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How to Use Corrective Feedback with English Language Learners

English language learners have the difficult task of trying to learn new content while at the same time learn a language. These are then combined with the oh-so-coveted need of fitting in and feeling a sense of belonging with native-English speaking peers. Hence, teachers must do their greatest to help ELLs learn the language. Corrective feedback is an excellent strategy to help ELLs’ performance and achievement in class. Corrective feedback is not just a technique to be used in the ESL classroom, though. Content teachers should also be using this form of response.

What is Corrective Feedback?

Corrective feedback is correction of errors made by students. It is important that teachers focus on the performance and not personal traits of a student when correcting. Teachers want to think about the goal of the activity at hand. When an ELL makes a mistake, is it fluency or content related? The type of error will influence what the teacher corrects.

There are two types of corrective feedback: implicit and explicit. Implicit corrective feedback can simply be restating an error-filled response in a correct format. Explicit feedback would be specifically pointing out why and how the answer was wrong, followed by an explanation on the correct way to use the language.

Corrective feedback also needs to be targeted, timely, and specific. It does not help a student to just tell them that he/she is incorrect and go on to the next raised hand. We need to take the time to explain what was wrong with the student’s answer and do so in the moment so the student can see how to fix the error. Corrective feedback for ELLs also needs to focus on form and meaning. It needs to be given in a way that is appropriate for the ELL’s language level. A teacher needs to be aware of the student’s language development so that the corrective feedback can be understood.

Why Corrective Feedback is Beneficial for English Language Learners

Corrective feedback is extremely beneficial to ELLs. There has been much research done on the effects of corrective feedback on second language acquisition. Whether the feedback is explicit and direct or implicit and indirect, ELLs will see benefits and growth in their language development. Although corrective feedback often seems to only point out the negative, praise is an extremely effective component. By using positive feedback on a consistent basis, ELLs will build confidence in their skills which in turn will help them progress with the language.

How to Give Corrective Feedback

Corrective feedback can be accomplished in different ways. Explicit correction of an error and explanation of a language rule helps clarify what is wrong with a response so that a student can be aware of how to produce the correct form in the future.

Recasting is a quick way to implicitly give corrective feedback. A teacher will simply restate the student’s error in the correct format. It is important though that students are aware of the recasting so that they know what was incorrect in their statement.

Another version of corrective feedback is requesting clarification of an answer. A teacher can ask for the student to state it again or ask the student to explain what was meant in their response.

Metalinguistic clues can also help a teacher elicit the correct response from a student. By giving students clues about the correct format of the language, students may figure it out on their own and produce the proper utterance.

Finally, repetition also is an easy corrective feedback technique. Teachers can repeat the incorrect answer given by a student in a different tone, so that the student knows that it is incorrect. This will signal the student to try again and fix the mistake.

Teachers want to make sure that they are not using ineffective corrective feedback. This type of feedback can hamper a student’s language development. By constantly correcting every part of a sentence or phrase that a student offers, his/her confidence in the language may disappear. This will impact the student’s language output for the rest of their lives. Feedback that is constantly negative with no support or explanation will not help a student. Marks on an essay with no explanation as to why it is incorrect does nothing to teach the language.

All of these strategies are excellent ways to help ELLs progress with their language. Whether a teacher is focusing on pronunciation, grammar, or meaning, effective corrective feedback will help develop a student’s language acquisition. Encouraging students to explain their choices and giving them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes will become a natural part of their language learning and help them progress in their language development.


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