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Thursday, February 24, 2011

#ELTchat 23rd February 12pm: How do you deal with fossilized errors and help students improve their accuracy?

#ELTchat 23rd February 12pm

This afternoon's #ELTchat was on a topic that I thought would be a difficult one to discuss. Before the chat began I tweeted that I wasn't sure that I had much to say on the topic and would maybe just lurk in the background. Fortunately, everybody else's comments inspired me and I managed to join in! You can now find the transcript here.

The question was:  

How do you deal with fossilized errors and help students improve their accuracy?

We started off by discussing what is meant by "fossilized errors". Some made the distinction between an error, a mistake and a slip and it was mentioned that fossilized errors could actually be either of the first two. Errors were not limited to grammar and pronunciation, although these seem to be the most common types.

What are fossilized errors?

•    A mistake that students know is wrong but keep making.
•    An error from force of habit which students no longer know they are making.
•    Something that students learnt wrong and now need to change.
•    An error that students can correct when focused but still make on their own.
•    A mistake that recurrs despite constant correction.
•    An error based in L1 interference that is made by many speakers.
•    Mistakes that teachers may not “hear” after a number of years teaching in a particular
      context (and therefore do not correct).    
•    A mistake that has been repeated so that it sounds right to the learner.

Some specific errors common to students from different countries were mentioned, such as the use of "I have 20 years" to talk about age.  We also came to the conclusion that young learners did not have fossilized errors - yet!

We tried to come up with ideas about why errors become fossilized. 
What actually causes fossilization?

•    Fossilization is due to L1 interference and is a natural feature of interlanguage
•    Lack of correction.
•    The connection between interlanguage and errors.
•    Lack of motion (the reason for other types of fossilization).
•    Method of instruction.
•    Errors that come from previous stages of learning (especially with older students).
•    Linear modes of instruction increase the chance of fossilization.
•    When students realise they can make a mistake and be understood, it can become
•    Biological, social-affective, cultural, pedagogical, cognitive and environmental perspectives
      of a language can lead to fossilized errors.
•    Lack of motivation to correct oneself.
•    Lack of noticing and discovery and too much presentation, meaning students don’t own the
•    Lack of learner autonomy – reliance on correction by teacher.

The conversation then turned to how important it is to do something about fossilized errors. Here are some of the more popular ideas, many of them questions to think more about and we didn’t have time to go into too much detail during the chat.

•    Do fossilized errors lead to international English? If so, is there anything wrong with
      making these errors?
•    If students communicate meaning, are fossilized errors important?
•    Students love being corrected and prefer teachers that do so.
•    It is impossible to correct everything – deal with what affects meaning most.
•    Self-correction should be fostered.
•    Students should reflect on and play with their mistakes.
•    Correcting every error can be demotivating.
•    Focus on common and impeding errors.

There seemed to be a mixed opinion of how important it is to get rid of fossilized errors. Some chatters thought that communication was the main goal, especially when speaking, therefore as long as the listener could understand what the speaker wanted to communicate, there wasn’t too much of a problem. Others thought that accuracy was very important and that all errors should be corrected, not just those that impede communication. Everybody agreed that the teaching context was important in this question, and that different situations require different levels of accuracy.

So how can we deal with fossilized errors in an effective way? Some great ideas were shared in this part of the discussion, and I'm looking forward to trying some of them out!

Practical Ideas:

•    Recording students – you could play the recording, ask for general impression, give them
      the tapescript, have them correct their own or peer’s errors – lots of possibilities here!
•    Have students self correct and peer correct, which is more effective than teacher
•    Say: "Whaaaaat? That's not English. No one in the UK is going to understand what that
•    Playing games with individual mistakes or common errors.
•    Focus on one error at a time, stopping students and having them correct it before moving
•    Writing slows down and takes a snapshot of how learners really feel the language works.
      Better noticing opportunities.
•    Give students a funny look when they make a fossilized error – they will realise something
      is wrong and correct themselves (not to be tried with new or very shy students!)
•    Prevention is more significant than defossilization (an apple a day…)
•    Discover and clarify why and how errors occur.
•    Personalized “fossil” diaries where students record their particular errors.
•    Focus on fossilized errors at the end of an activity.
•    Keep a “fossil” dictionary.
•    Say “I don’t understand what you’re saying”.
•    Dictations using common errors.
•    Ask students to vary their fluency/accuracy during speaking tasks.
•    Write answers/problems on the board to discuss as a class.
•    Error diaries – students observe themselves out of class and report back on their usage.
•    Have a wiki – each student has their own page for errors.
•    Don’t correct individual students on the spot, but save errors for class correction at the
•    Students must be invested in correcting the error.
•    Soundcloud, Voicethread, Voxopop etc to record students. They could listen to themselves
      and choose good things they have said or errors they have made.
•    Motivate students to experiment with language.
•    Ask some students to be monitors and write down what they hear during speaking
•    Use fossil journals in pairs – each student tries to get their partner to make the errors in
      their journal.
•    Use humour to point out errors e.g. “I talk to the phone”, act out talking to your phone!
•    Recording students can make students more careful – karaoke effect.
•    Take a fun/playful approach to error correction.
•     Ask students to actually make mistakes for short periods to help master the
      accuracy/fluency control.
•    Drills
•    Explain the consequences of mistakes, especially embarrassing ones.
•    Students as teachers – note down errors for constructive feedback in groups.
•    Laughing at our own mistakes can work wonders.
•    Grammar auctions.
•    Bring in a guest (who ideally doesn’t speak L1) for students to interview. They may not
      understand the “fossils”.
•    Have students mimic different accents (this cuts down on inhibitions that cause mistakes).
•    Snakes and ladders or other games.
•    Mixing correct and incorrect sentences on the board and asking students to spot those
      with errors.

