Error correction is a delicate balance, and not for the faint-of-heart. Error correction of ELL students is a useful tool in the hands of a skillful educator. It can point a learner toward discovering correct answers, motivate and push them to work a little harder, and engage a receptive student with useful and informative feedback. Error correction, however, is NOT a punishment. Nor is it an opportunity to denigrate or shame a learner – consciously or unconsciously. Most of us want to be corrected constructively, thoughfully, and respectfully. ELL students deserve no less.
In this essay I will discuss error correction in the context of ELL instruction. Specifically I will describe the Error Correction Hypothesis, strategies for error correction and corrective feedback that instructors can use with ELL students, how and when to provide appropriate feedback regarding errors, and the possible effects of error correction on the student’s affective filter.
The Error Correction Hypothesis
The question of whether receiving error corrective feedback can actually hurt an ELL student’s ability to learn is the focus of the Error Correction Hypothesis. Stephen Krashen, in his Affective Filter Hypothesis, puts forth the idea that learners have an Affective Filter which is triggered by emotional variables such as anxiety or stress. Once activated, this filter can operate as an unintended barrier, hindering one’s ability to receive input, and therefore learning. As a result, Krashen advocates for limited error correction in second language instruction, and primarily as a clarification in meaning.
On the other hand, Vigil and Oller believe that error correction is necessary for ELL students. In their Communication Feedback model, (Vigil and Oller, 1976) they describe three levels of corrective feedback, similar to a traffic signal. This “traffic signal” indicates to the student that they are understood and keep going (green), or they must retry and make adjustments (yellow) or stop (red). The danger here is that overcorrection may cause the student to shut down and quit trying – thereby sabotaging the process of making of new language. In light of this possibility, some are inclined to lean toward the Krashen model of little-to-no error correction. The risk there is the occurrence of Fossilization; where an instructor in essence gives learners a perpetual “green light” and an ELL learner’s ongoing errors are not corrected. By becoming used to the errors they continually make, they no longer have the ability to hear or apply the correction. Therefore, it can be concluded that some level of error correction, whether explicit or implicit, is indeed necessary for ELLs. In the following pages I will discuss various methods of error correction and strategies for educators to determine when and where to apply it, in order to keep their students moving along the road to language acquisition. .
Three Strategies for Error Correction and...