Error Diary Vol 3 Q&A

This is the third post on error diaries. The general idea is outlined in the first post while the second one answers a set of questions. Here is the next part of questions to be dealt with.

The next comment I would like to respond to was made by Hana Tícha. Thank you, Hana, for expressing your concerns and ideas (they are in bold here). Responding to them, I’ll try to scrutinise how to improve error diary to make it more acceptable and beneficial for students.

I believe that a record of the most common mistakes my students make would be a great tool for further improvement in my teaching. But then I pictured the other situation: students recording sentences containing their own mistakes. A red light started to flicker. I mean, isn’t it too much? I agree that noticing and drawing students’ attention to errors is a vital part of instruction and learning. But asking Ss to write the mistakes down in ink again after they’ve uttered them sounds somewhat controversial to me.

I think you are absolutely right speaking about humiliating students by making them face their own mistakes and failures and, what’s more, write them down to face them again and again. I’m sure that it’s not for every group and I would refrain from introducing this method in some of my groups. For example, I teach a group of adults where the majority of students is risk-averse and quite shy to speak out. I’m convinced that error diary as it is would make it even worse. The same may be true for teenagers. However, I have a group of young people who are interested in making their speech more accurate and they enjoy ‘digging up’ the language and their own mistakes as well. I’d even say they like discussing errors. I’m the same type of a learner myself so we see eye to eye with each other.
Another idea, and you have already mentioned it, is to concentrate more on how to say it correctly than on the fact that a mistake was made. Nevertheless, I reckon we need to underline where the ‘dangerous’ place is in the sentence to be aware of it and therefore more attentive next time. It is also useful to know where an error may occur in order to prepare them better for devising their own tests.
Having thought it over, I will change the way we record our errors.
I prefer focusing on what is good rather than on what is wrong, even though a quick reminder (on the spot or postponed) is always to the good.

Focusing on good use of language can be another worthy idea for students. It just needs thinking over in terms of how to use this material later on.

Also, I remember my native speaking trainees revealing that by hearing the same mistakes over and over again in the L2 classroom, they started to make them too. Errors can simply catch on if one is exposed to them.

To avoid mistakes catching on, I find it necessary to provide several correct examples on the same rule, I have mentioned it before, we write a sentence where a mistake was made and then discussing what is correct and why and give more examples on the same rule. I believe it prevents students from memorizing wrong sentences and grounds the correct usage deeper.
Another set of thought-provoking and topic-developing questions was brought up by Anna Loseva.
That’d be just great to see how a sample error diary looks like!
Good idea, Anna. Here is a picture of one of the most neatly looking pages of my notes during the lesson. The topic was not a grammar point, but business communication skills. The most recent grammar was indirect questions and I managed to catch only one mistake related to it. I believe it must be dealt with in the diary. On the other hand you can see several mistakes connected to articles and uncountability. What I did was ignoring them in terms of the error diary and dedicating a part of another lesson to working on this issue.
My notes
And here is what an entry of an error diary might look like. The first version is what I used to do at the beginning but the second one is how I suggest that my students keep the diary now after your comments. You can see that I use grammar terms with this group – it’s only because they are good at it, but it might be confusing for other students.
Diary Entry 1Diary Entry 2

– Did I get it right that both you and your students have the diaries?.. Or do you go about working in their personal diaries after some mistakes have been recorded?

Well, there might be several options. I have a diary where I actually write all the mistakes I hear while monitoring, but some of them happen to be slips or the mistakes regarding yet unknown grammar or other irrelevant to the current topic errors. It is useful for me to keep this record for a number of reasons, most of which are listed in the first post. Students keep their diaries as well, but they are different.

There may well be an option of only a teacher doing it, so that there is no harmful effect on students but a teacher has a lot of material to work on. I did it with another group and I found it useful. At revision lessons I gave them tasks including their own mistakes. For example, there is a list of sentences and some of them are correct while some are not. The students need to spot the mistakes (that they have once made and we have once discussed) and it becomes a good competition task for two teams. They actually recognize the sentences sometimes. It also could be a good task for working on diminishing slips.

Hana’s point verbalised perfectly my own concern. Seeing this type of a diary as a reflection process going on is a sure plus, but yes, maybe on some psychological level I think it’s depressing to have mistakes recorded.. potentially, a whole notebook of mistakes.. I wouldn’t like to write down my thousands of mistakes in Japanese)) I think it’s just legitimately two sides of one coin, as ever.

