They can be asked son open-ended questions about the text which invite critical comment to test the degree to which they succeed in this task. The standard can be set in relation to the text. Some texts invite more comment than others!

    Correction symbols (e.g. P = punctuation; Sp = spelling; WO = word order; L = lexis; Gr = grammar) can not only be placed in the margin by teachers correcting work, but can also form the basis of checklists used by students before submitting work.

    students can be offered guidance as to how to keep checklists of their weaknesses. Coherent illustrations (e.g.s of connected speech) are preferable to strings of lexis.

    The teacher as monitor

    The teacher's clipboard (e.g. for monitoring mistakes during a language laboratory or discussion session) could bear the headings:

    Suggested procedures:

    1. Diagnosis of the 'language background composition' and level of your class will lead you to anticipate certain mistakes.
    2. Choose your method (depending on your perception of the role of mistakes: followers of the audiolingual method attempt to structure learning materials to prevent students from falling into traps. Teachers using cognitive methods involving problem-setting believe that mistakes are a good thing, because they can be earmarked by learners and used to make adjustments as a result of improved conceptual awareness. Some teachers set both 'behaviourist' and 'cognitive' phases in their lessons to attempt to get the best results from both theories!.
    3. Choose your material - this choice may be guided by your approach: e.g. cognitive theory would resist the use of (what Julian Dakin terms) 'meaningless pattern drills', though drills can be made 'meaningful' through careful selection using both structural and functional criteria. Patterns and drills form an essential part of lesson material for teaching and learning English at lower levels. Learners and teachers would be lost without them.

    Presentation and corrective techniques:

    Coursebooks which follow a spiral approach (problem-setting, re-introduction & revision) help in the process. The choice of correction technique depends on the phase - controlled or free and the type of mistake- slip or conceptual.

    Evaluation continues throughout and influences the selection of content for future lessons. But beware of corrective monologues.

    The role of problems:

    The teacher as problem-setter can anticipate where the mistakes will occur. The learner should have a chance of making and learning from the mistake. Material provides context for discussion of a mistake.

    Strong use of situation supported by good illustrations helps to relate form to function in the student's mind. It reinforces learning and forestalls misconceptions. Meaningful drills tend to make stronger use of situation. e.g. careless driver/ au pair in Robert 0'Neill's "Kernel Lessons Plus".

    The correction scheme agreed between teacher and students (perhaps better suited to 12 week than to 4 week courses) could provide a valuable aid to self correction.


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