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Evaluating Written Work Errors of Bengali Secondary Students

By: M. Enamul Hoque

Learning a foreign language is a gradual process, during which mistakes are to be expected in all stages of learning. Mistakes will not disappear simply because they have been pointed out to the learner, contrary to what some language learners and teachers believe. Language acquisition does not happen unless the learner is relaxed and keen on learning. Fear of making mistakes prevents learners from being receptive and responsive. In order to overcome learners' fear it is essential to create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere in language classrooms, to encourage cooperation through peer work or small group work and apply techniques for language acquisition that suit and involve individual learners.

Another aspect of overcoming fear of mistakes is the way mistakes can be remedied. Majority of EFL teachers assume an active role in error rectification, while learners prefer being passive and rely on teachers to point out their mistakes. In the long run, this approach is neither efficient nor efficacious, particularly in treating the so-called 'fossilized' errors. The contemporary emphasis on learner-centeredness and autonomy suggests that in some settings learner's self-correction of errors might be more beneficial for language learning than teacher's correction. This assumption has neither been confirmed nor disproved in the relevant literature.

The aim of this paper is to report the research data on learners' perceptions of teacher's correction and learner (peer) self-correction of written assignments. The findings give some insights into the role of correction and self-correction in mitigating or even eradicating learner fear of mistakes, facilitating process of learning by developing language awareness and encouraging learner autonomy in learning English as a foreign Language.

It has already been mentioned that making mistakes is a natural process of learning and must be considered as part of cognition. Harmer (2001) suggests, mistakes that occur in the process of learning a foreign language are caused either by the interference of the mother tongue or developmental reasons, and are part of the students' interlanguage. Mistakes are often a sign of learning and, as a result, must be viewed positively. Bartram & Walton, (1991) imply that teachers have to recognize a well known fact that 'learnability varies from person to person' and 'all language learning is based on continual exposure, hypothesizing and, even with the correct hypothesis, testing and reinforcing the ideas behind them'.

Ancker (2000) claims, 'error correction remains one of the most contentious and misunderstood issues in the second and foreign language teaching profession'. His survey to the question 'Should teachers correct every error students make when using English?' covers responses from teachers, teacher trainees and students in 15 countries. 25% (out of 802) of teachers and 76% (out of 143) of students support this viewpoint, while 75% of teachers and 24% of students, respectively, are against such correction. Interestingly, 'the most frequent reason for not wanting correction was the negative impact on students' confidence and motivation, and the most frequent reason for wanting correction was the importance of learning to speak English correctly' (Ancker, 2000:22). Among the causes for errors, apart from the above-mentioned L1 interference, an incomplete knowledge of the target language, language complexity and error fossilization are mentioned. It is also pointed out that teacher's correction does not always work. Students often correct each other, which is very important because 'self-correction or peer correction help to focus student attention on errors and to reduce reliance on the teacher, thereby encouraging student autonomy'.

Julian Edge (1989) says that teachers 'have to be sure that they are using correction positively to support learning' (quoted in Ancker, 2000). According to Jeremy Harmer 'correction is a very subtle matter. Gentle re-formulation is often useful, when the student has a chance of correcting himself in passing. The best time to correct is as late as possible'. Moreover, 'teachers have the problem of 'dominating students', and therefore such correction can be counter-productive. Correction is done appropriately if it is supportive, offers insights and does not interrupt language learning / acquiring opportunities'.

Learners must be given practice in self-correction of their own work either individually or in pairs but only if they prefer peer cooperation. However, in my opinion, students definitely need training in rectifying mistakes independently, i.e. without teacher's interference. Left to their own devices, learners might be overwhelmed or frustrated by task intricacy. Learner's ability to notice errors without teacher's aid is a qualitative leap to conscious cognition.

Bartram & Walton, (1991) suggest at the end of error self-correction activity, teacher's feedback is crucial and must be performed in a way to have a long-term positive effect on students' ability to monitor their own performance

Januleviciene & Kavaliauskiene (2002) carry out a research on correction of works among the 12 grade students and they find that as many as 88% of respondents want to be corrected by teacher or peers. However, only 44% of respondents want to be corrected immediately, and 44% - later, while the rest 12% students prefer correcting their works - in private

Stapa, (2003) in his research on perceptions on self- and peer-correction among the 352 English for specific purposes (ESP) students in Belgium, his study discover that, only 36% of learners would not mind having their written work corrected by peers, while a vast majority of 64% are against peer-correction. As far as self-correction is concerned, 23% of respondents would not mind correcting their own work, while 77% would mind rectifying their own mistakes.

Daiva (2003) Daiva's research among the secondary students in Malaysia reveals that students do not like to be humiliated being corrected publicly. His study discovers 80% learners prefer to be corrected later, in private.

