Thinking of correction

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Let this picture be a reminder that we, teachers, have life outside classroom too :-)!

Yes, it’s snowing. Huge, intricate and soft flakes swirling towards the ground, knitting a beautiful white blanket for the nature. Yesterday, while snowshoeing in the fairytale-like forest, I stopped now and then just to listen and hear the quiet, yet deep sigh of relief nature all around me heaved. 

These hours spent in pure bliss are my life savers. They come to aid me to air the stuffy brain, to make space for new and healthier thoughts (or no thoughts at all!), to help me take a distance from school so that I can see more clearly, see from above, see without the noise.

These last weeks have been extremely busy. The month of January froze the nature outside but got my creative juices flowing abundantly. Maybe it’s the decision to retake more active part in PLN doings, maybe it’s my regular yoga practice, maybe the wonderfully inspirational books I’ve been recently reading, but lots of classroom ideas have knocked at my door and helped to invigorate the teaching-learning adventure in my classes. I hope to be able to write about some of the new ideas in my next post.

Teacher training is in full swing as well, and working with my absolutely amazing colleague (let’s be honest, we are both trainers and learners in that story) has brought into light lots of questions, doubts, ideas. After many hours spent in the teacher training institute going over theories, methods, techniques, we are now actively visiting each other’s lessons and reflecting on the experience.

Last week my colleague was sitting in on two of my lessons, and although many teachers may feel reluctant and fearful towards being observed, I find this practice extremely useful and even enjoyable. I’ve even noticed that being so fully immersed in my lessons, I pretty much immediately forget there’s someone additional in class. So, honestly, when it comes to classroom work I don’t feel the difference whether someone external’s there or not. What’s more, last week I noticed something new in my attitude towards classroom observation. In the second lesson quite a few hiccups came to spice up the lesson; I mispronounced a student’s name, instructions were not very well understood, feedback was far from perfect, and timing didn’t work out the way I had planned. But I didn’t feel disappointed or frustrated in the end. Instead, we sat down with the other teacher and reflected on all that had come to pass. It was one of the most fruitful discussions I’ve had for quite a while, because it was about a REAL lesson, it was about a lesson I teach whether there’s someone in class or not.

One of the questions that arose was classroom correction and feedback. Students had to do an exercise on first conditional which was followed by a whole class correction. I asked students to read the sentences so that we could correct their work together. But this kind of work is often rather unsatisfactory. Students read silently, some literally mumbling into their collars and me, silly me, rushing to echo to make it move on faster and make sure that everyone hears the correct answer. Okay, it didn’t take up too much of the classroom time, but this rather tedious and painful procedure made us, my colleague and me, to wonder how to improve this part of classroom work. Imagine, you ask your students to do an exercise in order to put into practice newly acquired language and then you have to offer further support correcting what’s been done. HOW? Simply reading the exercises can be a real pain in the neck with lots of quiet students. What are the options?

To begin with, I don’t consider not correcting an option. Certainly not. I know that my students want to verify their answers and if I were a student in a language school I would get extremely cross if no correction was offered.

One of the things I sometimes do is write the correct answers on a hidden part of the blackboard and display them once students have finished. But I don’t always have the time before a lesson to get ready like that.

I have also asked students to work in small groups making sure there’s always one higher level student  to lead the discussion. Whenever students disagree, I’d go and check with them. But this option too has its drawbacks. What if students agree on an incorrect option and are perfectly happy with that?

What other options are available? How do you correct exercises as a class? How do you train your students to speak up?

As usual I’d be very grateful for your feedback.

It’s still snowing …

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11 thoughts on “Thinking of correction

  1. Great post. One thing you could do is to write sentences on the board, have students copy them down, and then work in groups to correct them. A lot of the reason they may not be correcting as a whole class is because they need more thinking time, or they are very shy. Working in groups gives them the ability to work with the language and figure out what is wrong without any whole class pressure. Afterwards, in a whole class mode, students would probably be more willing to correct/explain.

    What do you think?

    • Hi Anthony,
      and a big thanks for your quick response.
      Actually, the problem isn’t about students NOT doing their work. They have enough time to complete the exercises on their own, or even in pairs, if they prefer. The problems arise when we get to the whole class correction of their exercises. That’s the tedious part that needs to be made cooler and nicer 🙂
      But I agree that group work is always a good beginning step. I actually prefer group work as it makes students speak up with more ease and they dare to ask questions if anything’s remained unclear, so definitely break the class into smaller units and that helps!

      But I’m still wondering how to help my students to learn to speak up a little more, how to help them articulate their answers so that others can hear.
      Any suggestions on that?

  2. Hi Sirja!

    I have had that issue many times – they murmur and don’t speak loudly as they are embarrassed they might make a mistake in front of everyone.

    Some things I do (not an expert, but try to vary the way we correct):

    – I email them the correct answers (if you think they will really look at them and are responsible enough to do it on their own).
    – Have you got a projector in your class or one you can borrow for the lessons? I would project the answers on the board / wall and still have the kids read the correct answer, while correcting their own mistakes too (plus, this keeps them reading out loud / speaking English) : )
    – If you have not got a projector, how about writing the answers on big poster paper from home and then bringing it in to do the same thing as you would do with the projector? I know that would mean extra work for you, but I think it would still save time.

    I hope these help!

    Hugs,
    Vicky

    • Dear Vicky,
      thank you so much for taking the time to leave your thoughts here. I know how busy you are, so having your lines here is a real pleasure 🙂
      I do have a projector, so I might as well prepare a slide at home. And then, as you said, ask them to read the sentences. Just to have them practice the spoken language.

