Error Correction: Where, When and How

Inherent in the profession of teaching is the need to make corrections, but teachers are often unsure as to how much to correct, or even how to go about it. Marguerite is worried about how she is to deal with error correction with her beginning Spanish classes. She wants to correct her students and thereby improve the quality of their language, but is afraid that if she corrects the students too much, they will become discouraged and stop taking risks in the language.

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Erinn's case study
Marguerite's case study

What does the process of error correction consist of?

Error correction sequences consists of four steps:

  1. A student error
  2. The teacher’s feedback which may take the form of explicit correction, recast, clarification request, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation or error correction
  3. The student’s response, which may or may not still need repair
  4. Reinforcement of a correct response by the teacher (on occasion)

Students respond more successfully when the correct form is not supplied for them and there is negotiation of form  ie: with clarification requests, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation or error repetition

What is the difference between intake and uptake?

Intake occurs during the process of Giving It and Getting It, where students are taking in new information and processing it.

Uptake occurs during the Using It stage and describes the process of students retrieving information that is already part of their consciousness. It describes the learners’ responses to the teacher's feedback following either an erroneous utterance or a query about a linguistic item. Some researchers argue that uptake may contribute to second language acquisition by facilitating noticing and pushing learners to produce more accurate linguistic forms.

What is the difference between a Recast and a Repair?

Recast is what the teacher says with the purpose of helping a student notice his or her mistakes and repair it on his or her own. Several different types of recasts are listed below. A Repair is the student’s correction after the recast.

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What are the types of recasts a teacher can use?

Explicit recast – this recast is clear and very direct on what has to be corrected; ithelps the student notice one thing in particular which needs to be corrected
Implicit recast – this recast is more subtle and often employs gestures. It suggests to the students that there is something to correct rather than direcingt the student to the error immediately

Short recast – this type of recast refers only to the length of the recast, so that only a short cue is given
Long recast – this is a longer length of recast,  like a longer cue or perhaps an explanation

Pronunciation recast – this type of recast focuses on what aspect of the sentence needs to be corrected, in this case the pronunciation
Grammar recast – this type of recast tells the student that an aspect of grammar must be corrected
Vocabulary recast – this type of recast tells the students that an aspect of vocabulary must be corrected

Substitution request/recast – this type of recast lets the student know that a particular aspect of the sentence needs to changed to something else
Addition request/recast – this type of recast lets the student know that something needs to be added to the sentence

Declarative recast – this type of recast is delivered in sentence form, stating that something is wrong in the student’s sentence ie: “the tense is wrong”
Interrogative recast – this type of recast is delivered in question form, whether restating the sentence as a question, or asking the student dorectly what is wrong with the sentence

One repair needed recast – this type of recast demonstrates that there is only one repair to be made
Multiple repairs needed recast – this type of recast demonstrates that there is more than one repair to be made

Clarification requests – this type of request forces the student to think about, make changes if necessary and repeat their answer, ie: “Pardon?”
Metalinguistics feedback – this type of recast shows the students or forces them to think about why something in the language functions the way that it does, ie: “Is that how you would say it in English?”

Elicitation – this type of recast tries to get the students to give you what you are looking for in an answer (specific answer)
Error repetition – this type of recast involves repeating the mistake the way that the student said it

These recasts are not always used individually; quite often, a recast can belong to several categories at the same time. For example, a grammar recast can also be a long recast as well as a substitution recast. Or, an elicitation recast can be a vocabulary recast as well as an interrogative recast.

Watch the video of this German teacher and decide what types of Error Correction she is using. (time 3:41)


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Why correct errors? Why not?

Correcting student errors is necessary in order to help students improve their skills. However, how one goes about correcting the errors and in what situations can make a significant difference in how the correction is received by the student.

Teachers must know their students in order to gauge what kind of error correction should be used. Some students are very form-focused and really want explicit correction; some students are less form-focused and will feel criticized by too much correction. It is a risk a teacher takes when correcting students in oral communication, that the student will be reluctant to try again in the future. Teachers must foster an environment in the classroom that is forgiving of mistakes and encouraging of risks.

Test your knowledge of Error Correction with this quiz.

Research On Error Correction and Implications For Classroom Teaching

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Copyright © Olenka Bilash May 2009 ~ Last Modified June 2009