Anxiety over error correction in oral work

I asked a relatively new Upper-int conversation class of 8 students yesterday what their preference was in terms of error correction. All but 1 of the students were adamant that the best method is immediate correction by the teacher. The solitary student who didn’t insist on immediate T correction was indifferent and merely stated, ‘As you wish’. In percentage terms, my class gives even more profound results than when Philip Harmer found that 62% of students liked immediate teacher correction (2005:74), against 38% who preferred delayed, teacher led correction post-task.

If you asked your classes today for their thoughts on error correction, don’t you think that you would get a set of similar responses?

Obviously the majority of students have not undergone teacher training and are not concerned or aware of the differences between accuracy vs fluency or communicative vs non-communicative tasks and most learners demand feedback on oral performance.  Consequently, if error correction is absent or lacking, for students, ‘this comes…as a big disappointment’ (Lavezzo and Dunford 1993:62). Of course, there are different methods with which to correct or offer alternatives, with some being more of an interruption than others. However, I imagine that a fair amount of teachers stick to a tried and trusted method for the majority of their teaching time. Is this the case? Maybe I’m completely wrong and teachers switch methods according to learner styles, rapport, motivation etc. Personally, I try to adopt different methods as much as possible (between repeating, hinting, echoing, reformulation, facial/physical expression or statement and question) but if I had been filmed in yesterday’s lesson, I imagine that I would be shocked at the frequency of my reformulation.

If we think about Chaudron’s framework (1987) for decision making re student oral work error, what are your thoughts on students’ preferences and best practice for teachers?

  1. Should learner errors be corrected?
  2. If so, when should learner errors be corrected?
  3. Which learner errors should be corrected?
  4. How should learner errors be corrected?
  5. Who should correct learner errors?

Please feel free to leave a comment on any aspect of error correction!

Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
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3 Responses to Anxiety over error correction in oral work

  1. Josh Round says:

    Thanks Bren, always good to reflect on error correction, because as you suggest I think most students feel that they don’t get enough.
    So, I guess that the answer to most of your questions is there – make sure there is enough! And the trick is to ensure a good balance of immediate, delayed, teacher-led and peer-led correction throughout the various stages of a lesson – and be consistent.

    For further reading & ideas about dealing with fossilized errors, have a look at this summary of a teacher chat on twitter last February


  2. Pingback: EFL Lesson Plan: Signs - Romance | Teacher Training Blog

  3. Bren Brennan Bren Brennan says:

    Just to add to the perplexity of just what exactly is the best method of error correction, Stephen Krashen gave a webinar quoting John Truscott’s study showing that written grammar correction does NOT work! In fact, it has harmful effects!

    Pleasurable reading is the only way forward for L2 acquisition according to big Steve. I tweeted this and Krashen retweeted me, therefore I can safely say that he’s OK with me saying that.

    If you’re so inclined to read even more about error correction anxiety, there’s an interesting comment debate going on over at Dale Coulter’s Language Moments on the very subject…


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