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How do you help your ESL students recognize their errors in speaking English? What techniques do you use to make their mistakes “psychologically real” to them?
One technique I’ve found effective may seem rather counter-intuitive: encourage them!
This unorthodox teaching idea has recently attracted some welcome attention.. Larry Ferlazzo, the award-winning ESL blogger and author of Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Approaches to Classroom Challenges, wrote an illuminating post on how he is experimenting with “celebrating mistakes” in his high school ESL class.
While I have never consciously “celebrated” mistakes, I do consistently encourage students to make “good mistakes”, defined as natural errors that we can learn from, so we can continue to improve and new, different, and better mistakes. Creating a classroom atmosphere of tolerance, understanding, and constructive criticism remains a constant challenge.
Yet modern technologies, such as video cameras and smart phones, make video recordings of English language learners an accessible, affordable option. As 21st century English teachers, we can deploy some practical tools in our ESL and EFL classrooms. Videotaping English students certainly helps here since they can watch their own presentations or discussions. Sometimes having students transcribe their own speech yields surprises, but often you don’t even need to resort to such rigorous examination. Students can often see where they have made verb tense errors, searched for vocabulary, or used the wrong word form on their own. Uploading videos to a class website encourages self-awareness and reflection. Seeing, in this case, is often believing.
Further, videotaping student presentations makes our classrooms more democratic since our students can speak – and share their words with friends and relatives beyond the classroom if they choose. Sometimes English language learners, recognizing that they can share their work outside the classroom and reach core peer audiences, will practice more than usual. As ESL students step up their game and perform for the camera, they sometimes make fewer mistakes – and excel!
And if students, as usual, do make mistakes? Let’s call that a learning opportunity. “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, ” advised legendary Sony Chairman Akio Morita. “But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.” While learning English requires us to be more understanding and patient of “good mistakes”, this quote emphasizes the value of making mistakes – outside and inside our English classrooms.
How many good mistakes must English students make on the road to English fluency? I have no idea, but students will get to their linguistic destination sooner if they start more making good mistakes in our English classes today. Staying silent out of fear of making mistakes almost guarantees students will never become fluent English speakers.
The videotape allows our students to see – and learn – from that bad mistake too.
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.