Teachers are infamous for being ‘always right’ and for correcting everything and everyone, both in class and in life. Frankly, it’s true that most of us are tempted to act this way. What’s more, students themselves often expect their instructors to point out the errors and provide the correct versions on the spot. Therefore, it is definitely worth looking at alternatives, such as delayed feedback.
A teacher uses delayed feedback, both positive and negative, some time after a learner has made an error, most typically after the task has been completed. Delayed feedback contrasts with correction techniques such as reformulation, use of gestures or echoing, which occur immediately, ‘on the spot’.
Correction is often delayed after fluency activities or freer practice to avoid interrupting, although there are other reasons too. For example, students’ level of anxiety may be too high for them to focus on the language rather than on the message, or the teacher might find it more effective and less stressful to provide class feedback rather than individual one after students have been working in pairs.
There are a few commonly acknowledged principles behind delayed feedback after fluency activity:
- Start with a positive comment (Thanks! Well done!)
- Give natural feedback on the content (That was quite a story!)
- Provide some positive feedback on the language (You used several words from today absolutely correctly: …, …, and … Thanks for that!)
- Give negative feedback if necessary, having selected 3-5 items to focus on
- Make sure you provide some teaching on the errors you chose to correct to help the students learn, drill and retain the correct version
Here are some techniques teachers could use to give delayed feedback:
- For those who like it simple. Note down both correct and incorrect utterances while monitoring students’ performance unobtrusively, then present them as a written list and ask the students to decide which sentences need to be changed and how to change them. To save time, use an IPad or stripes of paper for notes so that you could print, hang or distribute them out quickly.
- For tech savvies. Record the students performing the task, then play it back to them encouraging them to find mistakes in what they have just said. If necessary, draw their attention to specific examples yourself.
- For those who are big on gamification. While monitoring, quickly write incorrect language samples on cards (e.g. it’s depend of, I will be work, we was there, etc), then give each pair the same number of cards and ask to write the correct version and a sample sentence with it on the reverse side. The pair who finishes first with the correct answers wins. Alternatively, ask students to throw a dice for the number of sample sentences each should give for a phrase/word on a card.
- For those who work with advanced students. Listen for examples of awkward language or simply worded ideas, put them down and after the task is finished present and practice more advanced versions of the same idea. For instance, when your student says ‘I was nothing special, just a ‘grey mouse’ teach her ‘mediocre’.
- For those who are running out of time. If you don’t have time to teach the noted language in class, you could set a writing (or oral) task for homework, asking your students to use some of the corrected sentences in their work.
In any case, it is important to give students a chance to speak freely and without interruptions at times, but they still need to know that you are there noting their language and ready to praise and to teach.