Error Correction

Today we had an INSET with a guest speaker Gillie Cunningham entitled ‘Erors are ok, or are they?’  It was a very insightful session, and she was a very entertaining speaker.  This is not a summary, but just a few things I have taken away.

  • We need to have a clear idea of what we are correcting and why.  What is acceptable to some people might be considered incorrect by others.
  • We should involve the students in error correction.  Do they want to be corrected?  When?  What are their goals?  Are they trying to achieve ‘perfect’ pronunciation?  Do they just want to communicate their ideas even if they aren’t ‘correct’?
  • We should take a principled and consistent approach to error correction, and we should make students aware of our approach.  This could be influenced by previous methods and reflect our beliefs on teaching and learning.
  • We should test and compare different techniques.

Some techniques she mentioned that I would like to try:

  • Silent correction of pronunciation.  Gesture how you want vowel sounds made, don’t voice them because students often try to copy the sound (unsuccessfully) when they need to change the movement.  Show them mouth movements and create a gesture for short and long vowels.  Get students to put a finger up to their lips so they can feel their tongue when pronouncing ‘th’ sounds like they’re thinking.
  • When correcting in freer practice, use ‘quotation’ gestures with your hands so it’s clear you are correcting not communicating.
  • Teach all the verb tenses with a gesture.  Then when students make mistakes, they can self-correct with just a gesture from the teacher.
  • Only correct certain mistakes.  Say at the beginning of class, ‘Today I’m only correcting the past simple.’  Or prepositions, or pronunciation, or whatever.  Students will be aware and so errors will drop.

I loved the way she delivered this presentation because I really did reflect on my own beliefs.   A few things she said about past approaches to errors that really resonated with me, and may explain why I could be seen as taking a ‘lax’ approach to error correction:

  • Teaching is subservient to learning–give learners more credit and let them work things out themselves (Silent Way).
  • Keep stress levels down to improve learning (Suggestopaedia and TPR)
  • In order to access language faster, how often and frequently we ‘trace’ a memory connection matters.  Doing something physical, like doodling, helps reinforce connections.  (TPR)
  • Students learn from their mistakes (Communication Approach) while behavioral theory suggests students learn their mistakes.
  • Students are more likely to learn if they can self-correct.

The thing I liked most about her talk is that it was so student-centred.  I was worried it was going to be a very error-centred talk, taking a very narrow view of ‘correct language, ‘ but I was pleasantly surprised.  Students do often ask for more correction and so I’ve been really trying to incorporate more explanation of when and why I’m correcting them, and when and why I’m not.  To end the talk, she gave us her three personal guidelines:

'Learning is experience.  Everything else is just information.'  -Einstein
‘Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.’ -Einstein

I loved that quote.  Here’s another good one:

‘Our ability to learn is far greater than our understanding of how we learn.’

To be honest, I might have misquoted that because I was trying to take down notes fast before the slide changed.  And to completely paraphrase her other guideline:

Set the bar high, and they will perform.  If you expect them to be good learners, they will be.  

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Bringing English to Life

The language school where I work in London, Embassy English, has developed an approach to integrating technology into teaching called Bringing English to Life. Students use apps and websites, mainly on their own devices, that help them develop and document their language production. Students are given projects that not only focus on language being produced in the classroom, but also allow them to interact with people in the local community.   These projects are then shared through class blogs and individual e-portfolios.  Our school has developed a list of suggested projects and web 2.0 tools for us to use with our students.  Last month we trialed some of these and fedback to other teachers in our monthly INSET session.  Here are some of the ideas we shared.  Thanks Luke Fletcher, Sarah Wakefield, Nathalie Barclay, Ella McCall, Melissa Threadgill, Jessica McDermott, Andy Navedo, Fiona Thomas, Kezzie Moynihan and Kallie Watters.

Powtoons

This site allows you to create animation videos and was used with Ella and Nathalie’s Pre Int students to create a list of cultural tips.  The final products look amazing, but they were a bit tricky to set up, for example, you have to remember to slide times for when the animation appears.

Movenote

Movenote allows you to record a video of yourself speaking to a slideshow created from images or powerpoint slides.  Sarah used it with her students to create news programmes.  They were really impressive.  Students wrote news stories, then found pictures from google and saved them as jpegs to use in their slide show.  When they started their news report, the theme tune from BBC news was played in the background by opening it up in youtube in a separate tab.  Other teachers, like Luke, have also used Movenote but said they had trouble when they had their students use the free apps on their phones, so it was better to use laptops.  (Note: only computers with webcams will work.)  I have also used it to encourage spontaneous speaking by having a pre-made powerpoint slideshow (e.g. a day in the life in London) and having students record themselves describing what they see as they see each image for the first time.

