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Blogging for Beginners 2007



Exploiting Students' Errors




Students' Errors while Blogging - Issues on What, When and How



Dear all,


There will never be total agreement on correction in language learning. But, there are some interesting aspects in language learning blogging and I'd like to invite you to reflect upon them:


- If the student could convey his idea and keep up with the discussion, would you be dealing with grammar directly on the blog? Wouldn't it be too much exposure for the student?

- If you see that the student is having difficulty in making correct sentences, would you try to lecture there in the comment area about writing structure?

- If there's a vocabulary problem, will you teach students about vocabulary in the comment area?


There are so many issues involved...We certainly need to address mistakes, but our BIG question to the group is: Is the blog the right place to address them? Would you leave the comments the way they are, or would you edit them? If the student has posted from home, would you delete the comment and then edit and post it again? How would you go about it...


To Correct or not To Correct? How should we approach students' mistakes?



The Blogging Team




Dear all,


Error analysis and correction are issues I have researched for 27 years.

Some of my tentative conclusions are:


1. Errors are manifestations of the learners’ personal curriculum and should be treated very seriously, because they lead to learning.


2. Errors should not be corrected, but exploited.


3. To exploit errors, teachers could, for example, make a list of deviant sentences similar to those where the class made their mistakes (not identical) and post it on the blog for the group to correct and discuss.


4. The errors on that list should be: a) common errors of the group or of several learners; b) “master errors” – those which have ramifications affecting more than one sub-system of the language, for

example, “I no like”, which will probably spread to all negative forms;c) errors which worry the learners, even if they don’t seem important to the teacher. Sometimes, what we think is a lesser error can be the key to a learner’s re-organisation of a whole area. If they ask, answer.


5. These errors should also be addressed in class through communicative activities, added to the course syllabus and included in tests.


For reasons I cannot explain in a few words, errors which are overlooked do not usually take care of themselves and most of the state-of-the-art views on correction are wrong or incomplete. The one thing I learnt for a fact during these 27 years is that complete lack of correction and “natural” approaches to TEFL are irresponsible practices. They may work in TESL, but not in a classroom.


Ana María Rozzi




Should teachers correct students' blogging mistakes? - Yes and no.


If teachers correct students' mistakes (for example, in comments on blog postings), some students might appreciate it, but more, I think, would be discouraged. That's not to suggest that mistakes should not be addressed, however.


What I've often done is to use blog entries as the basis for "mini-lessons" on grammar points, subtleties of vocabulary use, spelling patterns, register differences, and many other areas. In doing so, I've usually chosen errors that I've seen in several different posts. I then modify the text slightly (so I won't seem to be using particular students as targets), ask a class what the problem is, give three or four examples of corrections for the error, and then ask the students for more examples. This procedure can be used in class or even as another blog entry.


In my opinion, correcting errors too often can cause students to become less spontaneous. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but if students concentrate TOO much on form, blog posts become just another exercise instead of a way to communicate interactively.


Dennis in Phoenix





If my students are posting something on their blogs that I have assigned then I ask them to give me a printed copy (double spaced) the same time they post their message (single spaced). I make the corrections on paper and then ask them to edit their post with the corrections. My logic here, is that by editing the post, they are learning from the mistakes. I never make corrections directly on the blog. If they write freely on their blogs then I offer them the opportunity to give me a printed copy if they want to make corrections. Since the blogs are available for public viewing I find the students are quite motivated to correct their work.




Jane Petring






It has been my experience that a formal correction does not usually help the student. By that I mean, in writing, if you point out the mistakes and correct them, the student usually does not "listen" or "internalize" it. This also goes for speaking.


What I have found better, in my experience, is to correct using modeling. In written work, I write comments sort of "restating" the error, but in corrected form. And I do the same with speaking. I will repeat what the student said with the correct grammar/word, etc. This way the students hear/see the correct grammar and it becomes internalized. Most of my students, in high school, do not really look at corrections. They are most concerned with their grade. But, if you correct subtly it seems to work better.


I still have not set up a blog and I don't know how this will work with blogging, but I will try that method first. If a student gets his/her point across, I will comment and make subtle corrections so all the students see the correct way.


Georgia Jarrell





In general, I would not want to edit a blog--I have a "grammar question of the week" on my blog. Basically it's an error analysis sentence, and I want to encourage students to find the errors and correct them and to see the variety of ways that correction can be made. However, the only reason I would edit a student entry would be if a student had written something rather unfortunate (potentially embarrassing); this does happen sometimes. I would do whatever I could to save the student embarrassment.


I think if we want to get into correction of student errors, then a wiki is probably the more appropriate vehicle to do this; it could be done within the context of peer editing.



