I have spent literally years of my life seated on a hard wooden bench in the kitchen correcting papers hour after hour. Whole weekends while the sun was shining and the dog needed walking and the horse needed riding. I have used up thousands of red pens. I used to be proud of that. But I’ve come to realize that all that time and effort was wasted.
I have never had a student say, “I learned a lot from you because you did such a good job correcting my papers.” Or “thank you so much for your brilliant comments on my errors.” Have you? I have very often seen students glance at the grade and throw the paper away.
I recently reread an article about research which seems to indicate that corrections do not help students learn a language and may actually be harmful. As a result, I’ve been experimenting with not correcting my students’ texts. I’ve tried doing no marking and simply commenting on content, but my students, especially the adults, were not satisfied. They craved some feedback, which is understandable when you consider the effort they had put into producing a text in English.
So I have started “editing” their texts. I ask them to send them to me by e-mail and I quickly correct the mistakes and print out a text with has no errors. Then, in class, I hand out their texts and the students exchange them and read each other’s work. There is no embarrassment, because there are no mistakes, no red marks. They focus on content and discuss the ideas rather than the grammatical structures. Occasionally a student will ask me why I changed something and I am very happy to reply; I’m sure that my explanation will be attended to, unlike my former explanations of “frequent mistakes” which went in one ear and out the other.
Writing is output, but when I edit their texts and give them to other students to read, it becomes input. and compelling input at that. I’ve watched students read three different versions of the same story with interest, simply because it was written by their classmates. They compare, admire and enjoy the opportunity to share their production. Since I’ve begun doing this, students no longer dread writing assignments but look forward to them. They apply themselves and try to make their papers interesting, knowing there will be no stigma attached to making mistakes.
In large classes the teacher can choose two or three papers of different complexity. The result will be a kind of embedded reading, ready made. It is far more profitable to the student to read a good model than to focus on his own mistakes.
Here is an example of a text which I compiled from several texts written by adult students ranging from Novice to Low Intermediate after a class discussion about their holidays. Each paragraph was written by a different student. I edited out the mistakes, but respected the original texts as much as possible. When I gave it to the students to read, they were fully engaged. Reading about their friends and colleagues was compelling even though everything had already been discussed in class. I did not return their original texts because I did not want them to look for the mistakes.
Martine went to Paris last week with her friends, Maïté and Jean, Maïté’s husband. Martine’s friends live in Toulouse. They visited the first and second floors of the Eiffel Tower. They did not eat in the expensive restaurant.They also visited the underground of the tower. There are many offices and mechanical lifts.At lunch they ate hamburgers and sandwiches that they prepared. They had an apartment for one week.They also visited Monmârtre, the Champs Elysées and the Opera, but they didn’t see a show at the Opera. Martine did a little shopping.They ate in a restaurant two evenings. They ate steak tartare and they ate T-bone steaks.
Sylvie went on holiday in France. She went on her bike. She prefers to go on a bike holiday when there is no wind and no rain. She saw many places: Aveyron, Paris, and Lauzère. She ate aligo. Aligo is not meat but potatoes and cheese. It is very good. Sylvie saw a lot of cows.She visited monuments and she slept in a house with other persons. Did Sylvie sleep in a gite?
For my holiday, I went to Soulac on the sea with my daughter Camille and my son Michael. They work there during the month of August. It’s a beautiful station near the ocean. There are not a lot of people. I stayed there for two weeks. My husband Sebastien went to Soulac after me.