Error correction – Steven Herder

Over the past 23 years, I’ve taken a number of approaches to error correction, and my current ideas are pretty indicative of how my teacher beliefs have grown and been affected by my deepening understanding of motivation, learner language (or ‘interlanguage’ – the language that is somewhere between L1 and L2) and learner confidence. Before describing my own principles of error correction, I have to make the disclaimer that my approach COMPLETELY depends on the level of the students and the context in which I am teaching. So, here is what now guides me now when addressing output errors (speaking and writing):

  1. Speaking – Meaning is all-important. My students know that I’ll step in and correct when meaning is lost, too confusing or very unclear. Otherwise, I ignore small errors that don’t interfere with meaning, such as “She work_ on Sundays” or “She went to _ movie.” Language is becoming more of an international communication tool than ever before, so I choose to spend more time building fluency and confidence, than worrying about incidental errors. Of course, I tell students at the end of activities, how some people will be even more impressed with them if they can clean up the small errors!
  2. Writing – More and more, I’ve come to realize that the most meaningful time to correct GRAMMATICAL errors (as opposed to structural or organizational weaknesses) is while students are sitting at the computer typing away. I see them really “getting it” – processing, digesting and storing a learning moment when given immediate feedback while they write (elicit first, supply answer if necessary). I endlessly walk around and around the class, trying to spend equal time with all of my students as they write. When I take essays home to correct, I give written feedback much more on content, style and impact as a reader.