4 Mar 2012

Experimenting with Error Correction

Having been teaching for over 25 years, I guess I have experimented with most of the techniques in error correction. Generally speaking, I tend to do on the spot correction (mostly recasting) whenever I am presenting new language and focusing on form. My main aim in using this technique is to avoid stopping the flow and to maintain good rapport with the students, as I consider the latter of utmost importance in the class. As to the use stage, I do delayed correction using the interactive whiteboard to show examples of both impeding mistakes and great use of the language. In fact, I must admit that I correct a lot less nowadays as I have realized that, because mistakes are an essential component of learning, and genuine communication is always based on improvisation, they will continue to happen. I believe that focusing on the content and effective communication is much more meaningful and motivating for students.

One of the few resources I had not used for error correction was recording. After reading Steven Herder's description of an error correction activity on his post on the iTDi blog, I decided to use recording with a group of teenagers preparing for the FCE exam. After the students had practised describing a picture in pairs, they were asked to record the description of another pair of pictures using their smart phones or any other device. I then asked them to take their recording home, listen to it and transcribe their description as graphically as possible. They were then to use a different colour pen to correct it and bring the material in the following class.

To my surprise, not only did the students enjoy the activity, they were also able to correct most of their mistakes and were interested in finding out how many right corrections they had made and how many mistakes they hadn’t corrected. To give them answers to their questions, first they were asked to sit with a partner, swap transcripts and try to correct mistakes that had been left uncorrected. As they did this, I walked around and offered help. Then I put the most significant/impeding mistakes on the IWB and elicited the correction from the whole class. If no one was able to correct the mistake, I inductively made them realize what the mistake was (eg by asking questions). The rationale for this is my belief that the class as whole can learn from mistakes made by other students.

The class asked me to use this technique in the following class again, a fact which I took as a positive outcome. I now want to try this technique with another group and I do hope they enjoy the activity and benefit from it as much as my exam preparation class did.
International Teacher Development Institute iTDi Associate member

Chiew Pang on RSCON3 2011