D Film

This is my go-to site.   Students can write a dialogue and turn it into an animated film.  It’s really easy to use and it works with all levels.  I usually set it up as a way to revise vocabulary.  First I give students only 3 minutes to work in pairs to write a 6-line dialogue incorporating a new expression.  Then I stop them and say they are going to turn their dialogue into a film and we do an example together as a class.  Then they work in pairs to create their own films.  They have to collaborate to choose setting, characters, background music etc.   They email me the films and we watch them together in class.  I usually get the other students to notice the key lexis and also if there is anything they would change about what they read (i.e. correct any mistakes).

Using a Class Blog

A few of us have blogs with our students and we were discussing some of the best ways to make it work.  I mainly moderate my class blog and add students as contributors.  Jessica has made hers much more student-led, with one student in charge each week.  All students don’t have full access as administrators, but take turns.  They don’t post everything they do, but when they have a project, the class will vote for the best one and that one will get to be put on the blog.  For example, when they did class presentations, they were recorded on their phones and then the best one was put on their blog.

An issue I’ve had with my class blogs are how to give meaningful feedback.  One suggestion was to corrects students’ work in draft mode before they are posted to the blog for everyone to see.

Thinglink

This is a good site to add text, sound and video to an image.  It’s worked really well for me with low levels.  For example, to learn vocabulary for things in the house, students can take a picture of their flat and label everything.  Or for vocabulary about shops, students went out and took photos of shops where they could buy specific things and recorded themselves having a transactional conversation about these.  Some advice about Thinglink from Jessica:  it seems to work better in Firefox than Explorer.  You can now set up a teacher’s account and link your youtube account to upload videos and Soundcloud to upload recordings.

Future Me (Fiona)

This website could be used to get students to write a letter to themselves in the future.  It could be interesting to do at the beginning of the course so they can see how much they improved by the end.

Newspaper Stories, Speed Dating Style (Andy)

Students are each given a news story.  They take notes on it and then have to tell their story to a classmate.  They take notes and then tell a new classmate the new story they have just heard.  This continues until everyone has listened to and told every story.  It’s funny at the end to compare the story to the original as a whole class because the stories will have changed so much.

Using their phones

There are many ways students can use their phones without downloading apps or accessing websites.  For example, Andy recommends that they record a role-play and then after transcribe and correct it.  Or Kezzie recommends setting a weekend homework task for students to take a photo of some bit of new vocabulary.  Students email these photos to their teacher and this creates a warmer for Monday morning.

IELTS

Kallie presented a few ideas of how she takes students out when teaching IELTS.  For Task 1 writing, students go to a supermarket and take photos of fruit and note where it’s exported from.  Then they use this to create a graph.  Fiona also suggested personalisation to create a Task 1 graph.  She gets students to map their energy level during the day.

To get students to practise maps and process writing, first students have to write out instructions how to get to a local park.  Another group writes instructions to a different park.  Then the groups follow instructions and when they get to the park, they have to take a picture of a natural process. Their homework is to write up the task.

Also, to talk about changes in cities, Kallie gives students old pictures of London and they have to compare.

I found these ideas particularly interesting because I’d like to develop ways to incorporate more technology into my IELTS teaching, but in a meaningful way because I find students can be quite resistant because they don’t see its relevance to the exam.

Ones that didn’t work so well for us (at least this time…)

Melissa tried E-maze with her elementary class but it was very difficult for them.  It was difficult to see on their phones, so she switched to laptops, but the amount of effort didn’t seem to warrant the final output.  It might have worked with a higher level class or with students who are better at using computers.

I had a similar issue with Canva.  I gave my students a homework task to write a question about wishes (our topic for the week) and interview at least three people on the street (for example, some choose their host families while others asked people in Trafalgar Square).  Then they had to make a Canva poster and put it on our class blog.  Some of them made the posters using Canva, while others just posted on the blog.  I don’t think the effort it took for them to use Canva was worth it, as the posts on the blog were just as effective.  The other problem I have with Canva is that there isn’t a way for them to go back and correct their mistakes, whereas they can edit their blog posts.  They now have a beautiful poster, but one that is full of mistakes.  This also brings up the issue whether it is better to set these tasks for homework or to work on them in class time.  Working on them in class gives more opportunity for error correction, but it also takes away from time that could be spent learning other things.  Some of the more successful projects took three to four days:  one to set up and study the language, another to go out and interact with the community, a third to create the digital project in class and a fourth to present it.

Another issue that came up, was the need for a model.  One of the reasons I think the Powtoons and Movenote projects worked so well is because the teachers had created a model themselves for students to see what is expected of them.  It also meant that teachers were better able to assist their students in using the websites.  The downside of this of course is the amount of extra prep time for the teacher.