Hi, my name is Cecilia and I am a recovering recaster

A Recasters Anonymous Meeting… would you be in it?

Setting: RA (Recasters Anonymous) Meeting, in a dark basement somewhere we can’t mention…

Me: Hi, my name is Cecilia… and I am a recovering recaster.

Group: Hi Cecilia!

Me: I haven’t recasted in… 7 days.

(applause)

The above scene is, of course, fictional (though I fear many teachers would want it to be true). I was a recaster. A true one. I believed in the effectiveness of recasting, for all students. I did, because I was taught to. People told me it was the non-threatening way of correcting students. It’s how you should do it in the Communicative Approach. And I did it. I did so much and for so long it became part of me. And then one day (Really? Just like that?) I questioned it. Ok… maybe I’ve been questioning its effectiveness for a few years. Maybe not its effectiveness (period/full stop), but rather its effectiveness on every student. I just didn’t think most students realised I was correcting them when I recasted… And since they didn’t realise they were being corrected, they never acknowledged they had made a mistake. So, even though I had my doubts, I kept doing it – maybe not as whole-heartedly.

It all changed about a month ago, after I attended IATEFL. As I have mentioned in this blog, this year’s IATEFL Conference (and a few of the talks I attended) left me with a sense of direction. With a feeling of more freedom. Freedom of being a teacher. Freedom of doing what I think is best for my students, no matter what approach is in vogue, or is adopted by the school where I teach. (You can read more about this feeling with my post IATEFL post).

Well, ever since I came back from the conference I have noticed myself stopping my impulsive recasting more and more. Not only because of the talks I attended but even more so for the conversations I had on the topic. Better (?) yet, I have seen myself consciously pointing out the student’s mistake (not when fluency is the objective, unless fluency is prevented by accuracy – or lack of accuracy preventing proper understanding) by saying: “the correct way to say this is…” or  “That is not correct. Why don’t you say…”. And you know what? It works! After doing that for a couple of weeks a few students voiced their feeling I had been correcting them more – and their approval of it. So I asked them (even the groups who hadn’t expressed their noticing of my change in behavior) if they preferred it that way – and I explained recasting (the previous method) – and they said that most times when I recasted they didn’t notice they were being corrected. But when I pointed it out they did, and they liked it better. They felt more progress, more learning. At the same time, a few students recognise recasting and see it as a correction. But in my case, these are a minority.

My point in this post is actually a question to ELT teachers worldwide: Do you feel your students pick up recasting? Because I feel most of mine don’t. And yes, some students might be (initially at least) a bit taken aback by a blunt/on-the-spot correction. But my feeling is that at least this way they understand they did not effectively communicate, and may be more aware of the mistake on other opportunities.

I was observed by a teacher trainee (who is taking classes at the Teacher Education program we have in the school I teach) on a class recently (in an A2 group) and at the end she asked if the way I corrected the students did not embarrass or shy them away from speaking in class. Knowing where she was coming from (taking a basic Teacher training course) I asked her if she was wondering why I had done explicit correction instead of recasting with the group, because I know recasting is the oral correction tool of the communicative approach. She said I was right and asked me to justify my choice it. I asked her if she thought recast worked with everyone – a question she didn’t immediately answer, but rather just stood there, looking pensive . I said that I tried to use it with the students I sensed it worked and I used direct correction with the others. I mentioned articles and studies and conversations I’ve had. She was happy (and relieved) to hear what I said. And so were other teachers that have observed me and approached me.

It seems people are waking up to students’ individual learning styles and needs. But how feasible it is when you have a large classroom? A multilingual, multicultural classroom? Does size matter in this case? Does anything?

 

I plan on conducting an experiment. A simple one. I have two very similar classes (same level, similar number of students – around 13 years old, A2 level). This week I’ll try to only correct their oral production by recasting on the first group and only by doing direct correction on the second. Then, on the end of each last class, I’ll ask them to reflect upon whether they felt / knew they had made any mistakes while speaking in that class (this will be done in writing, on little slips of paper, so that the students feel comfortable at being honest). I’m curious to see what I get! Stay tuned for the next episode on the recasting saga! :)

What are Errors and How Should We Deal With Them in Our Classes?

This week I was fortunate to be invited to write about language errors and how I approach them in my classes, for the new iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) blog. Not only that, but I am honored to write about it alongside some great ELT names, such as Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Yitcha Sarwono, Chuck Sandy, Scott Thornbury and Steven Herder. It is great to see how we each talk about a different aspect, based on our own experiences and work.

