Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Corrections, Suggestions, Confidence

by AJ

Correction is a touchy subject in teaching. Most teachers.. AND STUDENTS... believe it is a necessary thing. Teachers believe they should correct mistakes and students often state they want their mistakes corrected.

Of course this seems logical. Feedback helps us to learn, adjust, and improve.

But correction is a very, very, VERY tricky thing. Unfortunately, most of the time it does not have the desired effect. Rather, in my experience correction usually results in diminished confidence, with little to no improvement in accuracy. After a few corrections, the student becomes paralyzed by an obsession with mistakes. They begin to closely monitor every utterance.

Correction can also disrupt communication if the teacher is constantly interrupting the students speech. This produces a very artificial communication situation.

Correction, however, is not only an issue in English language teaching. Its a huge issue in management. When, where, and how should we "correct" people we work with?

In my view... very rarely and only under specific circumstances and in a certain way. In general, Ive found it is much more powerful to catch people doing something right. Genuine praise.. and a genuine focus on strengths.. is a far more powerful approach. By focusing on strengths, you build the person's confidence. You build their enthusiasm. Confident and enthusiastic people work harder, take more initiative, take more risks, and improve faster.

Confidence building is the number one priority of the teacher and the manager. Youve got to help them find effective strategies and then encourage them as they learn how to implement them. Typically, I ignore most mistakes. I obsess over successes.

However, there does come a time when correction can work without undermining confidence. Correction can work with people who are top performers... your most confident team members. These people are risk takers and they arent afraid of failure. They are often open to, or eager for, constructive advice.

But even so, you must be careful. Too much correction done in the wrong way can quickly produce resentment or undermine confidence in even the best performers.

With these folks, I prefer to use the "Captain Picard" (of Star Trek) method. If you watch the show, youll see good examples of how to correct someone. When Picard makes a correction, he does so directly... making sure the person understands that it is the specific performance (and not their general ability) that he's correcting.

But he doesnt stop there. He always finishes with strong, genuine compliments. For example, "Im disappointed with your performance on this task. You need to put in more time and plan more carefully. You are a tremendous officer who is admired by the crew. You are doing a fantastic job overall and I couldnt do without you."

In an English class, the same approach works. When correcting confident students, always keep it very specific and ALWAYS follow the correction with a genuine strength... ie. "In this case, you need to add 'the' before the noun. Your pronunciation is excellent and your speaking is very clear".

I know this will seem like overkill to some, but believe me, it makes a difference. We must understand that the greatest barriers to fluency have nothing to do with linguistics or theories. The greatest barriers are emotional and attitudinal. Students give up because they feel frustrated, incompetent, lost, or foolish.... not because they fail to master the past perfect tense immediately.

Therefore, its imperative to attend... in fact, to over-attend to students' emotional and attitudinal well being.

San Francisco, CA