Written Error Correction isn’t Clear-cut

Written Error Correction & Error LogsIn all honesty, when I first started teaching, I really struggled with written error correction. If I am even more honest…I still don’t love how I do it. Every semester, I find myself making notes on how I want to change something for the next group of students. Sometimes I even question how effective corrective error feedback is in improving student writing. As it turns out, research on this topic isn’t definitive either. At the end of this post, you will find a VoiceThread I created to walk you through the error correction codes and error logs I use in my own class. 

Whenever I have a question, I always go to Kathy, my dear friend/mentor/colleague/fellow dog-lover. I also refer to her as ESL Yoda, but that is for another time. Kathy shared a few articles with me on the subject, and one article by Charlene Polio at Michigan State University really laid it all out. As it turns out, written error correction and its effectiveness is a hotly debated topic, and in this article, Polio gives a great overview of the research history and draws some conclusions; her main goal is really to start a conversation on how to do research on error correction. I am going to summarize the juicy bits of her article below:

  • John Truscott’s 1996 article sparked a lot of research on the topic |  “…grammar correction has no place in writing courses and should be abandoned” (p. 328). Part of his argument was that written error corrections cause students to hyperfocus on accuracy at the expense of higher-level content and/or grammatical structures; time would be better spent on other activities. This article led to a wave of empirical research on the topic, forcing the field as a whole to examine an instructional practice that seemed as a norm in the classroom. 
  • There is a practical reason why we should study error correction | We should examine the practice of written error correction because, let’s face it, it takes up a lot of our grading time (i.e. we need to make sure that what we are doing is effective for students and that it is an effective use of our time).
  • After examining many differences in theories and approaches, Polio draws a few conclusions on written corrective feedback:
      1. Error correction is not entirely ineffective or detrimental, and having explicit knowledge is helpful when writing.
      2. For feedback to be useful, it has to be tailored a learner at their level (not at their individual errors).
        • Time is a factor here. It would be best if teachers can have short writing conferences or face-to-face tutoring to supplement the written feedback. This type of interaction is usually scaffolded for a student’s level.
      3. Students have to pay attention to the feedback they receive (written error correction is one way for us to do this). Error logs are one way to do this. Polio also mentions getting students to take time to actually sit down and review the errors before rewriting.
      4. Feedback needs to be timely. <—-The bane of my existence = timely grading. This is ALWAYS something I try to improve. Every. Single. Semester.


Writing ActivitiesCheck out what I use in my classes by going through the VoiceThread linked below. The embedded document is what I use to introduce error correction, but it is really a reference doc and exercise wrapped into one. Leave a comment on the VoiceThread if you have any questions, comments, or feedback! 

Click this link!—> https://voicethread.com/share/11329905/

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