I guess that you never know for sure what feelings it may cause and one should be very cautious trying it out. It is worthwhile to think of possible modifications for every group. You may start by recording their mistakes and working on them yourself and then, if you see that your students understand that it is their mistakes and they are eager to work on them more, why not to introduce the error diary into their work on the language.

And here are some ideas brought up in response to the second post.
Hana develops the topic: It occurred to me that it can sometimes be helpful to juxtapose the correct and incorrect language items, even though in my previous comment I had my doubts about the value of recording mistakes.
Unfortunately, you can hardly know at once what will work for this very student and what might prove to be ineffective. I’m sure there are people who will feel humiliated and stop speaking for the next several months but there are also people who analysing incorrect language will succeed in producing correct one.
To conclude the topic I would like to respond to Anna’s comment saying “I want to say maybe some problems are not so big as we see them, as teachers who care so much =)”
They say the sky is the limit. As a language learner I try to achieve something unachievable but I really enjoy this endless process which brings positive feelings even through multiple trials and errors. I want to instill this idea in my students so that they feel comfortable making mistakes and at the same time work on eliminating them. For the former you need to stop sometimes and let your students relax and make these mistakes (as Anna has said – the problem might be not as big as it seems), for the latter, I believe, we need to form a habit of listening to what you are saying and being able to correct yourself. Thus, correcting your own slips you’ll manage to speak more accurately. That is what I believe in. To sum up, balance is indispensable everywhere. Thanks, Anna, for raising this question!
Please, keep telling me what you think about it. It’s a  new thing for me and I am acquiring a deeper understanding and working out other possibilities while answering your questions. Thus, it may turn out to be a fruitful collaboration.
P.S. I had to stop experimenting with the group since the course was finished. I’ll let you know when I try it next time.

2 thoughts on “Error Diary Vol 3 Q&A

  1. Dear Kate,

    It’s great that you to took the time and elaborated on some of your readers’ comments in a brand new post. Thanks for that. When expressing my concerns about error diaries, I didn’t actually mean ‘humiliating students by making them face their own mistakes and failures and, what’s more, write them down to face them again and again’, as you put it. What I meant was the practical, not the personal or emotional aspect of the issue. I initially thought that the practice you had described may be redundant, and in some cases even harmful to language acquisition – not to the person’s feelings. However, now that I think about it, you may be right; it can even be a source of de-motivation and frustration.

    There’s nothing wrong with digging into one’s own mistakes and discussing them. And as you say, some learners even love it. I also agree that it’s good to highlight the ‘dangerous’ place is in the sentence to be aware of it and therefore more attentive next time. But that should suffice. I often draw parallels to L1 so let me give one example; it would be really redundant to ask my six-year-old son to record his mistakes in one way or another. What I do is that I explicitly let him know that something is not correct but that’s it. I don’t think it’s necessary and wise to go further. Repetition and lots of exposure to the correct version will finally help him acquire the language.

    Now you may object that in the L2 classroom students don’t have so much time and individual approach available and thus we must look for alternatives. True. But that does not mean we must overestimate the importance of error correction. In my experience, no matter how many times you say that the third person singular verb needs an -s, the learners up to a certain level of proficiency will tend to omit it, especially in speaking. Some errors are simply more resistant that others.

    I’d like to stress that I’m definitely for an error diary created by the teacher for his/her professional purposes. A systematic record like this can be a hard piece evidence of the students’ development, and it can also reveal the differences and needs of/across individuals, groups, and levels. It can help you to plan your lessons efficiently as well.

    Anyway, it seems you’ve tried hard to adjust your original approach and that shows that you’re a real professional open to new ideas and changes. Hats off.


    • Dear Hana,

      Thank you for your comment. The misunderstanding which occurred about the practice being redundant has led to more issues to consider. Speaking about the redundancy itself, I have been thinking about it for some time and I took into account your example of your son. Some methodological battles took place in my head. On the one hand, as you have predicted, I was thinking about the difference between L1 and L2 and I believe that L2 learners benefit from artificial means of learning such as rules, organising lists, correcting mistakes etc. What’s more, is it good that some mistakes fossilise and tend to live with us for several levels. I would be happy to do something to make or help my students get rid of them.
      On the other hand, one may get stuck in grammar stuff and correction which is not to the benefit of speaking which in turn should be prioritised.
      All in all, I came to the same conclusion: the benefits outweigh the disadvantages if only a teacher keeps a diary.

      Thanks for our productive collaboration on the issue


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