Causes - the origin of learner errors
- Mother tongue interference - for example, a Spanish learner might say 'John is ill since four days' as a direct translation from his native language. A Vietnamese learner is likely to omit the verb 'to be': for example, 'I tired'.
- Teaching materials/methods used - these can force students to make errors. For example, 'She told she was on holiday.' This confusion between say and tell could be a result of the way it was taught.
- Overgeneralisation - students may over-use the rules they've learned. For example, the insistence on third person s can lead to errors such as, 'She must goes soon'.
- General order of difficulty
- Risk-taking/creativity - the more creative a student is, the more errors he will make.
As teachers, we are far too ready to put a red pen through something. In reality, we can't second guess our students and it is presumptuous of us to correct their writing to what we think they were trying to say. Look at this example of a student's writing:
- Festival, we'll have hake with crap sauce. - Here the teacher might be tempted to correct so that it reads, 'At the festival, we'll have hake with crab sauce'. The correction of 'crap' to 'crab' is a fairly safe assumption and it was, indeed, what the student meant. However, on questioning him, the teacher discovered that what he wanted to say was, 'First of all, we'll have hake with crab sauce'!
It's a good idea to use a writing error correction code to encourage students to self-correct. This is the one we use in my institution:
Whichever code we use, we must remember to use the ? more!! If we're not sure what the student meant, then we need to simply use a ? and ask our student to explain what they were trying to say.
What can we gain from classifying errors? Well, it certainly helps to concentrate our minds. We could, for example, consider two types of error:
LOCAL - e.g. 'They fly to all of the countrys in that area.' - We can ignore local errors.
GLOBAL - e.g. 'What to have abridgement about of the what I did last week.' - These errors impede comprehension. We should put a ? and go back to question the student.
This scheme of two types of errors doesn't work, though - it's not sophisticated enough.
Here's an alternative:
On the spot
a) d) e) i) j)
f) g) h) i) j)
Don’t do this because students can correct their own work later!
b) c) g) h) i) j)
- Don't laugh at students, but laugh at mistakes together!
- Give work back without correcting anything.
- Ask for a re-write before marking anything.
- Students choose a classmate to check their work before they hand it in to the teacher.
- The person checking the work signs it.
- This makes all the students think carefully about mistakes.
- The teacher chooses a 150-word text from a previous unit and dictates it to the class.
- The student writes what he hears in pencil.
- When finished, the student checks his writing for mistakes and marks them in blue.
- The student then passes his paper to a partner who corrects any further mistakes he finds in green.
- The teacher then corrects in red, or, alternatively, puts the accurate text on the board for students to correct themselves.
- Put the students in teams and give them 'money' to buy correct sentences.
- Use sentences containing the students own mistakes.
- Which team 'bought' the most correct sentences?
- I wrote about this in an earlier post on communicative learner-centred grammar.
- Students make lists of their repeated errors so that they become more conscious of them.
- Errors that are really irritating to the teacher are displayed on a poster in the classroom.
- A mistake I'm always making and it really irritates me!
- A mistake I made this time that I thought I'd stopped making.
- A mistake that I've not made before, but I know how to correct it. (Great! Congratulations!)
- A mistake that I haven't made before and I don't know how to correct it. (Tell them - it might be from a future lesson.)