Two Major Assumptions To Be Avoided

A teacher shared with me some class plans to have students find verbs, adjectives, etc. in a text while using no dictionaries (but a grammar reference sheet), then answer *some* questions about comprehension. The purpose was “to see who needs help.” The adjustment? To provide corrective feedback. The expectation? That identifying parts of speech and grammatical forms would improve by the end of the year. There are two major assumptions regarding that intended purpose, adjustment, and expectation, and I’ve seen them before elsewhere:

  1. What is taught is learned.
  2. Personalized *corrective* feedback results in uptake.

Believing that we can control a learner’s internal syllabus leads to a host of teaching practices that, among other things, consume prep time (e.g. formatting worksheets and quizzes, writing questions, scoring, providing feedback, gradebook reporting, etc.). If the evidence of what is taught has been learned is announced testing or activities close to the time of instruction (i.e. instead of delayed testing/activities), the results only reliably measure a) short term memory, or b) who did/didn’t study for the testing. Anything else would be a spurious claim.

As for corrections, the idea of testing, or analyzing student work “to see who needs help,” and then providing them with some kind of corrective feedback is completely understandable, but actually unnecessary. Students need input, not error-correction. N.B. I’m not denying what might be beneficial to some students at some point, rather, I’m focusing on the sine qua non for all learners, which is input. An assumption that follows is that corrective feedback leads to uptake (i.e. internalizing the feedback so as to reproduce it accurately and consistently). There’s actually no evidence that corrective feedback is effective beyond something like 8 months—it’s as if instruction never took place. Reasons for perceiving corrective feedback to be effective are likely supported by the very same announced testing or activities close to the time of instruction as above. Teachers who claim it worked for them likely mistakenly attribute their progress to the error-correction itself, and not the input they received over time (i.e. you’d find similar results with the same input, but without any correction whatsoever).

Therefore, the original exercise’s purpose of “seeing who needs help” can be addressed by focusing on understanding meaning. The adjustment? Reading and listening to more target language. The expectation? Students will acquire at their own internal rates.

This also has the added benefit of reclaiming a MASSIVE amount of free prep time.

2 thoughts on “Two Major Assumptions To Be Avoided

  1. Feedback can be a powerful driver of input when completed with a focus on new input or recasting of original input. I find these kinds of moments powerful when done with a focus on input because they create natural purpose for communication in Latin that isn’t always available in a classroom setting.

    • To be clear, I’m talking about corrective feedback. I’ll go ahead and update that now.

      I agree that responding to the CONTENT of a message (e.g. “I like how you said X. Can you explain more?” or “do you mean that Y can Z?”) leads to additional input. If that’s what is meant by feedback, that’s a different story.

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