      Have a beautifully snowy Sunday!

  3. My pleasure, Sirja and I am happy you found it useful. It took me time to find out other solutions too, and I am always happy to share and learn new things as well.

    Have a great day,
    Vicky

  4. Hi Sirja,
    A very insightful post indeed. I love it when I come accross a post like this about doubts and issues that I’m concerned about too; and it’s also really inspiring to see the ideas coming from other teachers.
    I recently started to correct in groups. I’ll give the key to groups of five or six, and they can take it in turns to be the the teacher, or just check together. I like doing it this way because I think they are more comfortable discussing what went wrong and why, and they can ask me so we can have a whole group feedback with the trickiest examples.
    I also post the key on our LMS sometimes, so they can check before the class.

    By the way, congratulations. I really like your blog! Thanks for sharing so many interesting ideas.

    • Hi Anabel,
      And thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts here. I appreciate it very much.
      And yes, once again thumbs up for group work. And it’s not just for the students. i find that it’s often more effective, interesting and useful to focus on a group of students at a time before moving on to the next lot. It gives the teaching a much more personal touch, not to mention the possibility to observe students’ performance at close and thus much more effectively.
      Once again, cheers for stopping by and till next time!

  5. Hey Sirja:)

    I agree with the others who suggested getting corrections to the students via other ways. I just email students a lesson summary after each class.

    Also wanted to share my favorite activity for getting students talking more. I call it “Moving Lines”. It goes like this.

    Step 1: Introduce the target language. You mentioned “first conditional”, so for example, you might write the first conditional form on one part of the board before class.

    Step 2: Put a series of questions that prompt first conditional responses on the board. For instance: Will you study tonight? Will you eat a sandwich for lunch? Leave space under the questions for sample answers.

    Step 3: Poll the class for responses that use first conditional. I will study, if I have a test tomorrow. I will eat a sandwich if you give me one. Write them on the board.

    Step 4: Have each student write one more question/response of their own.

    Step 5: Put the students in two lines so that each student is facing a partner. The students should ask their partner all the questions on the board and the question they wrote.

    Step 6: Half the students stay still while the other half move one spot and repeat with their new partner.

    Repeat until everyone has spoken to each person across from them.

    ***

    This activity is my absolutely favorite way to get quiet/lower level students talking. It works well for lots of different objectives (certainly not just grammar). The better students can correct the worse students. There’s lots of repetition. And no one is afraid to talk because everyone is talking.

    By the way, you could spice it up for higher levels in a few ways. First, instead of focusing so closely on conditionals, you might just make the questions about a topic and throw in a few conditional questions. Another idea would be to make the students layer conditional questions like this:

    A: Will you go to the store?
    B: I’ll go if you call me. Will you call me?
    A: I’ll call you if you buy me a puppy. Will you buy me a puppy?
    B: I’ll buy you a puppy if you give me money. Will you give me money?
    etc.

    Hope you like it!!

    Jeremy
    http://stuartmillenglish.com

    • Hi Jeremy,
      and a big thank you for stopping by and taking your time to leave such a thorough and interesting response.
      Emailing students either lesson summaries or any kind of information is one of my favorite things as it makes them read and react in authentic English. I love reading the emails coming from my weaker students who are struggling with the language , yet really seem to enjoy communicating in English.
      Thank you for the activity as well! Always happy to receive fresh ideas to spice up my lessons.

      Till next time!

  6. Hi Sirja,
    This blogpost has been sitting in my inbox for ages – it was worth the wait for all the useful suggestions you’ve had in the comments. Thanks for sharing a problem from your classroom – it’s valuable because it helps us all to think about what we’d do in this situation.
    From classes I’ve observed over the past year, getting students to read sentences aloud is often problematic because: a) they’ve not sure about the answer, b) they aren’t confident with the pronunciation, c) they don’t want to embarrass themselves. Perhaps it’s better to separate correction from reading aloud, and to consider why you want them to read aloud.
    Other commenters have suggested various ways of doing the feedback, including projection or preparing the sentences on a poster. Your choice partly depends on what kind of first conditional exercise they were doing. If it’s just a gapfill, you could get SS to put the answers on the board (divide it into boxes, one per sentence, and ask as many SS as can fit at the board at once to write the answers – only the gaps, not full sentences). If it’s full sentences, SS could have pieces of scrap paper, one per pair/group. Each pair/group writes one of the answers on their paper which you display around the room in a gallery for all the SS to walk around and check their answers.
    As for reading aloud, if you want to give them pronunciation practice, why not drill some of the sentences separately? If you move from whole class to group to individual drilling, SS should be able to speak up more confidently by the end of this part of the lesson.
    I guess you’ve probably finished school for the year by now, so enjoy your holiday!
    Sandy

    • Dear Sandy,
      Now it’s my turn to explain the late reply 🙂
      I got your comment the day I was travelling to Estonia, and well, when I’m in Estonia nothing else really matters. I forget everything about work and teaching and indulge in Estonian summer. I simply cannot think of anything else. It’s like a parallel universe where my Swiss life doesn’t exist. 😉

      But now I’m back and ready to brush up on my teaching skills.
      As for correction practice I introduced two “new” techniques with my students.

      The first is simply showing the correct answers on board once the exercice is finished. What I noticed immediately is that students pay a whole lot more attention to this kind of correction. They are also more willing to ask questions if anything has remained unclear.

      The other possibility, which I use in more mixed level groups, is correcting fast finishers’ work first and then letting them be the tutors to the lower level students. That works really well as well.

      That’s it for now.
      Really glad to have your comment here by the way 🙂

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