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What’s wrong with this sentence? “Me divertiste.”

corretive feedback“¿Te divertiste durante el recreo hoy?” [Did you have fun during recess today?]

…I asked my native English, dual-immersion student. You could see the wheels turning in his head, and he replied, unsure, “Sí, me… divertiste…” [Yes, I… you had fun…]. Sensing that he would be open to feedback, I modeled the verb form he needed, “Me divertí.” He smiled, and exclaimed, “¡Sí! Me divertí durante el recreo.” [Yes! I had fun during recess.]

How do we know when students will be receptive to linguistic feedback? The conditions have to be perfect—in the case of my student, his use of present tense verbs was almost always grammatical, so he assumed correctly that Spanish requires different first and second person forms in the past tense. He understood the meaning of my question, but didn’t know the particular verb form needed to respond correctly. When I spoke, he was able to interpret my feedback as a learning moment and not just a continuation of the conversation, and could incorporate the correction into his uptake. That’s a lot of meta-awareness for a 6-year-old! Yet every language learner, of every age, has to manage as many moving parts when they are acquiring a second language.

Linguistic feedback is tricky. Research indicates that it usually isn’t that helpful, and we are witness to that in real time—students rarely register feedback on their speech, and corrected writing leaves only enough space to point out an error, but not provide an explanation. It’s rare to connect with a student on grammar, as I did above. Still, language teachers are tasked with helping students improve their academic English. How do we do it?

In Providing feedback to English learners: Why, when and how, Erick Herrmann suggests a familiar classroom work flow—I do, we do together, you do together, you do—and stresses the importance of making objectives transparent to students, so they know what they’re working to improve. (In fact, both of those practices make ELD Links successful.) He also draws our attention to the use of phrases like “Good job!” and “Way to go!,” suggesting that we modify blanket statements to tell students how they did a good job. I don’t know about you, but I still hear “Nice work!” come out of my mouth more often than I’d like to admit!

How do you work linguistic feedback into your interactions with students? How do you keep feedback positive, yet focused? Have you had any illustrative moments, like mine above?

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