Kathie Calkins Keyes from Principia HS in St. Louis posted this recently on the moreTPRS listserv and I thought it to be worthy of wider sharing. She later noted the caveat that this particular article is in reference to first language acquisition.

I thought you’d be interested in reading this excerpt from an article on Second Language Acquisition:
“…some of the most compelling evidence for the irrelevance of corrective feedback comes from Eric H. Lenneberg’s (1967, 305-9) study of a hypolingual child. Despite the fact that the child had been mute since birth, and therefore had had no possibility of producing any errors to be corrected, he performed at an age appropriate level on comprehension tests of English grammar. Hence, receiving corrective feedback on one’s own utterances seems to be unnecessary. Hearing the linguistic utterances of other speakers, produced in context, can suffice. To achieve explanatory adequacy, a linguistic theory must be able to account for this”.
citation: Snyder, W., & Lillo-Martin, D. (2011). Principles and parameters theory and language acquisition. The Cambridge encyclopedia of language sciences, 670-673.
link: http://web.uconn.edu/snyder/papers/CELS.pdf http://web.uconn.edu/snyder/papers/CELS.pdf

Deliver what you’re gonna deliver this week with JOY!

Kathie CalkinsKeyes
Mandarin Chinese Teacher, 9th-12th grades

Note also that Episode 16 of Tea with BVP deals with the role of feedback in the second language classroom.

My main question regarding feedback is, is it worth it? Is my time both in the classroom and away best spent on correcting a novice learner’s errors? Does the benefit, assuming there is any at all, outweigh the cost? How can we be sure that overdoing corrective feedback does not contribute to the overwhelming numbers of students who eventually view language class as not worth their time and effort?

I have come to the conclusion that nothing motivates like success. This is a phrase that I’ve heard attributed to Susie Gross, and so I, too, credit her for it. Nothing motivates like success. Since I believe this to be true, the bulk of my attention, time and effort with regard to feedback are directed at affirming students’ attempts at making meaning (and having that meaning be understood by a sympathetic reader or listener).

One way I focus on helping students feel successful is when I ask students to write extemporaneously for an extended period (usually 10 minutes or so). I emphasize that the purpose is to communicate ideas to me. The feedback I provide might be to highlight all aspects of writing that effectively communicate ideas and leave untouched those areas that create confusion in me to the point that I cannot understand what the student is trying to say.

That’s not to say I don’t do any corrective feedback. I once had a student say to me, “Yo me gustas tu ponytail.” I smiled and said thank you to validate the sentiment. Then I corrected, “A mí me gusta.” Nobody died and nobody broke any bones. But I am not under any illusion that this student produced that phrase correctly moving forward as a result of my correction.

So, what does “Nothing motivates like success” look like, sound like, feel like in your context?

Irrelevance of Corrective Feedback
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3 thoughts on “Irrelevance of Corrective Feedback

  • April 2, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Great post to reflect on. I agree with both you and Susan Gross about success being the ultimate motivator. And nothing builds confidence better and faster than feeling motivated and successful. If a student makes a verbal error, I simply restate it correctly with a smile and let them know that their response was appreciated and great! If I notice (a trend) grammar errors in writing assignments/assessments, I do a quick review of concept(s) and build it into our stories and readings to get greater reps.

    • April 3, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Yes, but that trend might be natural and your efforts won’t change a thing, at least long term. So, you can totally do that, but don’t be surprised or upset with yourself to see that same non-native-like (= “error”) use of language for years even after you spend time on it. Our own mental health as teachers is vital.

  • April 3, 2016 at 8:01 am

    The only corrective feedback I allow myself is to repeat (correctly) with a questioning intonation what was said (incorrectly) to be sure that I understood. Mothers do this all the time when children are beginning to speak and we sometimes have to guess at what they mean. Child: Me -ball Mother: You want to play with the ball?

    Unfortunately, so many students have suffered so greatly from being put down and humiliated for making mistakes, that even this very light and natural form of corrective feedback can be too much. I once automatically rephrased what a colleague had said in French, without even thinking about it, just saying out loud what my brain had decoded her to mean, and to my dismay she burst into tears. In such cases, no feedback is better than anything which produces such feelings.

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