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Category Archives: corrections

James Hunter, Assistant Professor – English Language Center, Gonzaga University, Spokane USA

Excel has an Analysis ToolPak which can do a lot of statistical tasks. Help on installing it is here. Also, try the R Project.  This is a free “software environment for statistical computing and graphics” and it will run on Windows, Mac, and Linux.  I haven’t had much of a chance to play with it, but it is certainly not user-friendly.  However, you can also get Statistical Lab, which is a GUI interface for R, also free but not for Mac or Linux. There’s also a free version of SPSS (the “big” stats package that businesses & colleges use), called PSPP.

With all of these, you can easily do correlation matrices, T-test, Chi-square, item analysis, Anova, etc. These will enable you to compare results on assessments, do pre- and post-tests, get inter-rater reliability information, find links between variables, etc.  See also this for information on which statistical procedures to use when.

I use mean and SD on most tests and quizzes to a) compare classes to previous semesters and b) look at the distribution and spread of scores on a test/item. This helps to make informed decisions about assessment instruments, especially those that might be adopted as standardized tests for the program. I’ve done a lot of work with our placement instruments, for example, to determine reliability and check our cut scores.

Recently, I’ve been doing research on corrective feedback in oral production, so have needed measures of accuracy and fluency (and complexity!). Statistical analysis has been essential to find correlations between, say, accuracy and reaction time on a grammaticality test and accuracy and production time in a correction test.  For instance, in class a student says to another: *”Yeah, actually I’m agree with you”. This goes down on a worksheet for her (and occasionally other classmates – see this for a description of this methodology), and she is later given a timed test in which she sees the incorrect sentence and has to record a corrected version. Her speed in doing this task (plus her accuracy) give a measure of whether this structure/lexis is part of her competence (or to use Krashen’s model, whether it has been “acquired” or “learned”: presumably, if this theory holds water, “learned” forms will take longer to process and produce than “acquired” ones). In addition to this production test, I’ve been doing a reaction time-test in which the same learner hears her own recording and has to decide, as quickly as possible, whether what she said is correct or not.  You can try this for yourself here (you will not be able to hear student recordings, only a few practice sets, recorded by me using student errors from our database; use anything as Username and “elc” as password).

These measures yield 1000s of results, and that’s why statistical analysis has been essential. Excel can do a lot of the work, especially in graphical representation, but SPSS has done most of the heavy lifting. For instance, it has revealed that there is no significant difference between the reaction time (or accuracy) when a student is listening to herself correcting an error she originally made and when she is listening to herself correcting errors made by classmates. In other words, students are just as good or bad at noticing and judging errors whether they made them or a classmate did. The same is true in the correction task described above.  This indicates that WHOSE error a student is correcting/judging has much less effect on her speed or accuracy than some other factor, e.g. the nature of the error itself. Probably a large “Duh!” factor there, but these things need to be ruled out before moving on…


>By Terence Egan

Being of the “fluency first” school and having students with quite a low level of English (and motivation), I let many errors slip by in my first term at this school. I didn’t ignore them completely, but allowed conversations to flow as best the communicator could manage.

At the beginning of second term, I feigned great horror at many of the common errors that students make in conversation. I tried to sell them on the simple notion that, if we practiced one common error as a component of each lesson, by the end of the term their English would have improved significantly and, hopefully, each student would have eradicated several of these problems from their extensive repertoires.

There was another rider to that first speech of the term. Having taught them the correct form or structure, I would not allow that mistake to be made in my class “ever again”. This was my Churchillian denouement.

I began with “he” and “she”, moved on to things like “I very much like (something)”, “much” and “many”, etc. In written exams they show that they know the rule, so it’s a matter of discipline, concentration and practice.

The interesting result was that these errors, once they were enshrined in “classroom law” (or “lore” maybe) became rare – from the moment they were introduced in a lesson! By the end of the term, the students were correcting each other (without animus, of course).

Chinese students seem to like boundaries and rules. Other rules introduced in Term 2 such as “no sleeping”, “no latecomers”, “no Chinese” were observed with the same diligence and often policed by each other.

>Self-correction, except for typos or some “absent-minded” errors, is very difficult for students because if they knew it was wrong they wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Peer-correction isn’t fun and it is difficult for students to fully trust their partner’s evaluation. The question that puzzles many teachers is what is the best way to help students to improve in areas where they make a lot of mistakes?

The obvious answer is teacher-correction. But is teacher-correction effective? Recent research shows that students do not make effective use of teacher-correction. The teacher would like to imagine the student takes his corrected paper to a quite place, sits down and pulls out a dictionary and grammar book and carefully goes over the corrections. But in fact, most students only check to see how much “red” is on the paper and then file it away in their book bag never to be looked at again. Much of the teacher’s laborious work of careful correction is actually time wasted.

If self-correction, peer-correction and teacher-correction are not effective, then what is the best way to involve the student in the writing process in a corrective way? How can the student be put in a position to notice grammar or writing in a way that interacts with his previous knowledge and develops a deeper and clearer grasp of English?

