Educators: Ensure Your Corrective Feedback Is Top-Notch

Giving feedback isn’t just about indicating errors – it’s about prompting improvement, too. “Corrective” feedback refers to exactly that kind of commentary. But what does that look like, practically?

Sometimes you’ll need to correct grammatical mistakes in assignments. Some teachers assume that this will hurt students’ feelings and that they will consequently have a negative reaction toward learning. Corrective feedback, if delivered thoughtfully and kindly, will usually not undermine a student’s self-confidence. The best way to encourage students to correct their mistakes is to provide them with a correct example. Moreover, for feedback to be effective, it should be focused on the area where the student excelled or made a mistake, whether its math, science, writing, etc. For example, “Have another look at this word, there’s a problem with spelling,” instead of “There’s a mistake in your essay.”

Here are several ways of providing students with corrective feedback; corrective feedback should be done privately whenever possible, and can be done both verbally or in writing:

1. Explicit correction: The teacher points out what was wrong and provides the student with the correct version. This technique does not leave room for peer or self-correction. Therefore, the correction may not be recorded, due to embarrassment or lack of interest.

2. Reformulating: The teacher reformulates the chunk of the sentence in which the mistake was spotted. This type of correction has a negative impact on the learning process.

3. Elicitation: The teacher asks the student for reformulation or clarification. For example: “What do you mean?” or “Could you please explain that again?”

4. Metalinguistic clues: The teacher helps the student to spot the mistake by supplying extra information or asking questions related to the student’s answer.

5. Repetition: The teacher corrects using intonation to show where the mistake is.

Feedback about student errors may be given in several ways; different techniques are used for different types of mistakes. For oral correction, gestures or facial expressions are useful to avoid interrupting and simultaneously show students they’ve made a mistake. The gestures you can use may depend on the cultural background of the group you’ve been assigned to, so try to familiarize yourself with what your students are more comfortable with. “Echo correcting,” which involves repeating the error with emphasis, is also a useful technique when the teacher wants to point out a slip has been made without actually saying, “You’ve made a mistake.” You should also ask for help from another student if the student in question cannot spot the mistake, but remember to do so in a sensitive manner.

You can choose to ignore certain mistakes while the activity is in progress and make notes for later feedback. You should probably ignore mistakes that are beyond the student’s scope of understanding or are far from classroom goals. By doing this, you’ll allow students to gain confidence and, consequently, fluency. You’ll have to choose what’s appropriate for the learning purpose, the individual, and the context, and often this can only come from experience. Remember, feedback is closely related to monitoring, and feedback can be offered while students are engaged in pair work or group work, or right after the lesson.

Corrective feedback can be a magnificent tool when implemented well. It’s doubly powerful when combined with performance feedback. Check out our article, “Tips and Tricks for Providing Quality Performance Feedback” to learn more about the latter category and how you can effectively bring it into play in evaluating students.

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