Error Correction: keeping an ‘Error Diary’

What did my tutors at the CELTA course tell me about correcting mistakes?

Think about the type of task the students are doing – they said – if it’s controlled practice, use this array of techniques to correct them. Otherwise, resort to delayed error correction which usually comprises collecting and writing on the board sentences with mistakes and those with examples of successful use of target language. Students are aspired to discuss the sentences and ponder their own use of structures/grammar/whatever is being learned.

What usually happens after error correction is that the information on students’ mistakes vanishes completely from their minds as quickly as from the board and they pretty often make them again (yes, a bit of exaggeration to paint the picture brightly). They appear to be relieved of these errors after making them several times more. And it’s true for me as a learner as well. The fact that I understand my mistake doesn’t mean I won’t make it again. I may well forget that this is my weakness and ignore the idea of stopping myself to think how to say correctly what I’m going to say. Even if I know rules I neglect them unintentionally because while uttering an idea I concentrate on meaning more than on form, as I guess most people do.

I questioned myself what should be done to extend the work on errors so that the way from ‘I always make mistakes with this’ to ‘oh, I just say it as I’m used to saying and it’s almost always (let’s be realists) correct’ as quick and short as possible.

After questioning myself I questioned my DoS and here is a couple of her suggestions tailored and moulded to serve my aims and fit my style.

First of all, I change the process of conducting delayed error correction. We don’t just say what is correct, what is not and why. If a sentence is not correct students briefly explain why (they are able to do it by this stage of a lesson) and, having done that, they make their own examples of the very same structure personalizing the sentence. Let me provide you with a slightly simplified example.

‘He have been to London’ is the sentence on the board.

  • Is this sentence correct?
  • Why?
  • Because he – has.
  • Does everyone agree?
  • Yeeeees
  • Now each of you makes a sentence with this structure about students in our group.
  • Mary has been to Egypt.
  • Peter has been to Paris.
  • Karin has been to America.

I wholeheartedly believe that thus students link the rule to something more tangible, which is also strengthened by mechanical repetition and creates a correct language wont.

Next trick is actually the essence of this post. After doing this super controlled correction-practice exercise, instead of simply erasing everything from the board my students and I write the sentences with mistakes in special ‘Error Diary’.

Why do I need it?

It’s pretty obvious – I keep a record of all students’ mistakes to:

  • See the most frequent mistakes
  • See the flaws in my teaching as some mistakes indicate what I haven’t explained something properly or what I have forgotten to draw students’ attention to
  • Use the sentences for further tests and revision games and exercises
  • Monitor which mistakes have fielded as a history and which are being strong and resistant requiring more work and attention
  • Have a good source of language to analyse for a particular group in case I happen to see some interesting particularities in terms of language acquisition (unfortunately, I have never seen any so far)

Why do my students need it?

  • They have a record of their own mistakes with their own weaknesses underlined and analysed by themselves
  • They can always refer to this diary like to a rule because it’s even more useful than a rule since it represents personalized and analysed use of language which once was difficult for them (or more than once)
  • They have an opportunity to see how I work with their mistakes later on. I don’t invent vague sentences which sometimes lack context and have no connection with my students. I use their own sentences, about themselves and the students see it and, as I was said, they feel my personal involvement and attention to their learning process.
  • Students use their notes to make test-type tasks for each other as a means of revision of material. I believe this is a way of processing and understanding the language that can’t be overestimated.

Now it’s high time I told you about the results I have noticed after using ‘Error Diaries’.

  • When we have collected a set of sentences (let’s say 20) and all work with errors is done (discussion, using in my exercises, students’ tests) I make a final speaking revision task intentionally to check the same mistakes. If mistakes aren’t made this time, I cross them out. Having done so with 4 sets of mistakes I have all of them crossed out with exception of one or two after each revision.
  • Students hardly ever make them again in free speaking activities.
  • Students feel more responsible for their own learning and appear to be more conscious.
  • Students say they feel learning process and their progress better.

I would like to underline and assure you that it doesn’t take as much time as it may seem. If it’s in a form of a game, it’s used as a warmer at the beginning of a lesson or at the end when we have a spare minute. If it’s an exercise they have devised themselves, I usually check it and hand out to a different person as a home task. The final revision activity is usually combined with another speaking activity so that it follows logically.

I want to encourage you to try this extended means of error correction if you have never done it and reap the results. Let me know your opinion on this idea anyway.

One lesson before and after CELTA

I was recently covering another teacher and the lesson I was doing reminded me that I did the same one almost a year ago, before CELTA and some training sessions. I was happy to find this year-old plan and I think it’s interesting to compare these two lesson plans. Unfortunately, the integrity of the comparison is doubtful since at that time I knew something about teaching and I had the teacher’s book (winning strategy, right?). Moreover, the situations are different. One year ago I taught a group of about 6 students while a week ago it was an individual student via skype. But still there are some noticeable differences.