I have been doing research in a new method I developed at a university and at multinational businesses where I taught managers and businessmen. I call it Teamwriting. It helps students to benefit from peers, helps students to learn not only from their mistakes but from the mistakes of others and makes the most economical and efficient use of the students’ and the teacher’s time.

I divide the blackboard space into vertical sections large enough to allow someone to stand in front of one section and large enough to contain the writing task (about one-meter wide). Then I divide the class into pairs or teams, assigning each set of students to a part of the board.

The writing tasks are everything from brainstorming a subject to writing a paragraph to writing an essay (write small). This works quite well with a class of about 20 but I’ve only been able to do it with a class of 40 when we had blackboards on two walls of the classroom.

Sometimes each group gets a different topic to work on or sometimes it is the same and they compete with the other groups. I get the whole class out of their seats and up to the board. Usually one student will take up the chalk while the rest of the team (from one to three others) offers suggestions and corrections during the writing process. I find this gets the students intimately involved with the language process and able to benefit from the help of some of their classmates – thus the peer-learning factor.

After the writing is done, usually terminated by a set period of time, I will examine each writing sample, one-by-one, with the entire class looking on. First, I will ask the class to offer corrections. The class really focuses on this activity. You can see every eye examining the sample trying to see if it is correct or not. Some speak up. Others may have ideas about the writing even though they may not voice them. But they’re all involved. Then I will offer my corrections, if any.

Some of my classrooms are equipped with AV equipment, essentially a video camera and projector, which allow the projection of books or papers. If the classroom has this sort of equipment the students do not need to write at the blackboard but can do their teamwriting on a piece of paper that the teacher can project and correct before the class.

Teamwriting seems to be more effective than personally correcting individual writings or conferencing with students, and especially so when considering the economy of time. It allows every student to test their ideas about the language, it enables immediate feedback and is a quick, easy and engaging way to “learn from the mistakes of others”.

>Tony Lee – Shengda College, Zhengzhou, Henan, China

I do not correct every little mistake, and it is not immediately immediate. There are few opportunities for teacher monitored individual speaking – up to the maximum of a whole 3 minutes per person per week when a whole class (32 students) activity is involved.

We have a couple of oral classes of 60 students. Divide that number into 100 minutes!!! The opportunities for leisurely individual appraisal and counselling are aqlmost non-existing — so at the end of each student’s speech I praise it as lavishly as possible and tell the student of ONE major problem and how to go about correcting it.

Reinforcing the importance of active listening by requiring peer appraisal and honest reporting by a randomly selected student seems to help as otherwise the rest of the class just switches off. I agree that to stop at each error would be counterproductive and I was just trying to reinforce the finding that the students do want to be corrected immediately – and I know the keen ones really do mean immediate. Students cannot get discouraged from speaking because they do not have a choice of opting out of a speech.

If it is an impromptu speech and they are obviously stuck then of course I do not allow them to stand there losing face — I will relate cases where experienced actors have a mental blank and go on with the next speaker and give them a chance for more preparation.

We are supplied with texts and sometimes even with the corresponding tapes of such poor quality that they are useless. The students (and I) hate the books involving drill and soon get sick of a semester of ‘argument’ or ‘discussion’ or the provocatively named ‘reproduction’ (which for 10 microseconds led me to believe the subject might be slightly more interesting – until I opened it to the first page — silly me) so we have been very grateful for some of the ideas we get from others.

Over concern with shyness/losing face/self esteem can hold the learning process back. These are not 10 year old kids — they are 19 to 23 year old ADULTS. When I speak in English with some seniors (I have not taught any) who have been learning English for 10 years and find that I am forced to speak at a lower level than I speak to kindergarten kids (I have taught once or twice) back home, I wonder what harm a little losing face can do.

>By Thomas Hammond, Harvard University, USA

I have had good results at a range of proficiency levels using reformulation. It’s very simple: figure out as best you can what learners are trying to say, then, rather than picking it apart, write it the way you would have written it. No need to justify what’s right or wrong, better or worse.

Learners seem very motivated to compare the two versions. Some have told me that they feel privileged to see their own ideas transformed by a more experienced hand. “It looks like fire-crackers popping in my mind because I am thinking: Oh, I was wondering about my phrase there. Now I see the way to say this. It’s really useful for me.”

I’ve heard teachers say that reformulation is too labor-intensive and/or time-consuming to be practical in most teaching situations. But I find it takes not much more time than giving thoughtful and tactful feedback.

I’ve also heard teachers say, “Yeah, but then what happens to revision? Don’t the students just copy word for word?” The answer is — sometimes they do. And what a great way to improve their writing.

However, it’s not uncommon that I misconstrue what a learner meant to say, and, and I’ve been surprised at the lengthy clarifications, complete with examples, they sometimes offer so that I can get it right the next time.