Feedback on Errors (or Lack Thereof)

Reflections on Feedback (chapter 11, pp.131-140) from Fremmedsprog i gymnasiet: teori, praksis og udsyn by Susana Silvia Fernández

“(…) Man skal kun give feedback, som er overskuelig og systematisk, og som kan bearbejdes af eleven, så det fremmer læring” (p.131) Fernández begins her text about feedback by stating the current (consult milestone 3 beneath) view on correcting errors. The opinions on whether to correct mistakes has swung like a pendulum between two extremes. There has been 3 milestones (read: notions/view points) on correcting errors:

  1. “Correct everything straight away” which is a very behaviouristic view on learning, that perceives learning as a repetition of good models/tools for acquiring appropriate (good) habits.
  2. “Correcting doesn’t work” which is opposite to the ladder and inspired by Noam Chomsky’s theory on language acquisition; attributes repetition and imitation of “a good model”, correcting errors has much less importance, than the student’s interlanguage-development and treating different errors. A view which is very much aligned with the one of Krashen (discussed in the earlier reflection on Teaching Grammar).
  3. “Correcting supports the student’s’ hypothesis creation” is the current view, that corrections should not be exhausting, but are necessary when done at the right time in the right way.

The language hypothesis relies on the importance on interaction and output, in which the student through hypotheses can test themselves and continuously adapt their hypothesis as it is a process that changes as they learn something new (p.132). Errors then, are systematic incorrect hypotheses, that can happen for an inter- or intra linguistic reason, whereas mistakes are random mistake in the student’s output, that can often be self regulated (p.132). One way as a teacher to coach the student towards adapting their hypotheses, is through correcting errors i.e. corrective feedback, which is used as a tool for when the errors occur, because they indicate of the students interlanguage development, thus corrective feedback allows the student to adapt their hypotheses. Summative feedback is highly relevant in end-product situations like exams, but formative feedback is constantly relevant, as it further helps the student to become better in their weak arenas, thus helping them to become better (p.133). The formative feedback can be divided into impact and explicit. The explicit feedback directly points to the error and often the right answer, whereas implicit naturally is more subtle. Implicit feedback can be e.g., underlining errors, using abbreviations for different types of mistakes (WC=word choice, PP=prepositions), providing the right tense as a response when whilst communicating verbally, giving a metalinguistic explanation, etc…

Finally Fernández talks about collaborative language learning as a great tool for interlanguage development, where students receive feedback from their peers.


Fernández et al. (2014): Fremmedsprog i gymnasiet: teori, praksis og udsyn. Samfundslitteratur