Error correction by Chiew Pang

Error correction by Chiew Pang Copyright 2012

I started writing a comment as a reply to Dale’s vlog, which was a result of our comment-chat in my Correction, correction and correction post, but it was, I felt, too long as a comment, and so I decided to blog it instead.

If only we could quantify learning, Dale, life would be so much easier, huh? And a lot more boring, too! As we all know, language learning is a complicated process, which, in turn, makes language teaching complicated. Error correction is merely a small part of this, and yet, in itself, poses so many debates and disagreements. I’m not an expert and I don’t expect anyone to stand up and take notice of what I say, but I have my opinions. As I mentioned in my reply to your comment, the best method is a combination of the two you mentioned plus subtle variations of them.

And, yes, I agree that on-the-spot reinforced by delayed correction works very well. In fact, language teaching is a continuing process of reinforcements, don’t you think?

I’d like to reflect on how I correct; perhaps, in this way, we could come to some conclusion… or pose more questions. 😉

First, what do we correct? Errors (for want of a better term) can occur in or away from class. They can occur in oral or written production. If they happen away from class, correction can only be delayed. The shorter the delay, the better it is, I’m sure most will agree.

If they happen in class, what I do varies depending on whether it is during oral or written production. If it’s written, I address the error on the spot, privately, pencil on paper. However, if it’s a point which I consider beneficial to the whole class, I will board it (not necessarily going from the student to the board immediately, which addressed the naming-and-shaming issue) and first ask the class if it was right or wrong, and, if wrong, how we could make it better.

If it’s oral, I do variations of the two methods. I may board problems (or good sentences because feedback doesn’t always have to be negative) while they’re speaking or jot them down on my pad. Either way, I will elicit responses from the class as a whole at a delayed time, at a time I consider to be appropriate. This could be during production and not necessarily at the end of it, and the delay could be seconds or minutes. No naming and shaming here either.

I may address the issue on the spot if I intuitively feel that it’s right to do so. I’ve mentioned this before, but I consider teaching an art not a science. I think, I’m reflecting aloud here, I am more likely to do on-the-spot corrections when it’s to do with pronunciation or lexis rather than form, unless it’s of a fossilised nature, such as “depend of” or “I’m studying English for to go abroad”. Then again, sometimes I ignore the errors, especially if I felt it would interrupt the flow, especially if I felt the content is worth more than the form.

However I choose to correct, I’d like to think that naming and shaming hardly ever comes into play.

My answers to your questions, Dale…

Product or process? The reason why you were going round in circles is because they’re both, innit? Errors are both a product and a process of language learning at the same time. You make errors because you’re learning and only by making errors, will you learn, as I keep telling my students.

Which scaffolds more? Both and neither. In my opinion, it doesn’t depend on how you correct as much as the type of problem.

Proofs of learning? I think I’ve answered this one at the every beginning. 😉

My question now is this: which is more of an issue? When to correct or how to monitor oral production effectively? How do you detect errors when you have several people talking at the same time? Do you tune in to a group at a time? Do you listen to one group until you hear an error, then move on? Do you attempt to listen to several groups at the same time? Video gamers are able to see up to 5 (maybe more) different objects on the screen moving constantly. Are we supposed to be able to hear 5 (or more) students speaking simultaneously?

What do you readers think?