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 …