Galina Kavaliauskiene (2005) carries out a study on correction by the teachers or self correction; the respondents are the day-time second-year students at the Law University of Lithuania, who take 110 hours of ESP instruction so far. She finds, only the third of respondents (33%) support the view that self-correction is necessary. Teacher's correction is thought to be effective by 67% of learners.

Erdogun (2005) investigates on the under graduate students in Turkey about the role of peer group in correcting work each other and find that 66% students appreciate correction by the peer group, while 36 % students dislike it.

Learning a foreign language is a challenge. During the learning mistakes occur in the process of learning and production. The objectives of the study are to identify the students' preferred way of being corrected in the class and also to know the teachers' perception on Error correction of their students.

Learning a foreign language is a step-by-step process, during which mistakes are to be expected in all stages of learning. Fear of making mistakes prevents learners from being receptive and responsive. Students consider correction as a sort of humiliation in the class, which is considered a serious problem. The present study aims at finding out the preferences, and it determines the proper way of correction.

In this study, we have only dealt with the preferences in correcting errors in the written work of the Alim students, thus, the study deals with;

&bullHow the learners want to be corrected in the class and

&bullTeachers' experience in students' preferences in correcting students in the class

The study justifies that students have their preferred way of being corrected of work in the class.The study also justifies that the teachers are aware of the learners' preferences in correction of work in the class

Subjects/Respondents:

The respondents are 500 higher secondary students and 25 English language teachers of 25 Colleges of rural and urban areas in Bangladesh. Respondents are randomly selected from a big number of subjects.

Instrument

The data for the study is collected through 3 item questionnaires. The questionnaires are adapted from Nunan and Lamb (1996), and Brindley (1984). The model of Gardner (1985), and Maniruzzaman (2003), are consulted for the validity, reliability and justification of the questionnaires. The two versions of Questionnaire are;

1. Questionnaire for the students

2. Questionnaire for the teachers

The respondents are provided with the questionnaires for providing information. The Researcher directly distributes the questionnaires and takes those back once completed.

Contextual Method is followed for data analysis because it is time saving and easily understandable. The method of Aldridge and Levine (2001) is considered in this case. The collected data is fed in to the SPSS statistical package, additionally; a t-test was also conducted to observe if there was a correlation between teachers' and students' responses.

Students: Question: 1

When do you want to be corrected by the teacher?

It is found that 64% students prefer to be corrected later, in private, and 30% students like to be corrected by the teacher later, at the end of the activity, in front of every one; on the other hand only 6% students would not mind to be corrected immediately, in front of every one. It is found that students feel shy if their weakness is shown before other students; on the other hand they feel humiliated if they are corrected before their fellow mate. This study supports the investigation of Daiva (2003), his study on the secondary students in Malaysia reveals that students do not like to be humiliated being corrected in front of every one. His study discovered 80% learners prefer to be corrected later, in private.

Teacher: Question: 1

When do you correct your students' work?

Statistics display that 58% teachers dislike correcting their students publicly and prefer correction after the class is over; while, 32% teachers prefer to correct their students later, at the end of the activity, in front of every one and only 10% do not hesitate in correcting their students before every one. Here, there is very high positive correlation among the teachers and students. Both groups are aware of the preferences and have similar understanding on the matter of corrections.

Ancker (2000) surveys to the question 'Should teachers correct every error students make when using English?' covers responses from teachers, teacher trainees and students in 15 countries. 25% (out of 802) of teachers and 76% (out of 143) of students support this viewpoint, while 75% of teachers and 24% of students, respectively, are against such correction

Students: Question: 2

Do you mind if other students correct your own work?

As can be observed from the study, a significant number, 68 % students would not mind having their written work corrected by other students, though 32% would mind. He comments that teachers have to be sure that they are using correction positively to support learning. Actually students feel humiliated to be corrected by the class mate or by some one similar to his position.

Stapa's (2003) research on learners' perceptions on self- / peer-correction. In the latest research paper, only 36% of learners would not mind having their written work corrected by peers, while a vast majority of 64% are against peer-correction. As far as self-correction is concerned, 23% of respondents would not mind correcting their own work, while 77% would mind rectifying their own mistakes

Teacher: Question: 2

Does your student mind if other students correct your student's work?

As shown in the table, 72% teachers suggest that students do not mind correcting their work by other students; while 28% reply in the negative. Here, teachers (72%) render a strong correlation percentage regarding correcting students' work.

This correlation supports the investigation of Erdogun (2005).who investigates on the under graduate students in Turkey about the role of peer group in correcting work each other and finds that 66% students appreciate correction by the peer group.

Students: Question: 3

Do you mind if the teacher sometimes asks you to correct your own work?

