When and how to correct students?

One of the questions new teachers often ask themselves is when and how to correct students?

Well, there are two schools of thought.The first one is supported by those who prefer correcting students each time they make mistakes, believing that in this way students won’t make the same mistake again. The second one, instead, is supported by Correct studentsthose who think that students shouldn’t be corrected each time they make a mistake because otherwise they would lose self-confidence.

So, the dilemma remains: correct or not to correct students?

The truth is that there isn’t a correct answer. To make a decision between these two schools of thought, you should consider first of all students’ benefits. In fact, each student has a different character and it’s up to you to find a way to bring out the best in him/her while respecting his/her personality.

For example, if you’re teaching to extrovert students, you can probably correct them as many times as you deem appropriate. In fact, they will not perceive your feedback as a threat or as apersonal defeat and they will happily keep on trying. By contrast, with introvert students, you might have to pay more attention. If you correct them each time they make a mistake, they might perceive your corrections both as a threat and as a personal defeat. As a result, they might lose self-confidence. If this happens, you’ll have to struggle just to make them speak again.

Another thing you might want to consider before choosing between the two schools of thought is the type of activity you’re going to propose to your students: speaking or writing.

Speaking activities

You can choose to stop and correct your students each time they make a mistake. However, in this case, I strongly suggest you explain them your method well in advance. And don’t forget to highlight the reasons why you’re doing this: to help them improving their language knowledge faster. In this way, they know exactly what to expect, and introvert students are more willing to accept corrections with a positive attitude.

Personally, I believe that stopping students each time they make a mistake can be pretty frustrating for them. After all, they’re trying really hard to convey their thoughts, and we don’t even let them finish a sentence.

So, during my lessons, I generally opt for one of these strategies:

1. I let my students express a brief concept. Then, if they have made some mistakes, I reformulate the concept in a correct way, and I ask another question. This strategy brings two benefits: students understand the mistakes they have made; you generally don’t have to stop the flow of the conversation.
An example might be:

Student: I think men should have more high pays to women.
Teacher: Interesting. So you think that men should have a higher pay than women. But what if you were a woman, would you think it the same way?

2. I let my students talk, I take notes, and only when they have finished, I discuss the mistakes with them.

Whatever method you choose, always remember to praise students’ efforts and improvements to keep them motivated.

Writing activities

You might prefer to correct only certain mistakes, say grammatical mistakes, because it was on grammar that your last lessons focused on. Or, you might want to correct each mistake you find in a text.

When it comes to writing activities, I prefer the second option. Even in this case, however, when correcting I choose between two different methods:

1. Direct feedback. I signal each mistake and correct it. I use different colors to highlight grammatical mistakes, and lexical mistakes. In addition to this, if my student is, for example, a beginner, I highlight with a third color all the mistakes that have to do with more advanced topics.

2. Indirect feedback. I signal that in a certain sentence there is a mistake but I don’t tell my students which one it is. It’s up to them to find it.

Finally, after both methods, I usually make a general comment, explaining my students their weaknesses, highlighting their strengths, and pointing out the areas that need improvement.

What do you think? Should teachers always correct students? Do you have a special strategy you want to share?

As a student, what method do you prefer?


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