Corrections Are No Longer Drudgery

I have spent literally years of my life seated on a hard wooden bench in the kitchen correcting papers hour after hour. Whole weekends while the sun was shining and the dog needed walking and the horse needed riding. I have used up thousands of red pens. I used to be proud of that. But I’ve come to realize that all that time and effort was wasted.

I have never had a student say, “I learned a lot from you because you did such a good job correcting my papers.” Or “thank you so much for your brilliant comments on my errors.” Have you?

I recently reread an article about research which seems to indicate that corrections do not help students learn a language and may actually be harmful. As a result, I’ve been experimenting with not correcting my students’ texts. I’ve tried doing no marking and simply commenting on content, but my students, especially the adults, were not satisfied. They craved some feedback, which is understandable when you consider the effort they had put into producing a text in English.

So I have started “editing” their texts. I ask them to send them to me by e-mail and I quickly correct the mistakes and print out a text with has no errors. Then, in class, I hand out their texts and the students exchange them and read each other’s work. There is no embarrassment, because there are no mistakes, no red marks. They focus on content and discuss the ideas rather than the grammatical structures. Occasionally a student will ask me why I changed something and I am very happy to reply; I’m sure that my explanation will be attended to, unlike my former explanations of “frequent mistakes” which went in one ear and out the other.

Writing is output, but by editing the texts and giving them to other students to read, it becomes input, and compelling input at that. I’ve watched students read three different versions of the same story with interest, simply because it was written by their classmates. They compare, admire and enjoy the opportunity to share their production. Since I’ve begun doing this, students no longer dread writing assignments but look forward to them. They apply themselves and try to make their papers interesting, knowing there will be no stigma attached to making mistakes.

In large classes the teacher can choose two or three papers of different complexity. The result will be a kind of embedded reading, ready made. It is far more profitable to the student to read a good model than to focus on his own mistakes.

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