Can’t Practice What I Preach

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.

2 thoughts on “Can’t Practice What I Preach

  1. This is a prime example of why it can be difficult to make categorical promises to ourselves about what we’re going to do in the classroom – sometimes events overtake us.
    Perhaps the main question you (we) need to ask your(our)selves is “Why do we want to correct?” If it’s because of communication breakdown, a natural gap in the conversation will occur. If it’s a recurring problem, perhaps it’s better in a separate slot. If it’s because of little problems, maybe recording the conversation and playing it back would work better. That way, you can decide whether or not you want/need to correct, and perhaps take a note of the timestamp of the mistake.
    Looking forward to seeing how your ideas about correction develop.

    • Anthony Schmidt says:

      Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the late reply. I think your question is a great question. “Why do I want to correct.” For me, it’s because, in this particular class, students are functionally fluent – they can express their ideas quickly and without too many gaps in vocabulary. The problems lie in accuracy, and that is a big focus of the term. Hence, the usefulness of corrective feedback.

      I have found more opportunities to correct in real-time (which, research shows, is better than doing it later), but I save that kind of correction for less important conversations. I also do audio diaries, which I will be blogging about when the term is over and I can get my students’ thoughts about them.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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