The Dangers of Correcting Language Learners

Teachers are supposed to correct students, right? But could there ever be too much correction? Are there times when correcting isn’t appropriate? I’d argue yes. I’ll offer two reasons why. Perhaps you may suggest even more.

  • The danger of taking away authorship

I usually have to coach myself when doing revisions for my students. It’s easy to correct something blatantly wrong like lack of subject-verb agreement or parallel structure, but instances of awkward wording push me toward the temptation to rewrite too much of the student’s composition. I force myself to correct only what is most essential and leave the ideas and spirit (or shall we call it simply tone?) of the writing intact. Sometimes what I offer is a list of alternative phrases, and I ask the student to consider them in the next revision. This way the final choice is made by the student and not me. The student’s voice must still be clearly heard instead of my own when I read the final draft.

  • The danger of stymieing self-expression

A related danger to overcorrecting is causing a negative reaction: the student who experiences constant correction can come to fear taking risks in his or her speaking or writing. The student will either avoid opportunities for self-expression or come to depend on prompting by and guidance from the teacher. For this reason, teachers must often allow for uninterrupted speech (i.e. let students finish their statement before providing feedback) and give preference to a series of revisions over a single but voluminous set of proofreader’s marks, comments, and suggestions.

TIPS: I like correcting students’ compositions through Microsoft Word. Under the “Review” option there are two features that come in handy. Sometimes I utilize track changes for an error that the student has tried but failed to successfully correct. I also like inserting comments in the margins rather than the actual text. It keeps the text clean, but forces the student’s attention where I want it to go. Finally, highlighting in colors can work effectively. If a student often forgets periods at the end of a sentence, you can highlight the final word of every problematic sentence in the same color. Another repeated error can be highlighted in a different color.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Zach says:


    I just discovered your blog and I really like it! I hope to be able to get some useful ideas from it in the future.

    About over-correcting, I totally agree with you. In the post you talk mostly about compositions, but I’ve had the same thought with speaking. My students make so many mistakes that if I corrected them all they really wouldn’t have time to express themselves. So I try to limit myself to the mistakes that we have worked on in the past or things that we’ve been working on recently.

    Feel free to check out my blog and tell me what you think: I don’t know if you speak any Spanish, but I think you’ll get the idea (and the audio is in English).

    See you. Zach

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Thanks for visiting my blog, Zach. Yes, I follow the same practice when it comes to conversation. With trainees, I used to offer the analogy of a wave crashing to the shore. If a student is on a roll, why try to stop the natural flow? I think language teachers develop a little memo pad in their heads. We learn to take mental notes as we listen to a speaker and then offer feedback when the moment is right.

      Best to you,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s