Does Feedback really help or are mistakes made by learners fossilised? – An #ELTchat summary (17/12/2012)

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Does Feedback really help or are mistakes made by learners fossilised? – An #ELTchat summary (17/12/2012)

This summary was contributed by Stephen Burrows (@stephenburrows) and reposted from his blog with his permission.


Moderators: I’m not entirely sure who they were, but I reckon @Marisa_C@theteacherjames and @Shaunwilden (That’s correct! – James)


Contributors@antoniaclare @carlaarena @cioccas@David__Boughton @escocesa_madrid @hartle @ljp2010 @louisealix68 @MarjorieRosenbe @shaznosel @stephenburrows @steven_odonnell @SueAnnan@teacherthom @TESOL_Assn @vickyloras @Wiktor_K


We started with the question by @teacherthomwhat do we mean by fossilised?”@Shaunwilden suggested it was an error fixed in the student’s head and @SueAnnan suggested it was fixed by practice.


@Marisa_C pondered whether it was easy to get rid of fossilized errors? @hartle suggested with appropriate feedback. @cioccas stated that it wasn’t easy, but slowly & with effort (by Ss) it was possible.


The important point of interlanguage and its relation to fossilaztion was introduced by @Wiktor_Kand both @louisealix68 and @David__Boughton highlighted the importance of students becoming aware and noticing their own mistakes. @escocesa_madrid agreed that noticing and self-correcting was key to breaking the onset of fossilization. There was unanimous agreement regarding this observation.


@teacherthom would later come up with the great summary that when an error stops after correction it demonstrates interlanguage. However, when when correction is followed by the repetition of the corrected error over a period of time, we are witnessing fossilisation.


@antoniaclare believed students are aware of their fossilized errors, @stephenburrows would bring this up to and @theteacherjames quipped that the learners are probably just making the errors to annoy their teachers! But @David__Boughton thought that there were fossilized errors learners were aware of, but plenty they weren’t aware of.


@theteacherjames gave a warning shot that dealing with these fozzilised errors can have negative backwash because the students think you’re nagging them and @Marisa_C would later bring up the problem of some teachers pouncing on every error and annoying their students.


@escocesa_madrid suggested writing common errors on the board and@Shaunwilden suggested recording students to highlight the errors they’re making, @cioccas agreed with this and @carlaarena said she did this and it worked well. @louisealix68 suggested learners keep an “error log” and many contributers commented on the value of this which learners could refer to when undertaking a writing task. @escocesa_madrid said it’s a good idea to make learners aware of what fossilization is.


@SueAnnan brought up the point of fluency v accuracy when correcting errors, she was just happy hearing her learners speaking, @cioccas agreed. @antoniaclare was unsure whether it was worth correcting fixed errors, she said she’d been correcting the same errors her partner makes for 20 years!@Marisa_C said this is more common with adults than YLs.


@stephenburrows pointed out that he makes errors all the time when writing online, it’s natural. @hartle said we need to separate communication feedback in terms of fluency and accuracy. @steven_odonnell suggested a ‘bottom up’ strategy, starting with working on the most ‘fundamental’ errors-those that grate on a native speakers’ ears. @Marisa_C and @SueAnnan pointed out pronunciation errors in adults can become easily fossilized and harm communication.


@hartle brought us back to the topic of self-correction, making it memorable and personal.@stephenburrows suggested that learner errors are a great source of classroom material.@MarjorieRosenbe said she wrote errors on the board and referred to them in class. @antoniaclare had the nice ideas of writing student errors on separate pieces of paper which she handed them at the end of class.


@Marisa_C was worried that teachers focus too much on grammar errors and@Shaunwilden said we do this because they’re easier to handle @Marisa_C agreed but suggested they’re also easier to spot. @stephenburrows said that word order errors seemed more productive to pick up on than grammar errors.


There were some comments about eye contact, hand movements and so on to correct errors rather than explicit error correction. @stephenburrows pointed out that picking up on errors is a good way of showing that as a teacher you’re paying attention. @escocesa_madrid suggested chants and songs as a good way of dealing with fossilized errors with YLs, @Marisa_C agreed memorable repetition was important.


@Marisa_C moved on to ways of giving feedback and student thoughts on it, @louisealix68 believed in peer feedback but @David__Boughton wasn’t a fan because younger students immature and older students want teacher imput, feeling cheated without teacher feedback. @shaznosel thought it was easy to give feedback for writing but more difficult with speaking in big classes.


@stephenburrows suggested “donut” speaking, where students are in two rings, speaking with various partners repeating tasks while teacher has opportunity to hear all of them and make notes on errors. @hartle suggested error correction at the end of speaking activities to not interfere with communication.


Towards the end, the issue of mixing errors with good examples of language was brought up by@hartle@steven_odonnell suggested it’s a good idea to leave out negative words like “mistake” “error” “problem” when giving feedback on error correction. @theteacherjames emphasised that feedback was more worthwhile than correction, i.e. “try this again” not “that was wrong”.