Error Traps: Why students CAN’T make errors in classes with Acquisition as the goal.

In one of Bill VanPatten’s latest Tea with BvP episodes (which I’ve edited down to only his responses, see the CI Materials page for past edited episodes), he talked about how there are no errors when it comes to the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning of our students, at least in terms of language acquisition. What we hear/read from students is a consistent representation of how they’ve construction the second language system in their mind. It is what it is, and there are very few factors besides time and comprehensible input. Thus, there are no errors.

This has HUGE implications for language teaching. Take the following comparison…

This is an error:
Ex. Assessment #1
1. Convert “estar” into its 3rd person singular form.
a) soy
b) está
c) es
d) están

This is NOT an error:
Ex. Assessment #2
1. Write a story.
Hay un chico. El chico es en Disneyland…

Clearly, there is only possible correct response for Assessment #1, the student gets it wrong, and thinks they don’t know Spanish. This is an Error Trap (ET) that awards the fast processors who memorize forms and learn about languages, and punishes everyone else who prefers to acquire and use the language. In Assessment #2, the student clearly expresses that the boy is in Disneyland, but does so in a non-native way. As people sympathetic to language learners (as stated in ACTFL guidelines), teachers should have no difficulty interpreting the student’s message despite the form of the word.

Here’s the kicker…regardless of which assessment is given, THE STUDENT’S PROFICIENCY REMAINS UNCHANGED. So, language teachers everywhere have a choice as to which assessment to give, or at least which one to have count towards a student’s grade.

What would happen if ALL language teachers suddenly abandoned Error Traps?

I predict it would be a game changer would eliminate most of the useless paper trail typically associated with school and schoolwork. If there are no errors, students don’t have to “practice” much of anything outside of the classroom beyond reading. Throw away those homework stamps. Say goodbye to grading stacks of papers. Forget using an error-code system. Eliminate the item-analysis. Forgo any “review day” to address the fact that most of your students are “still having trouble with” ser and estarInstead, spend time getting to know what compels students. Focus on improving the delivery of understandable messages. Create stories not worksheets, etc.

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2 thoughts on “Error Traps: Why students CAN’T make errors in classes with Acquisition as the goal.

  1. Pingback: Plenty of Latin FOR ALL! (provided that you can read it) | Magister P.

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