I decided to name the stages as they are in the book to keep it short. And I confess it’s not a really good lesson Idid a week ago, I just followed the book because I was too tired and, yes, lazy to do my  best (covering another teacher, you know – I’m not usually like that, believe me) and it’s what I regret doing now.

Before

After

Lead-in

Done because it’s in the book. Open class discussion. Real questions not asked Done because I know what the aim of this stage is. Real questions asked, discussion emerged, but timing was good.

Vocabulary

I handed out cards, cut in halves for matching in pairs, checked in open class feedback, discussed the meaning with translation. Used the exercise from the book. Discussed the meaning using CCQs and asked real questions personalizing sentences.

Checked how the student remembers the words with the book closed.

Listening

Done as it was described in the book: gist task, matching halves of sentences and checking by listening again. There were difficulties with understanding the text (to my surprise because speaking has been very good so far – it was the first time I worked with this student) so we listened twice for gist and second task we did without listening for the second time.

Grammar (Past Simple)

Explained the rules and formulas on the board. Students did exercises individually and then checked together. I used the listening exercise to get examples, elicited rules and formulas asking CCQs. We did the exercises with Demand High ELT method applied and a great deal of personalization. Much more time but better results.

Pronunciation

Did as it is suggested by the authors of the book. Skipped this stage because of lack of time (timing is my biggest problem I guess)

Speaking

Students tell each other about themselves answering questions from the book. The student answered the questions from the book and my own real questions.

Extra tasks

Discussing films about the topic (using pictures in the book) none

 

Then I thought what I would do if I had to teach a group now.

  • In Lead-in there would be pair work and open class feedback with real questions
  • Vocab – the same but personalization task would be done in pairs
  • Listening – I’d rather listen once and check the second task by listening again. There would be pair work before checking as a whole class
  • Just more pair work with grammar
  • I’d do pronunciation differently from the exercise in the book as it is too complicated there. I’d give the students 3 examples of verbs with the –ed ending and asked them to match them to transcription and then elicit the rule in open class. After that I would make a categorizing dictation followed by checking in pairs and discussing all together.
  • Speaking would also be based on pair work like one year ago, but I would ask students to come up with follow-up questions. Another option might be to transform it into a mingling task depending on the number of students.

What is significantly different?

1. I realize that the aim of each stage is important to know in order to reach it. The same for the lesson aim. So, I plan consciously.

2. I get more out of tasks and try to make them more like natural conversation.

3. Elicitation appeared instead of teacher’s speech in front of the board.

4. I’d say the whole explaining stage is different.

5. There is often some kind of linking between stages.

Personal feelings

1. I now have a kind of sense of direction while planning. If I don’t like any tasks from a course book I don’t hesitate to change them, but also I don’t try to invent something incredibly outstanding as well as very complicated spending all my free time to see it fail at the lesson.

2. I spend less time planning though I always complain that I don’t enough time for that.

3. It’s really difficult to remember how I approached planning before CELTA)

4. I believe that without the teacher’s book I would do much worse one year ago.

 

Now my question is:

Am I obsessed with pair work beyond measure or it’s bearable still?

But seriously, do you remember your teaching and planning before substantial training? What are the most visible differences?

 

What is discouraging after CELTA?

It is a spontaneous post and the list is obviously not complete, but here are some issues that drive me crazy.

  • I don’t have time to plan properly therefore I encounter various problems due to insufficient planning and feel awful exiting a classroom. Since CELTA it has been a couple of times when I was more or less happy with my lesson.
  • I spend all my free time planning and feel overwhelmed by work. My acquaintance has recently asked me what I do for entertainment, I said “Work or read Tweeter (that is about work as well)”. Frankly speaking, I love my job, I enjoy teaching, but sometimes it’s too much.
  • Tons of information including non-CELTA-way of teaching shatter my unstable foundation, unstable – due to the lack of proper experience. By ‘proper experience’ I mean lessons which I am satisfied with. That leads to the feeling of trying to build a house on wholes. I am trying to say that it would be brilliant if I could become confident in CELTA-way teaching first to be able to move on, but I can’t due to the reason listed above.
  • There occur situations which I wasn’t prepared for during the course. One of the most frequent situations with Russian students (don’t know about others but my colleagues and I face it) is that they stubbornly resist trying to infer meaning through picture/example/text/situation/explanation/whatever. For instance, I need to explain the word ‘a pot’. I show a picture and say ‘This is a pot’. Believe me, I found a good picture! And some students still claim to say what the Russian translation is. It’s like trying to break a wall using your head – painful and unproductive. Some of them even get angry and I know why – they feel insecure and afraid of looking stupid, they are used to different teaching approach (grammar-translation I mean). So what shall I do?
  • Small groups is another problem. I have a very limited range (if it can be called so) of interaction patterns when I have a group of 2 or 3 people. I am collecting ideas and tricks on how to vary interaction in such groups. It’s one more ‘entertainment’.

What were you anxious of frustrated about shortly after CELTA? Or maybe what are you disappointed with now?

I PASSED CELTA!)

Actually I did it some time ago but it took me a lot of time to sort out my notes and bring all the ideas together.