Lots of thing to think about and some interesting techniques to try out.
I hope this summary is useful and gives you some new ideas about how to deal with fossilized errors. I’ll end with a couple of tweets that I particularly liked about the topic of fossilization in general:

“We all must agree that life is too short to aim for perfection! Teach your students how to be critical and they themselves will realize their errors.”

“I'm optimistic about it too! I don't see fossilization as a sort of massive failing. It is something to approach head on.”



Materials ays-spelling-and-language-development.html

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Friend or Foe? - Getting parents more involved

 This post is a kind of reply to Jason Renshaw's latest post. I began writing a comment in reply to something Leahn (from Early EFL said) but it got longer and longer, so I thought it would be better to make a post out of it.

Parents and children
Jason discussed his ideas on what should be expected of teachers and parents of young students, in terms of greetings, general friendliness and interest; and the importance of teacher-parent relationships. I agree with pretty much everything Jason says, at least in theory. However, there are a few practical implications that can make these suggestions difficult.

 Apart from the very young children whose parents actually come upstairs to pick them up, the only time we ever see parents in my school is if they have a complaint. Only once or twice in the past eight years have I had a parent come in to find out how his/her child is progressing. This is unfortunate but reflects the idea of after-school English classes being an alternative babysitting service. It can, be however, the same from the teacher's point of view. How many teachers ring or write to the parents when the child is doing well? If the only communication between teachers and parents is about "bad stuff", surely there is something wrong? This is why Leahn describes parents as being the enemy. You know, when the secretary  informs you that a parent is coming in to speak to you, that you are in trouble! And this is not good - the teacher becomes defensive, the parent comes in with the wrong attitude (everything is the teacher's fault, even the fact that little Timmy never does any homework because it is apparently the teacher's job to enforce homework, even though this is physically impossible) and the meeting's result means that neither the teacher nor parent goes away completely satisfied and they both hope that the next meeting will be way into the future. This is, unfortunately, the case more often than not.

So after that little rant, it's time to think of some solutions.

Time is generally an issue here - if there are no breaks between lessons and parents are double-parked outside school, little communication is going to take place. Many of the older children walk to school alone, or the car is waiting outside to pick them up. Many parents pay by direct debit and never enter the school.
I think that one solution to this could be a regular email sent out to parents, even if it is only once a term. It could be a kind of newsletter, but I think a personal mail would be more productive. If you make a note of the positive things each child does, it won't be hard to write a quick update on how he/she is doing. I think it best to focus on the positive (Little Timmy has been trying really hard this term), language progress (Timmy can now talk about his free time) but any problems or concerned should also be mentioned, if not in detail. These things are best discussed face to face, so you could mention that you are concerned about Timmy's lack of attention and that you would like to arrange an informal meeting with the parents to discuss this.

I have a class wiki for the little ones where I post things we have been doing, trying to encourage parents to take part in their child's learning. I am wondering to what extent this could be done with older children or teenagers. It is quite alright for parents to sit with their 6 year old at the computer, but would this be feasible with an eleven year old?

If any of you have tried something like this out, I'd love to hear about it. How do you successsully involve parents with their child's learning? Is it possible to do so with older kids? Let me know in the comments section, or reply to Jason's original post, if you prefer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Parkour in the Park (with links)

As is usual, when somebody shares a video on Facebook or Twitter, I automatically wonder whether I could use it in class. This particular video seemed ideal - the theme is relevant and motivating to teenagers and lots of language work could emerge from it. The video shows a group of young men doing parkour or freerunning. Despite the title of this post, the term parkour does not come from the word park but from the French parcours which means route or course. Parkour is a way of moving around a city by the shortest route possible, including jumping over walls, doing forward and backward flips and so on. It is a phenomenon that is taking the world of teenage boys by storm. It has possibly replaced skateboarding as the thing to do in the streets and I have actually seen lads on the street practising jumps from high walls. I plan to show the video to my teenage FCE group to start with, and possibly with a couple of other classes that may find it interesting. Below are some of the activities I have thought of doing.

