“Do students need to know my policy for correcting their English?”

“Do I really need to correct my students? Won’t correction inhibit them?”

Imagine you are teaching a class the first lesson after the holidays. Here is a possible dialogue between you and your students:

You: Maral, did you go away on holiday over the holidays?

Maral: Yes, I am gone in mountain to my grandparents’ house. Then I have returned to house for other three days of relax.

You: And you Kamran?

Farrokh (thinking to himself in his own language): “I am gone?” So I am gone is right?

Farin (thinking to herself) House, not home? In mountain or to the mountains?

What is your correction policy?

Students need to know from the start what your policy is with regard to oral mistakes. Will you always correct them? Will you never correct them? Will you correct them only at certain points in the lesson?

You may feel bad about intervening because you don’t want to embarrass Maral and maybe you are not sure how to deal with the long sequence of mistakes that Maral has made. But the problem is that if there is no policy for correction Maral may be oblivious that she has made mistakes, and Farrokh and Farin will be left feeling confused.

For many of your students one of the main reasons for attending your class is to have their errors corrected. To some extent they measure their progress on how many errors they have managed to ‘fix’. And they may measure the quality of the teacher in terms of whether he or she corrects them or not.

You will certainly find that you will have to correct the same errors again and again and then hear them again and again, with your corrections apparently having no effect whatsoever. But part of teaching is matching the expectations of your students – very few will say to you “No thank you, I do not want you to correct my mistakes”. So, whether you think error correction is beneficial or not is irrelevant from the point of view of those students that do not share you doubts.

Correcting your students is not an optional

In my surveys of what students like and do not like about their teachers, a recurrent complaint is that the teacher does not correct them (at all or not sufficiently).

In your first lesson with a new group tell them exactly what your policy will be with regard to correcting their mistakes. This has two main benefits:

  • students will know what to expect, and won’t be surprised or annoyed if for example you don’t correct one of their classmates during a period of the lesson which you have allocated as ‘fluency practice’ and where getting the words out is more important than which words they are and in what order
  • you will not feel rude or bad about interrupting someone and correcting them

Let students know how you plan to correct them

You also need to discuss with your students out HOW they like to be corrected during oral production, and then you can decide which of their suggestions to implement and which not, and why not. Below are some approaches that various teachers use – you need to decide yourself and with your students which ones actually work and which may actually undermine student confidence and block them.

  • correct them as soon as they make a mistake (they may say they want this approach, but in reality it is difficult to implement and quite annoying / discouraging)
  • write down their mistake, and mention it at the end of the activity
  • always have ten minutes allocated for mistake correction at the end of the lesson (or at some other part of the lesson)
  • correction at the beginning of the lesson of the mistakes made during the last lesson
  • only correct during controlled practise phases, i.e. when students are having a discussion in small groups
  • only correct certain types of errors

If you have no policy, students will spend a lot of time questioning your capacity as a teacher and whether they and their classmates are or are not making mistakes.

Adrian Wallwork

Categories: Grammar