Firstly, if you have read a lot of scary posts about CELTA saying how tiring it is and how everybody has struggled with lessons and assignments – well, it’s true. But all I can remember now is how cool the tutors were, what brilliant and unique people I have met, what an incredible experience I had living there, how I have improved myself and yes, how much fun I had there. So, if you are afraid of it as I was before the course, be sure it will be cool and it will be fun.

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The first CELTA-week

The actual 5 days are gone and I haven’t really noticed. It’s so busy here)

The very next day after the CELTA started I was supposed to teach and it wasn’t as hard as they say. Tutors provide you with a rough lesson plan. All you need to do is to adapt some material and think how you’re going to explain the material and tasks. Nobody expects you to show some outstanding teaching from the beginning and it’s OK to make mistakes and nobody will tell you that you’re doing something wrong. As for constructive criticism, they will tell you how to do it better next time and it’s really useful information.

That’s pretty the first part of the second day including Assisted Lesson Planning for another group of three trainees.

About the teaching practice: students have three 45-minute lessons with a 15-minute break 4 days a week. So, if you’re the third to teach, you’ll have the break to get ready.

The second part of the day is dedicated to input sessions which are both informative and entertaining.

On Wednesday we got to know about the first assignment which is connected to language analysis. Native-speakers struggle the most because they hardly know a lot of language terminology.

The best piece of advice I’ve got so far is while thinking what activity to choose or how to teach something think about students first and after that about your teaching.

The first CELTA-day

Despite the fact that I’ve read a lot about CELTA beforehand, the information received during the first day is kind of mess in my head. Nevertheless, I am in high spirits due to the fact that our tutors are really funny and positive and we laughed a lot today. So, let me tell you how it was step by step.

Firstly, we arrived to the school and waited in the hall. There are about 18 trainees on the course which is not much, while as I was told it’s usually around 30. At 9 sharp we were led to our room where we had ice-breaking games and I managed to learn all the names! Usually it’s my weak point(

Next section of the day was dedicated to observing lessons which was really thought-provoking as the teacher appeared to have constructed the lessons out of nothing. What’s more, we got acquainted with our students and I managed to learn their names too. Well done, me!

After a break we were told all general information about the course and the requirements, we also got instructions on paperwork we are to do during the course and filled in some forms.

Then we had so-called Assisted Lesson Preparation when we were given topics and short lesson plans for our first lessons. Our tutor helped us to develop them so that we just need to put it in the form of plan for ourselves and add some questions which are not given in our course book. I must admit that it’s not that awful as I imagined and teaching the very next day is OK after such preparation together with your group and the tutor.

Finally, we had a foreign language lesson aimed at putting us in learners’ shoes so that we feel the way they feel and to tune us in for the next day which appears to start with me teaching.

A bit about fellow-trainees:

The people on the course came from different countries and all of us have totally different background, but still all of us are very kind and helpful.  I’m really happy to be here with these people.

A bit about tutors:

We have 3 tutors who make the learning process engaging and interesting. They also provide us with all the necessary information (several times if necessary) so you won’t forget or miss anything.

A bit about students:

A group of guys we are supposed to work with for a couple of weeks made me feel more confident. They are so active and positive. You will never face a problem when a student refuses to participate or any other tricky situation.

Not more than 40% new info at a lesson?

I’ve recently read somewhere that it’s necessary to give not more than 40% of new information with 60% of revision each lesson. Or it might even be 30%-70% or even 20%-80%.

I can hardly estimate the percentage at my lessons. I’ve never thought about it.

Do you know that?

Do you follow it at your lessons?

I’m interested in the explanation of this percentage. Might be quite reasonable. I’m going to google it when I have a spare moment, but I’m also interested in your personal opinion and experience.

Who is a CELTA trainee?

Despite of being too apprehensive about the interview I’m just taking the result for grunted. From now it looks quite easy and extremely pleasant due to Vanja, my future CELTA trainer. She was really extremely nice. But although I’m in, I had to promise my trainer to work hard on my English. I’m aware of my problems and, well, I’m trying to improve it. And waiting for January to go to Budapest. I’ve already bought tickets!

Some words about the interview.

As I said, the atmosphere was pleasant and I felt quite OK. Firstly, Vanja asked me some questions related to my essay about my English learning experience, teaching experience and my interest in the course. Then we discussed grammar questions from the application form and she asked me to paraphrase a couple of sentences so they sound better. After that we passed to the methodological part of the application and I was asked to role-play teaching beginners a language item. After a discussion we passed to another role-play where she as a teacher explained a phrase, first I was her student and then I was to analyse the explanation. Then I was given another item to teach and 2 minutes for preparation. At the end Vanja said that I’m in and described me the peculiarities of the course and finally I had some time to ask questions. That’s it. Shortly after that I received a letter with huge amount of information regarding the payment procedure, info on Budapest, how to get from the airport and who to call in case of something… And there is a pre-course task to do, though I haven’t opened it yet( Shame upon me!

But I’m working on my English aiming to pass CAE in December.