If you’d like to read what I wrote about it – as well as the other bloggers, just click on the link below :-) There are some great threads on the comment too!

iTDi Blog

An Idea for a Fun Way to Get Students Correcting/Thinking of Their Own Mistakes

This weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in my first webinar: The 3rd Virtual Round Table Online Conference. It was an amazing experience, I had the pleasure of “running” into many friends from my PLN and loved the sessions I was able to attend.

During the Unconference we all decided on some topics of interest and then each went to a virtual conference room to discuss the theme we had chosen. In the room I went to we talked about error correction – ways we do it, when we do it, etc. We shared ideas, our experiences. There were some great ideas, and I chipped in with an activity I really enjoy doing and the students have the greatest time with it. But most importantly, I believe it to be one of the most effective ways of error correction, because the correction is made by the students; they correct sentences they’ve written. (By the way, for those of you who were in the room, I am sorry if I stumbled or did something wrong – I was extremely nervous about speaking there!)

The idea is not new and I know many of you have probably used it already, but I decided to post it with how I do it and maybe you can find some new twist to it for you to use, or at least it will serve as a reminder and you’ll do it with your students. It’s an auction of sentences. I first came across it many years ago, on a book I bought called “Cem Aulas Sem Tédio” (something like: 100 Classes with no Boredom) by Vanessa Menezes Amorim and Vivian Magalhães. I liked the idea and shaped it to my needs/ideas. And here is how I do it:

  • Split the students into pairs or trios and give each “group” the same amount of fake money.
  • Tell them we’re going to have an auction. Elicit what an auction is and explain what it is if necessary. Teach students some related vocabulary (lot, bid, highest bidder, item, auctioneer).
  • Tell them they’re going to be buying sentences. Some of them will be correct and some will not. An incorrect sentece can have just one mistake or more than one.  They have to say whether the sentence is correct or incorrect. If they correctly identify which type of sentence they’ve bought they get 1 point for it. If the sentence is incorrect they have a chance to correct it and get an extra point for it.
  • Tell, before you start the auction, how many sentences there will be, so they can plan their strategy.
  • Start the auction and write one sentece at a time on the board (or you can have it prepared for the IWB). Now, I really get into the role of the auctioneer – it’s quite embarrassing actually: speaking fast, asking for bids, telling them “The next item is from a special vintage edition. Look at the lines…look at the design on this sentence… a great addition to anyone’s sentence collection” and so on - but each to its own. Do it as you feel comfortable with.
  • After you’ve done the “going once, going twice and sold!” write the name of the buyers beside the sentence (I sometimes let them choose a name but many times I create a name by using the first syllable of each student in the group – so Maria, João and Patricia become “majopa” or “jomapa”. Well, you get the idea. They like that!). Collect the money and proceed.
  • Students do not say whether the sentence is correct or incorrect right after they buy it. First all the sentences must be sold, and then they are delivered ;-).
  • After all the sentences have been sold (and are all on the board with the names of the respective buyers beside it), The teacher goes back, reads sentence #1 and then asks its buyers whether it’s correct or incorrect. If it’s correct, fine, they get a point for it. If it’s incorrect then I say “please correct it”. The group has to correct all the mistakes of the sentence to get the extra point. If they can’t do it, any of the other groups can give it a shot at correcting for 1 point. I make the corrections they say on the board, using a different color of marker.
  • If a group doesn’t properly identify whether their sentence is correct or incorrect they don’t get the point. But if it’s incorrect anyone has the opportunity to correct it for 1 point.
  • In the end, the group with most points wins. If there’s a tie, the group with more money left wins – this should be tole in the beginning of the auction, when you explain the rules.

 

The sentences I use are sentences I collect from the students’ written work as I correct them,  or sentences they have spoken and I’ve written down during a speaking moment or a project presentation. I have a page set aside for this on each groups file. I usually select sentences that have commonly made mistakes, mistakes regarding vocabulary/functions we’ve studied recently, or examples of sentences that were very well written.  It’s funny to see the students’ reaction once they realize, after the first or second sentence, that these are their sentences. :-)

Now, I am  always fascinated by how much my students get into it. Throughout the auction I can see them writing the sentences down, negotiating whether it’s correct or not, what might be wrong with the sentence. They actually look carefully at the sentences, colaboratively work at analyzing and (if needed) correcting the sentences. They even discuss sentences that were bought by other groups – in the odd chance the buyers may not be able to fully correct a sentence. This is pure student-centered error correction!

I hope you enjoyed my version of a well-know/used activity! And of course I’d love to hear what you think or how you do it! :-)