Veronica Baig





I am no expert, but I think it all depends on the variables at play. The more I listen, read and learn from others who have used blogs in their class, the more I am convinced that the tendency is to use blogs when we want our students to write FREELY, enjoy the writing process without restrictions of language accuracy in order to enhance expression and communication, and establish connections with an authentic audience that is interested in their voice. If what we want is a space to help students improve the "mechanics" of their writing, it seems blogs are not it. Maybe wikis, e-mails or more traditional kinds of activities would be more appropriate to achieve this task.


Our students will always make mistakes, major/minor, affecting/not affecting the message they want to convey. Those of us who are non-native speakers of English make mistakes more often than we wish when we write and try to be overcareful, but still there is a slip of tongue here and there (error vs. mistake).


If current theories of L2 acquisition suggest students have a personal "interlanguage" where they test their hypothesis on how the L2 works, letting them write freely will make us aware of the stages

they are in in building these hypothesis and we can later try to "correct" errors individually or in groups by selecting the most common and dealing with them as a class or in individual conferences. The latter can be quite difficult when groups are too big, but I have heard this is what teachers who follow the sociocultural model do in their writing classes and it is very effective. Sometimes we sit and correct tons of errors, especially in grammar, and students are overwhelmed and saddened by the countless red marks everywhere, or simply give up or some do not understand what the error was or do not understand the codes the teacher has used because there are too many of them.


I read somewhere (I should check on the bibliography because I don´t have the slightest idea where I got this information from) that there is a teacher who decided to correct just 5 errors in each written piece, just five, the ones who he considered the student should definitely be aware of and should correct in future assignments. He says it has been an effective way for both he and his students to follow through. What do you think?


Now, if students are adults or young adults who ask the teacher to have their written work corrected at all times, then this is a different story. If they prefer to post just "polished" material that have gone through several drafts, I see no problem with it as long as students feel they are learning and want to keep a chronological account of their progress. It is their choice to do it

with or without me, anyway.


There is a very famous open discussion between John Truscott and Dana Ferris who have two very different positions about correction in L2 writing. Truscott is in favor of abolishing grammar correction in L2 writing classes, while Ferris says correction is needed and teachers should find ways to help their students become "independent self-editors" of their own work. At the moment I have a library copy of Ferris (2005) "Treatment of Error in L2 student writing" sitting

on my desk, due soon and I have not had time to go over it, uh, I wonder why?






Hi, Berta,



So much has been written about this topic already, that I don't think there's much more I can add. I just wanted to point out that I liked that strategy of correcting just 5 mistakes in each paper. Students tend not to concentrate on their mistakes when you hand them their papers back. They just have a look at the grade and at the general picture of the page (how much red/green marks there are). So narrowing the number of mistakes to be corrected, might help them concentrate on those few mistakes. I think I'll give it a try!





Dear all,


Berta’s contribution is very interesting. I would like to point out that the concept of Interlanguage as a point between mastery of the native language and native-like mastery of the foreign language was first defined by Selinker in 1972 and has been slightly reviewed since then. The notion of “mastery” has been challenged, as well as the idea that the learner is progressing towards native-like command of the foreign language. First of all, native speakers have different degrees of command of their language as compared to an ideal level of mastery and in the second place, Selinker himself defined fossilization as a moment where learning seems to stop, so it does not seem that the learner progresses towards this so-called native-like command but to his desired or available end performance.


It is extremely interesting to note that Vygotsky defined the same fossilization point with respect to the first language and called it language ceiling, determined by socio-cultural as well as personal factors. So, if interlanguage is an area between the native and the foreign language, where does a learner start from and where does he want to arrive? What is his mental representation of mastery? Is it a point in the foreign language which resembles his language ceiling in the first language? What is the height of his language ceiling? What determines this height? This is what I have been researching all these years, through an interpretation of errors, among other things. Don’t nourish any hopes: I have not found the answers.


In our discussion, it seems that the focus is shifting from To correct or not to correct, to When, What and How to Correct, which are extremely relevant issues, since it is the treatment of errors that makes all the difference. Vigil & Oller (1976) considered that the early or late onset of fossilization was influenced by the type of extrinsic feedback that students received. Negative cognitive feedback, accompanied by positive affective feedback, would not favour fossilization; however, positive cognitive feedback, accompanied by negative affective feedback, would result in early fossilization. In other words: if you correct (exploit errors, in my terminology) in a constructive fashion, people will go on learning; if you do not correct but display authoritarian ways, or laissez-faire attitudes, or give the impression you do not care, learners will fossilize. Unfortunately, feedback is not objectively positive or negative, but its interpretation depends upon subjective

factors – how the learner takes it. Isn’t it fascinating?


Ana María Rozzi





I don't think that teachers have to correct students' blogs, but we should be near to help them when they are writing their posts. We should also use their mistakes in our classes to teach them new grammar structures and more vocabulary.






