Corrective Feedback

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When people are trying to learn new skills, they must get some information that tells them whether or not they are doing the right thing.  Learning in the classroom is no exception.  Both the mastery of content and, more importantly, the mastery of how to think require trial-and-error learning. James Pennebaker

Look around and you’ll find corrective feedback happening today in many classrooms across America.  As a result it becomes important from the onset of English instruction to clarify and demystify cultural expectations within classroom walls (Lee, 2016) in order to promote an environment in which students feel confident to participate and lead.  In a particular study (Lee, 2016) conducted on sixty advanced-level ESL adult students, many of the learners had little to no exposure to corrective feedback when first arriving in the United States.  Instead, many of the adults came from English classrooms focused on teacher-centered education where little opportunity was provided to interact with teachers and peers as means for practicing oral English.  Following arrival in the United States, student’s English acquisition was directly influenced by student-centered classroom cultures in which more interactions were required with American teachers (Lee, 2016).  From these interactions, adults may be nourished and given experience within a safe learning environment in which relevant feedback regarding personal language progress is presented.  Furthermore, as corrective feedback is delivered, classroom ambiguity surrounding expectations and student performance vanishes leaving students emboldened to continue their quest for learning.

Suzuki outlines six types of corrective feedback available for the English classroom.  First is explicit correction in which an instructor offers explicit provision of the correct language form.  Next is recast where a teacher reformulates all or part of a student’s utterance without the initial error.  A clarification request instead allows an instructor to elicit a correct response either in the form of a question, such as “pardon?”, or by revealing the intended form with a rising tone.  Metalinguistic feedback requires an instructor to comment and pose questions related to an utterance without explicitly providing the correct form.  In this way through pointing to an error, it is hoped the correct answer will be provided by a student.  Yet another type of corrective feedback is elicitation in which techniques are used to directly elicit a desired language form.  One specific elicitation technique is for teachers to elicit the completion of a personal utterance by pausing to allow a student time to fill the blank.  Within elicitation the instructor is deliberate to never provide the desired form.  Lastly is repetition in which a teacher simply repeats in isolation a student’s utterance or adjusts one’s intonation to highlight a specific error (Suzuki, n.d.).  Each of these strategies may be used in combination or isolation to one another in order to provide relevant and stimulating feedback.

However, feedback can prove ineffective or even counterproductive if given in the wrong manner.  Stenger offers five research-based tips to assist in providing meaningful feedback for maturing students.  Inside her article, Stenger encourages persons to offer specific feedback in a timely manner.  She also advises instructors to acknowledge the advancement towards one’s goal while being deliberate to involve learners within the process of collecting and analyzing performance-based data.

Know too that feedback can move beyond teacher-student relations as peers deliver positive feedback among each other.  In one classroom observation, when given the opportunity to provide constructive feedback to peers, students appeared quicker to encourage one another while feeling safe to experiment with new knowledge.  Students also appeared more aware as to how they could assist one another in learning.  Peer feedback can take many forms, including students making comments on one another’s work or simply giving a thumbs up or down in response to a performance.

So the next time you catch an error inside the classroom, embrace the moment as an opportunity to further your student’s learning while increasing a student’s confidence.

Do you have favorite feedback techniques, or what have you found most successful in your classroom of learners? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Suzuki, M. (n.d.). Corrective feedback and learner uptake in adult ESL classrooms. Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, 4(2). Retrieved 2016.

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