I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I dedicated the first part of my advanced listening and speaking class to discussing Charlie Hebdo and free speech. I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss something that is actually unfolding. I thought it would be especially great because there were several Muslims in the class. And I was right. However, I also thought I would use this time to focus on one or two groups of students and provide much needed corrective feedback. This, it turned out, was a bad idea.
The students were so engaged in their discussion that there was no way I could ever fathom interrupting unless it was to add my opinion as a person, not a teacher. No recasts, no metalinguistic feedback, nothing. I was just as drawn in as they were.
I understand that corrective feedback has a moderate to strong positive effect on students’ oral grammatical accuracy. In fact, I just blogged about it!. Yet, I couldn’t do it. Now, most people think of corrective feedback in the context of controlled practice. Yes, I would agree that it is far easier to offer feedback in controlled situations. However, corrective feedback is not necessarily the sole domain of controlled practice, and controlled practice would not really suit this group of students unless it were pronunciation practice. I haven’t used controlled practice since I started teaching these high level groups. It just doesn’t seem that useful. I’ve definitely used freer practice – practice in which students have a specific situation or conversation which should draw out whatever language structure I had just taught about. Perhaps here is where I should focus my corrective feedback?
Some might say to take notes and discuss it after the conversation. Yes, I’ve done and I often do this. But, after such a serious topic in which students were concerned solely about meaning and opinion, including mine, it would feel like a slap in the face to turn it into a language lesson.
If I do want to practice what I preach, it seems that I need to create more opportunities that facilitate interruption, and I feel like I should warn students that I will be doing it. I know they want correction. The hard part is figuring out just have to give it to them without stymieing the classroom experience.