See more funny videos and funny pictures at CollegeHumor.

First, I plan to show the first 45 seconds, where the men are in the garage getting into their car. I want the students to discuss what kind of people they are, where they think they are going and what they are going to do. There is no indication at this point that they are going to do parkour, in fact, they look more likely to be on their way to rob a petrol station! 

Then the expression "Storm Freerun" comes up on the screen. What do they think it refers to? Have they heard this term before?

I may tell the students to write down the actions that they see in the clip while they are watching.

We will brainstorm obstacles that you can find in a city (walls, railings etc) and verbs of movement. This is a good opportunity to check student's knowledge of verbs of movement and preposition combinations, such as jump over, run through, climb over and more unusual verbs such as crouch, squat, leap, drop, crawl, land. We can then move on to nouns such as somersault, backflip, twist, body roll.

An activity that I thought they may enjoy and get to practise some of the vocabulary we looked at in previous activities is to get them design a route suitable for a freerun. They would draw a plan of a part of a city, including buildings, walls, fences, steps, railings etc or any other obstacles. They would then have to describe the sequence of movements of the runner. 

Another task, since they are an FCE group, could be to write a story about a freerunner describing his thoughts during a run. It could be written in first or third person and could be told in the present or in the past, as a dream or memory.
Oh, and one final point to make would be "Don't try this at home!" We could discuss the dangers of this type of hobby and possible consequences if safety measures are not taken.

Here is the link to the worksheet  I made for my FCE group.

I have also uploaded a magazine article kindly shared by Ceri Jones about local teenagers doing "tricks" in Cádiz, Sothern Spain here, which I hope can be downloaded and printed off in a decent size.

You are welcome to download, edit and use these materials in your own lessons. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Colour Experience

Colours by szeretlek_ma on flickr

What colour is the world? Is it rose-tinted, sky blue or a grim grey? This may sound like an unusual question, but allow me to pose an even stranger one:

What colour is the letter M? Or the letter R? Or the letter H?

What on earth is she going on about, you may well be asking yourself. Letters don't have colours! They can be any colour you want them to be! For most people this is probably true, but not for everybody. Not for me.
You see, in my mind, this is how I see these letters:

M      R     H

Every letter has a colour - not an individual colour - there may be four or five letters which share the same tone. Numbers do too. 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

You may be thinking that I am some kind of psycho and that you don't want to read my blog anymore; you may feel slightly uneasy. Or some of you might recognise what I am talking about. Maybe you have read about it somewhere, seen a TV programme, or maybe you have experienced a reaction to my colours because yours aren't the same! There is a name for this wierdness and that is Synesthesia. Now, I don't actually know if I have synesthesia really, but I do know that for me each letter and number has a colour and that if I am trying to remember a word or name, I will often remember the colour of the first letter. You can often hear me say: "Oh what was his name? I think it started with a B... or was it a D... it was definitely with a B or a D" and then I would discover it was Terry.

Now discovering that there is actually a name for this is quite comforting. For a long time I assumed everyone saw letters in colour. I have a very vague memory of arguing about the colour of a letter once with somebody. When I was a child, nobody told me that they didn't see letters and numbers in this way, and perhaps I never mentioned it to anybody, being quite a shy and quiet person. But if I had actually realised that my brain did make these connections, I could have been taught to take advantage of it, especially for memorising  information. Imagine if I had known, when learning French at school, that I could use colours in my work to help me remember. Maybe I didn't need to, as I was always very good at French in those days, maybe I did actually use colours to remember vocabulary internally. 

Obviously most people don't see things the same way as I do. However, that doesn't mean that using colour is not effective for learning. Colours are very easy to recognise and remember, except for those who are colour-blind. The other day, one of my young learners' course books introduced some vowel sounds by using colours. Each vowel sound was printed in a colour whose name contained that sound. For example


All the words with this sound were written in red. As long as the children knew the names of the colours, they would remember the sound. We listened to some words on the CD and said what colour they were. We also imagined those things in that colour, for example, a black cat, and orange lorry, a red pen.  Then, in groups, the children made small posters for one of the sounds with plenty of examples, all written in the appropriate colour. I do think that using colour can be very helpful for remembering things as connections are made in the brain. 

I have seen colour used for remembering different Past Tense patterns, different -ed ending pronunciations, different types of word (verb, noun, adj etc). Other possibilities are different colours for different prefixes or suffixes.  But I have never seen it used for general vocabulary. I'm not saying that we should group words by their first letter - this is not effective for most people, but how about recording words related to the environment in green and word about heat in red and other logical coloured topics. Would this make them easier to remember?

Have you used colour with your students to help them learn? Has it worked? Is it too time-consuming? What have you used it for? I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences, with both young learners and adults. Do adults think colour-coding too childish?

The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of colour.
By Hans Hofmann
So why not use it to enhance our learning experience?
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