{September 21, 2009}   Errors: the never-ending story

I know I talk too much about errors, but this is the “hot topic” in one of the places I work. I don’t agree with the belief (of some the people who work there) that errors/mistakes MUST be corrected on the spot, and students have to repeat the corrected version until they “get it right”.

If the purpose of teaching a language is helping people to communicate with the language, then, errors should be treated as what they are: when they do not impede communication, leave errors aside (This doesn’t mean you should not correct the students, but you must bear in mind that the most important thing here is letting the students “pass the message”).

James M. Hendrickson (1978) pointed out five fundamental questions we should think about carefully toward corrective feedback:

1. Should learner errors be corrected?

2. If so, when should learner errors be corrected?

3. Which learner errors should be corrected?

4. How should learner errors be corrected?

5. Who should correct learner errors?

In order to answer these questions, he explained that instead of correcting every single error or mistake, teachers should try to create a supportive classroom environment in which learners feel free to produce sentences and take risk to express their ideas. From this we can assume that teachers should choose carefully which techniques they are going to use to correct students’ errors.

How do you deal with errors? Do you interrupt your students to correct them? Do you let them communicate and then help them with their errors?

Here is some bibliography worth reading:

ESL learners’ performance in error correction in writing: Some implications for teaching

A Guide to Learning Disabilities for the ESL Classroom Practitioner

You can find lots of materials on this topic on the net. Just search on Google!

Editor’s Note: I really thank all my university teachers for showing me that the best path for learning is one where students feel free, in a warm, unthreatening atmosphere.


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