In the last twenty years or so, I have changed my mind about a lot of things: my mom, Celine Dion, politics, my career, MAC computers, McDonald’s, oral correction in class, soap operas, Ford cars, task-based teaching, grammar teaching, shampoo, drilling, suffering fools gladly, communicative language teaching and Lindt chocolates. I do hold, however, two or three teaching beliefs that seem to have remained relatively unscathed over time.One of them concerns the way I deal with writing as a skill. Relatively little has changed since Ron White’s book came out in 1991 and, strangely enough, I see almost nothing wrong with the current orthodoxy.
True, recent classroom events have encouraged me to shift the balance between pre-writing preparation and between-draft feedback in favor of the latter, but, overall, I’m still quite happy to adhere to the basic tenets of process writing. This includes, of course, the use of correction symbols to show students what they got wrong language wise and help them self-correct.
I use three techniques, though, that might stray a bit from the orthodox model and this is what I’d like to share with you.
1. When I feel that a student will never be able to find a better alternative to whatever it is that he/she got wrong, I just provide the correction myself. Period. The student’s time is precious and so is mine.
2. Certain mistakes can be easily self-corrected if the student knows how to use a monolingual dictionary. So whenever I underline a word and write “D”next to it, the students know that they’re supposed to look up the key word in their English-English dictionary, read the examples carefully and correct their own work. This does require, of course, a good amount of ongoing learner training.
3. Some mistakes stem from a lack of linguistic knowledge / competence, of course, but others are often the result of either underdeveloped editing skills or pure and simple carelessness. In other words, a basic student who writes “yesterday I go” should be helped differently, I think, from an intermediate student who makes the same mistake. This is why I no longer use correction symbols for mistakes the student should not be making at that level. Instead, I just write an “X” at the right margin, to signal that there’s a basic mistake in that line. Two “Xs” mean two basic mistakes and so on and so forth. For example, this is how I might correct a narrative written by an intermediate student:
Give this a try one day and tell me how it works out for you.
Thanks for reading.