I certainly believe that mistakes should be exploited but I don't think a blog is the appropriate place since it is a public space and this could act as a deterrant for students to take part in blogs.


Some classwork could be done with the mistakes found in blogs and students could edit their entries later to get the best version.


Silvana Carnicero




To correct or not to correct I think will depend on the teacher's goal for the specific class s/he is teaching.


If the teacher is using Blogs to improve writing skills s/he should correct her students before posting.

If s/he is using Blogs for communication skills I think error correction should be done only when it hinders communication and should not be done in the comments area but through the student's email. Afterwards there could be a period where all the class can focus on common errors with similar examples drawn from the Blog.


Ana Maria from Peru




If a blog is an instance of public communication, in which the author wants to share a message with(eventually) the world....how would the posting of a list of language errors among several posts focused on content affect the focus of the discussion? Perhapswe can give different answers to this question depending on whether the blog is public or private?


Does text in a text blog somehow differ from text on paper? If so, can we teachers somehow exploit such differences in favour of learning?







TO BE OR NOT TO BE. The question is that if you are very exigent the students might turn fearful to talk. If you do not correct them, they might consider they are doing well. So have your stick ready, but do not hit them at any moment.


Horacio Idárraga





Students who make mistakes are students who dare experiment with the language and that is the first step to incorporating it. What I normally do is not to correct explicitly. First of all, and considering the mistakes we were shown by the blogging team, I try to encourage students in their first years to do parallel writing. This way, their confidence is greater, and the number of mistakes they make is lower. In the case of blogs, I definitely think direct correction would discourage many students and would make other less spontaneous and creative. I we want the blogs to be spaces where students are free to express themselves, we should leave corrections for themselves. What I would do is to bring about these mistakes in class and correct them there, without appealing to the student who made the mistakes. I would also do collaborative writing on topics similar to the ones with mistakes and point at the possibilities for errors, and maybe, and in monolingual classes, point at the differences between English and their mother tongue, which is generally the cause for the mistakes.


But, all the time, my emphasis is and will be on the message, and the meanings, and not on the forms (provided forms do not hinder communication!)


Lucía Inés Rivas





When correcting students' blog-work, you should take into consideration the kind of student you are dealing with. Some feel frustrated and inhibited when you correct their mistakes, and there is a risk that they won't try writing again. Others just love it when you correct them, and they enjoy learning from mistakes.






As a "best practice", I would treat blogs as I do the journals my students have shared in the classes I have taught. The rules are: comments are kept to what moves the reader, what the reader connects with, what interests the reader. The writer is not corrected.


I see this kind of writing as akin to giving birth. You would be horrified to hear someone say, "Boy, that's an ugly baby!" So, I believe in protecting the writer's "infant" offerings. It is important to get the thoughts out. Later, either alone or, as a group lesson which does not single out a particular student.


Peace, Linda





Regarding Linda’s metaphor comparing writing to giving birth, I agree you don’t say the newborn is ugly, but you are fully aware that it is your job, as a parent, to turn that lovely infant into a valuable member of the community and a person who will feel satisfied with himself/herself, full of love and tolerance. Left on his/her own, the

baby may or may not achieve that.


On more practical grounds, I can assure you, as a writer, that you have to be ready to take a lot of criticism and corrections from your editors, plus the criticism which comes from users and readers of your books. You also have to learn to compromise, because you never make all the decisions – and thank God for that, because you are usually in love with your “baby” and fail to see all its flaws. Life is a red pencil.




Ana María



Yes, Linda, I agree. Personally I try to make my pupils feel comfortable and not to think too much about their mistakes. I try to encourage them to communicate. I have a special relationship with making mistakes so I do my best for them to be free and feel the wonderful tool they have in their hands: communication.


Andrea Giordano



My thoughts are:


Never correct on a blog. Make a list of grammar issues and teach them as a unit in the class.Do not use exact examples as they will pinpoint the student and cause them to feel inferior.


Again, I would use sentence structure problems as part of a unit outside the blog. This can be done as a group activity where you create a sentence on the board with the structure scrambled. (example: Dog the brown fat in the morning early sat the porch on.) The students could then "correct" the sentence, each person finding one mistake to change.


Vocabulary can me used in the blog. You can post a "word of the day" and ask the students to find ways to incorporate the word into their blog (correctly, of course!).


As I said before, students' writing to a blog or journal should be accepted as if it was a new born creation...which it is. Nurture the creation, don't re-create it.


Peace, Linda




Dear all,


I couldn’t agree more with Linda’s comment. This is what I call exploiting errors as part of the course curriculum. Students do not look at corrections in writing and sometimes corrections carried out in class, verbally, are lost on them, for various reasons. I am discussing them in my blog. What Linda proposes is far more productive and will create the idea that mistakes/errors are valuable contributions.


All the best,


Ana María Rozzi



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