Why doesn't English teachers correct mistakes immediately

Delayed error correction

Delayed error correction

04.09.2022

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  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

The old joke that being a teacher is a diagnosis is not unfounded, because in our real lives outside the school we can often teach everyone around, or correct when someone is wrong.

A meme about a teacher — I’m silently correcting your grammar —  was probably also created by students, who were often corrected by the teacher in class. Look, is it really effective to constantly interrupt our students and correct their mistakes right away? Not always.

Let’s find out why  it’s better to correct mistakes after a while and when exactly we should do it.

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What is delayed error correction?

There have been various episodes in my teaching practice over 14 years.

For example, one student came to the first class and asked me to correct her every time she said something wrong.

She believed that the only task of a teacher was to constantly correct mistakes in a student’s speech. She was so obsessed with me constantly correcting her that I already got an eye twitch but the student was making the same mistakes again and again.

There were other adult learners who were so shy that I had to pull out every single word from them. If I had corrected all their mistakes, they would never speak a word in English and would continue to be afraid of learning English.

One day a student came up to me and after our first lesson refused to continue studying, explaining that I did not correct any of his mistakes right away. A facepalm here.

However, I must admit there were also students who came after class and thanked me for listening carefully and taking notes while they were speaking, and then transferring my notes to the board, and we analysed the mistakes together and corrected them. 

This technique is known as delayed error correction.

A teacher provides positive or negative feedback some time after the student has made a mistake, often after the task has been completed or even at the end of the lesson. This technique contrasts sharply with the teacher reformulating a sentence or using facial expressions and gestures to correct a mistake, and doing so immediately after the student has made a mistake, for example.

We don’t use delayed error correction all the time. It depends on the lesson aims, students, and other factors. Usually delayed error correction is used in the second half of the lesson, when students are likely to ‘produce language’ (work on discussions / role plays / dialogues, etc.).

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In performing such tasks, they integrate a ‘new language’ (vocabulary or grammar) into their oral speech or writing. Earlier in the class, students probably learned some words or grammar, did some exercises on accuracy, and now it’s time to apply the acquired knowledge in freer practice.

For this reason, the teacher will not interrupt the students, but will give them the opportunity to complete their thoughts, write down any mistakes he hears, and return to them at the end of the lesson. Then, after completing the task, the teacher anonymously displays incorrectly used forms on the board.

At this stage of the lesson, students should already have enough knowledge and practice of the forms to easily spot and correct mistakes.

Another reason why a teacher should use delayed error correction is a high level of student anxiety. Sometimes this prevents students from focusing on the vocabulary or grammar they are learning.

Therefore, it will be more effective and less stressful to provide feedback on mistakes to the whole group, and not individually to each student, after they have worked in pairs, for example.

What are the advantages of delayed error correction

In addition to the fact that delayed error correction demonstrates the indifference and interest of the teacher in the student to successfully use new vocabulary and grammar, there are other advantages:

  • Delayed error correction helps to avoid interrupting students during freer speech practice, when they are more focused on expressing themselves / fluency rather than on accuracy. The teacher uses this time to think about how to correct the mistake or whether it should be corrected at all.
  • When errors appear on the board, students have the opportunity to correct themselves and better understand and remember the error.
  • Such error correction is completely anonymous, and therefore does not affect students’ confidence, but on the contrary, strengthens it.
  • When the teacher focuses on the mistakes that students made in the lesson that day, the lesson becomes more personalized, more adapted to this particular group.
  • The teacher writes down not only mistakes, but also grammatically correct statements, which may sound a bit awkward. For example, a literal translation from Ukrainian into English. 

This is done in order to then find or offer a ‘more English’ equivalent to the students, and thus provide them with vocabulary or grammar that will significantly improve their level of English.

Students should not worry when the teacher doesn’t correct their mistake right away. Experience shows that delayed error correction can be quite constructive for both students and teachers.

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Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna

    Author

    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English

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