Regarding correcting their own work, 66% students indicate that they would gladly correct themselves without external intervention, while, 34 % students disagree with them.

This statistics also supports the study of Erdogun (2005) which reveals that 71% students prefer their work corrected by themselves.

Stapa's (2003) research on learners' perceptions on self- / peer-correction, only 36% of learners would not mind having their written work corrected by peers, while a vast majority of 64% are against peer-correction. As far as self-correction is concerned, 23% of respondents would not mind correcting their own work, while 77% would mind rectifying their own mistakes.

The study positively relates the study of Galina (2005) who finds, only the third of respondents (33%) support the view that self-correction is necessary. Teacher's correction is thought to be effective by 67% of learners.

Teachers: Question: 3

Does your student mind if you ask the student to correct their work themselves?

From the table, we find that 78% the high percentage share this view with their students. Teachers are aware of students' preference on self correction. The study surprisingly correlates the study of Bartram & Walton (1991) who find that, 78% teachers, share this view with their students and suggest that mistakes are often a sign of learning and, as a result, must be viewed positively.

Kavaliauskiene (2003) reveals that grammar mistakes and inadequate vocabulary aggravate the quality of students' written work and oral presentations. Generally speaking, self-correction of written work is easier for students than self-correction of oral presentations, because the former is less threatening to learners and the latter requires note-taking due to shorter memory spans of retaining utterances.

However, in my opinion, students definitely need training in rectifying mistakes independently, i.e. without teacher's interference. Left to their own devices, learners might be overwhelmed or frustrated by task intricacy.

Language acquisition does not happen unless the learner is relaxed and keen on learning. Fear of making mistakes prevents learners from being receptive and responsive. In order to overcome learners' fear it is essential to create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere in language classrooms, to encourage cooperation through peer work or small group work and apply techniques for language acquisition that suit and involve individual learners. Correction is an essential condition for successful acquisition of any language. Learners must be given practice in self-correction of their own work either individually or in pairs but only if they prefer peer cooperation. However, students definitely need training in rectifying mistakes independently, i.e. without teacher's interference. Left to their own devices, learners might be overwhelmed or frustrated by task intricacy.

&bullMistake is a natural process of learning and must be considered as a part of cognition, therefore, teachers should not humiliate or rebuke the students for committing any mistakes

&bullTeachers have to recognize a well known fact that learning ability varies from person to person and all language learning is based on continual exposure.

&bullStudents should be given chance very frequently to correct each other work, which is very important because 'self-correction or peer correction help to focus student attention on the errors and to reduce reliance on the teacher

&bullWe should never correct a mistake, rather correct always a person'. So, the active involvement of students in the process of dealing with mistakes is important: it stimulates active learning; induces cooperative atmosphere; and develops independent learners.

&bullThe best time to correct is 'as late as possible', because it creates friendly and cooperative atmosphere

&bullLearners must be given practice in self-correction of their own work either individually or in pairs but only if they prefer peer cooperation. However, students definitely need training in rectifying mistakes independently, i.e. without teacher's interference

References

Ancker, W. Errors and Corrective Feedback: Updated Theory and Classroom Practice. English Teaching Forum, vol. 38, No 4, October 2000: pp. 20 - 24.

Bartram, M and Walton. Correction. Language Teaching Publications, 1991: pp. 87 - 91.

Edge, J. Mistakes and Correction. London: Longman, 1989.

Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Education Ltd. 2001: p.99.

Harmer, J. To Correct or Not to Correct. http://www.eltforum.com/forum

Januleviciene, V. and G, Kavaliauskiene. "ESP: Issues of Self- and Tandem-Assessment".

TEFL Web Journal vol. 31, No , October 2005: pp. 20 - 24.

Kavaliauskiene, G. "English for Specific Purposes: Learners' Preferences and Attitudes". Journal of Language and Learning, Vol. 1, No 1, 2003. pp. 14 - 23. http://www.shakespeare.uk.net/journal/jllearn/1_1/kavaliauskiene learn1_1.html

Leki, I. Coaching from the Margins: Issues in Written Response. "Second Language Writing". Edited by B. Kroll. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Stapa, S.H. ESP Students' Learning Preferences: Are the Teachers Aware? "The English for Specific Purposes". World, Issue 4, Volume 2, 2003,:1- 11 pages. http://esp-world.info/Articles 4/issue 4/ Stapa.html

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About The Author, M. Enamul Hoque


M.Enamul Hoque has been an English language teacher for over 15 years in different Government institutes of Bangladesh. He is an Instructor of ELT in the Education and Training Wing, Ministry of Environment and Forest. He has MA in English from Dhaka University, and M.Phil in Applied Linguistics and ELT from the Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. .He has published widely on a variety of topics and is particularly interested in English language teaching and applied linguistics

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