Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fall down seven times, get up eight

I just happened on a fascinating blog post, On Error, which ends with the Japanese proverb I've used as the title. I've become a substitute teacher for foreign students learning - or improving - their English on a nearby college campus, so I've been reading about teaching English to adults as "another" language (since for many students English is not just their second language!) One article I read was about how students have to learn through errors, which is exactly what that blog post is about. The article was about how to work with student's errors. Obviously, making the student look foolish or lose face would be a catastrophe, because the student would lose his desire to risk something. But if we don't correct errors, the error become "fossilized" in the student's thinking or speaking, so we are letting the student down, when he has risked making an error.

When I taught English and German in Denmark, I had a hard time convincing my students that copying someone else's translation would do them absolutely no good, because they wouldn't learn anything by doing it. A student's errors are an indication of where we have to set in do do some corrections. If you never make a mistake, it could be by chance, or because you never risk anything,
and you don't expand your experience or your knowledge.

I was using a wonderful paper-correcting system in Denmark that some smart teacher had worked out. When students made an error, I wrote a number next to it, which could be looked up in a special grammar work-book with numbered typical errors. Then the student handed back the paper with the errors listed, corrections made, and the reason explained. They learned that their errors were very effective ways to learn. But I had to grade on the returned paper, not the first one, which wouldn't be fair.

Sometimes I would also use a system of little arrows, where meant that the student had improved, and meant that she could do better (something I used more with the best students, to get them to go beyond "correct.") All of that is difficult to do with electronic grade books, unfortunately.

Oral corrections are something else again. Students want to know the right answer, and sometimes ask for correction with their tone of voice, but they don't want to look stupid (I know, that's a forbidden word in the classroom!) We can help by asking them further questions for clarification, or start the sentence for them, or ask them - or the whole class - to repeat the answer correctly (depending on the subject, of course.) Students can also work together in pairs or small groups to help each other polish off a presentation before it goes public to the whole class. That way they can "fall down seven times" gently, and stand up proudly that eighth time.

This goes for my many careers, too (which you can read about elsewhere in this blog.) I have risked much in my life, and not every attempt was successful, but I've enjoyed each time I got up again, well knowing there might be another fall - and another triumph!

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