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The problem with: Correction codes

The problem

Correction codes are symbols that teachers write on student work to give them “clues” as to what might be wrong with their language output. Over the years, these symbols have become more or less widely adopted throughout EFL. WW stands for Wrong Word, S/PL might be singular/plural and V is vocabulary.

Why is this a problem?

A student at the school where I work told me that her previous teacher had used this system and that she really hadn’t liked it. She explained that the problem that it was unhelpful and she wasn’t learning anything from it.

I think the problem with using this system is that the teacher isn’t really offering anything useful in the form of feedback. The teacher is doing as little work as possible and is merely the learner to go away and try again (FOFO approach). In some cases of course, a learner might be able to figure out something simple on their own. But in all cases? I don’t think that is possible.

The solution

The best teacher I have ever seen is without doubt a former English Teacher of the Year, Phil Beadle who starred in the Channel 4 series the Unteachable. I once watched a video where Phil explained something regarding his understanding of feedback. He said that it once struck him “with the weight of an epiphany” that what students wanted was detailed feedback on their writing. And you see Phil in a video writing meticulous, detailed notes for learners along with specific learning targets on their written work.

In my view, what students need is feedback rather than a guessing game. I’m not claiming that it’s wrong to make learners think again about their language output – far from it. But what is wrong is to use correction codes as the only form of feedback that students get on their writing. As teachers, we should aim at giving learners the information they need to improve their language.

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