As an English teacher, you will be most frequently measuring your students’ progress by giving such different kinds of assessments as homework, assignments, quizzes and tests on a regular basis. Likewise, you will be involved in marking those assessment tasks. Whether you mark your students’ work subjectively (depending on your overall impression of the work as in assessing a composition or a role-play) or objectively (where there is usually one correct answer as in gap-fills and MCQs), you will notice common errors students have made. It is best to include those errors in upcoming teaching sessions and use them as an opportunity for learning. After all, the purpose of assessment is not to check what students can’t do, but to check what progress they have made and what they still need to work on.
Keep a record of the most frequent errors that occurred in the previous form of assessment. You might collect grammar, vocabulary, structure mistakes from discrete-point tests (testing individual language points such as word or sentence transformation task) and/or integrative tests (ie one question such as a role-play testing a number of items or skills). These common errors should be included in remedial sessions after tests. Here are some activities you can perform after each assessment.
1. Paper skirt: Minh Mai (2015) outlines a creative, competitive activity involving sentence correction. Prepare a piece of paper with sentences containing mistakes that the students have made. Put one sentence on each line and space them so that the paper can be cut into strips which remain joined at the top, to form a skirt. Put the students in small groups and give each group a ‘skirt’. The students take turns to tear a strip away, correct the sentence and present it to the teacher. Monitor and be around the groups for confirmation. The team that finishes first wins.
2. Hand a blank copy of the test to each pair of students. Alternatively, display the test questions on the smart board or project them onto the board or wall. Have the students discuss each task in pairs. Elicit/give the answers the questions and explain any confusion and difficulties for the students to avoid in the future.
3. If the common mistakes are just a few, an economical technique to apply is to write the mistakes on the board in example sentences or as they have been occurred in the test and ask the students to work in pairs to correct them. Elicit the correct form and use of each target item. It is better to include some correct sentences, so the students are challenged to find the wrong ones among all the sentences and correct them. Don’t forget to praise them for the correct language use as well.
4. In terms of writing exams, you could choose one composition that includes some common mistakes that you want to pinpoint to the students. Give a copy of that composition with the name removed in order not to offend the person who has made the mistakes. Alternatively, you could display that piece of writing on the screen. Allocate a time limit (depending on the length of the writing) to students to read the text and find any vocabulary mistakes, grammar errors, misuse of linkers, incorrect punctuation, etc.
Have students compare their findings and comment on the text in pairs before soliciting open-class feedback. Remember to focus on the good use of language in the text. It is better to start with praising the correct use of grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, before shedding light on the misuse of language.
You would also choose to comment on task completion and form. Ask the students such questions as: “Do all the supporting sentences relate to the controlling idea?” Which sentences should we omit from the paragraph and why?” At the end, give a score to the composition and discuss your decision with students according to some writing criteria. That would help them understand how assessment is being conducted.
5. As for speaking exams, you could record your students’ production and select one audio anonymously and play it back later for students so as to find any misuse of language or any communication breakdowns. Hold an open-class discussion about the speaking test by playing and pausing the listening track; praise any good use of the language and highlight common mistakes; have students correct the errors. Discuss your score with the students and finish the activity by giving advice for upcoming speaking exams.
These errors provide an insight into the students’ linguistic difficulties, and they should be taking into consideration when you prepare forthcoming classes. Conducting assessment tasks and then throwing them away would not help students to avoid repeating the same mistakes. By dedicating a session for common errors made in tests in our teaching schedule, students will have the chance to learn from their and others’ mistakes and try to improve their test results.
Do you include students’ errors in your teaching? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions to be added to the list above?
Mai, T., M. (2015). One more time. English teaching professional. (101) 22-23.