Some time ago I woke up and realized that all those red pens had done next to nothing in helping my students "correct" their mistakes. I had spent hours and hours and hours hunched over the table, painstakingly trying to understand what they were trying to say, conscientiously trying to be sure that I didn't "miss" any misspellings, wrong tenses, wrong word order, etc., etc., etc. All for nothing beyond giving my students and their parents the impression I was doing my job. Let's be honest. How many students actually read your comments and careful explanations? How many simply look at the grade and toss the paper? And if there are a few who do try to "learn from their mistakes", do they really benefit from being told how wrong they are?
Krashen says no. Kohn says no. There are very serious studies out there that prove that corrections are at best neutral, and often have a negative influence because they raise the affective filter. And common sense tells us that the best way to produce a stutterer is to correct a baby every time it opens its mouth. Yet that's what we tend to do to our students. We destroy their confidence, not to mention their pleasure, by constantly telling them they are wrong. Although I speak and write French well enough to have passed the French Agrégation, I still make occasional errors (mainly in gender agreement). And I will admit that when I am in a serious discussion and someone corrects something I said, it annoys me. It annoys me because to me it means they are more interested in my grammar than in the subject we were discussing, that to them form is more important than content.
Currently I work with adult students who learned English the traditional way, yet did not acquire it, since they feel the need for lessons and have little confidence in their ability to speak the language. They want to write texts and be corrected. I want them to listen and read simple texts in correct English. I recently found a way to make everyone happy.
We created in class a story about one of the women who went shopping in Paris. It was based on another of Anne Matava's stories, "Try it on." At the end of the lesson I suggested that they write up the story at home and send it to me by e-mail.
To be honest, I didn't expect to get many and thought that I would have one or two on which to base a simple reading for the next class. Well, they are a motivated group and get along well and communicate with each other, so I actually received six versions of the story from seven students. I copy- pasted them into a document and corrected the mistakes. That is, I edited them, so there were no mistakes in the final version. I also added a little vocabulary for some that I think are ready for more advanced structures. I printed the six little stories on two sheets of papers without giving the names. At our next meeting I simply handed out the papers so that everyone had three stories to read.
Now what do we look for in reading material in TPRS? Compelling input with repetition of our target structures, right? Well, my students had three versions of the same story to read. Was it compelling? Absolutely! They read to recognize their own story, they read to see what I had changed and they read to see what their friends had written and what was different.
I told them that if they had any questions about the changes I had made, to ask me. I did not give a lecture on "frequent mistakes". My reasoning was that if they were not ready to recognize their own mistakes, they had not yet reached i+1, and lectures were wasted breath. One man asked me about a conditional structure. It's obviously emergeant for him, and I will include examples of the same structure in our lesson next week. Instead of humiliating them by returning papers heavily marked with red, I gave them a text they could be proud of and share and compare with their friends. My goal was to have them read three versions of the story, but they were so engrossed that they spontaneously exchanged papers and read all six versions. I asked them to write another version for next week by combining the best elements of the three stories they have. Can you see my Chesire cat smile? They're going to be reading and rereading the stories once more, and then we'll have another text for next week. I have no doubt that by then the target structures (try it on - I like it - they don't fit) will be acquired.