Deferred Self-Correction

Today I’m going to discuss a technique that I’m calling deferred self-correction (an entirely forlackofabetterword term; don’t google it; four hits; other suggestions welcome). I’ve been using this technique for a long time but never really gave it much thought until the other day, when I recommended it to one of our teachers: She’d been having students check their neighbors’ exercises for errors, and a couple of students voiced a concern that for certain activities, they didn’t feel completely comfortable being corrected by their peers and didn’t feel capable of identifying errors.

The technique I recommended works like this:

  1. Assign an in-class activity. It can be book work or a brief writing passage, anything that allows you to circulate and monitor, identifying common errors. I find that it’s particularly useful when you’re working with, say, a grammatical form that students are familiar with and able to produce, but still without consistent accuracy.
  2. Circulate, monitor, note the most common errors being made.
  3. While students are finishing up the exercise, write 5 or 6 sentences on the board, several of which contain errors similar to those that your students are making. Last week I did this with the present prog-tinuous, so my sentences were these:
    1. Herman is mopping the floor
    2. Claudia fixing the sink.
    3. They are replace the light bulb.
    4. We are bringing cookies to the party.
    5. She’s is repairing the toilet.
    6. They is installing a new fridge.
  4. Ask students to individually or in pairs identify which of your sentences are correct and incorrect.
  5. Guide students, as a class, through the process of identifying which sentences have problems and which are correct. Get them to articulate the why of it: Sentence b doesn’t have a be verb. Sentence c doesn’t have an -ing. Etc.
  6. Now that you’ve modeled and scaffolded the process of looking back and identifying errors and mistakes, ask them to turn their attention to their own work. Make it clear that the errors on the board are the same kinds of errors you were finding in their work, remind them what they should be looking for: Does every sentence have a subject, followed by a be verb, followed by an –ing verb? Some students will still struggle to recognize their own errors, so feel free to tell them, Something is wrong with number two. Eventually, they will develop a more discerning eye for their own errors.

I’ve found a lot of benefits to this technique. For one thing, it addresses the concern that the students in our program expressed: discomfort with correcting or being corrected by their peers. Yet it would seem to confer many of the benefits of peer correction. Indeed, in peer correction, students are becoming attuned to the errors of their classmates, which, in many cases, may be entirely different from their own errors. This technique also encourages the habit of revisiting and revising that which we have written, valuable as a part of process writing and test taking. When students are encouraged to articulate why a particular sentence is correct or incorrect, they have to use some valuable metalanguage and maintain their metalinguistic awareness.

About Robert Sheppard

Robert Sheppard
Over the past 9 years, Rob has explored a variety of roles and contexts in the field. These include the cram-school culture of Taiwan and Korea; IEPs in Boston focused on academic English; advanced conversation and TOEFL prep taught via Skype to students in Japan; and nonprofit, community English programs for immigrants to Greater Boston. He currently serves as director of adult education at Quincy Asian Resources, a member of the community advisory council at First Literacy, and a curriculum consultant at Boston Global Institute. He has a master’s degree in TESOL from The New School, and his areas of interest include pronunciation and grammar instruction, curriculum development, and assessment.
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4 Responses to Deferred Self-Correction

  1. Tabby Riley says:

    Robert, that is a great idea. I actually use this technique in my scanning lab where the students are practicing. I have them grade themselves according to the rubric and what I have found is that the students are harder on themselves than I would have been. The students are more critical of their own work than that of their peers.

  2. Audrey says:

    Important to recognize not ALL students are comfortable with all types of exercises: peer-correcting and role-playing are 2 that I avoid. (Role playing just might have more to do with my discomfort with it, than most of my students. Nevertheless, I avoid it.)
    Thanks Rob for another practical article.

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