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Practical Suggestions to Deal with Students’ Compositions
Claudine Gus
Marília dos Santos Lima

“To talk about evaluation is to talk about learning. Evaluation is part of the living process. Evaluation should not be seen as a necessary evil, but as positive means to check teaching and learning process”
(Fobé, 1999)

Responding to students’ errors is not easy, on the contrary, it is a complex task that has attracted linguists and teachers all over the world. Unfortunately, little research seems to have been done on the effectiveness or otherwise of the ways teachers correct students’ compositions. The aim of this paper is to present practical suggestions for foreign language teachers as to how to improve their own awareness in the field of error-correction so that they can be better equipped to offer more consistent and effective feedback to students’ written work. The practical suggestions presented below are based on the master dissertation: “O feedback avaliativo e corretivo em composições de língua inglesa analisadas por professores não-nativos” (Gus, 2001), specialized readings and classroom experience.

a) Consider errors as normal and unavoidable part of the learning process. They are signals that actual learning is taking place. They can indicate students’ progress and success in the language learning (Corder, 1967).
b) Have a global reading of your students’ compositions before marking them. Comments: Most foreign language teachers tend to mark students’ compositions even before reading the whole text. Teachers should not focus only on grammar errors. Let the students express themselves and allow yourself as a teacher to see other aspects of written work such as content and organization.
c) Decide how much correction to provide and select some errors to be corrected according to the level you are teaching. Comments: Most foreign language teachers feel guilty if they do not correct every single mistake. Correcting “everything” is not a synonym of being a competent professional. Teachers may consider which student errors should be corrected first and which ones should be allowed to remain uncorrected. Some errors have higher priorities for correction than others. It depends not only on the level of the student, but also the objective of the lesson itself.
d) Teachers must discuss criteria of correction with their students. This attitude will certainly create trust and develop a friendly atmosphere leading to positive interaction. Comments: According to Lima (1999), it is very useful to discuss with learners about interlanguage and error treatment. Students will probably accept errors as normal part of the learning process if they know in advance how they will be evaluated.
e) Do not give back your students’ compositions with all errors already corrected. Try to use some correcting code symbols so that learners can think of their problems, identify and correct them. They can become more actively engaged in correcting their own work and will be able to avoid future mistakes. The active correction by the student is more effective than the mere passive reading of teacher corrections. Comments: As Hyland (1990) says students should not be discouraged by overmarking. Error correction only improves the proficiency of learners if they are corrected selectively. Besides, teachers ought to give more time for student´s self correction so that they can develop a sense of independency and responsibility for their learning.
f) Feedback must be interactive to be effective. Make clear and objective comments about your students’ compositions. Balance positive and negative comments. Do not only look at problems. Comments: A great number of teachers provide abstract and vague comments on students’ compositions. Sometimes teachers write “very good” or “fair”. But what does “fair” mean? Is it related to content, use of grammar or vocabulary? Feedback is an essential tool for language learning, so teachers must “talk” to their students when writing comments. Being able to use feedback in a positive way is crucial to the process of developing writing skills (Muncie, 2000).
g) Before asking your students to write a composition allow some time for the topic to be discussed in class.
h) Writing is a wonderful tool for language learning (Raimes, 1999) and it is as important as any other skill. Comments: Writing is often relegated to the end of teaching unit. And used mainly for homework. Try to integrate with other skills, so learners can see writing as a real activity. Writing in a foreign language constitutes an important part of the language proficiency. Like speaking, writing shows that people use language to communicate.
i) Use writing in a different way. Promote group work activities. It can be fun and less solitary than writing a composition at home. Comments: Collaboration on a task will help students to reduce the feeling of isolation. They also tend to get more involved in an activity if they are allowed to talk about it rather than sit down in silence (Byrne, 1988).
j) Give opportunity to the students to read their compositions to their classmates (peer feedback). It is important to change the audience and listen to different comments and suggestions. Comments: Peer feedback is useful because it seems to reduce students’ dependency on the teacher and encourage them to accept someone other than the teacher as their reader (Dheram, 1995). In order to do so, students need to be trained, as a result, they may be able to learn to accept their classmates’ suggestions as something positive.
k) Try to use an evaluative model when correcting students’ compositions. Learners will know how their compositions will be corrected independent of the teacher and semester. They can feel less stressed and anxious. Choose a model that take into consideration content and organization. According to our findings, these characteristics were almost forgotten by our teachers.
l) It is interesting to have alternative ways of providing feedback to your students. Some suggestions: send e-mails to your students making comments about their compositions or record comments on tapes, so that students can listen to them at home.

Bibliography

Byrne, D. (1988). Teaching writing skills. New York: Longman.
Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learner errors. International Applied Linguistics, 5, 161-169.
Dheram, P. K. (1995). Feedback as a two-bullock cart: a case studying of teaching writing. ELT Journal, 49 (2), 160-168.
Fobé, N. L. (1977). Evaluation: a challenge and an accomplishment or a “torture”? Letras, 16 (1-2), 5-12.
GUS, Claudine. (2001). O feedback avaliativo e corretivo em composições de língua inglesa analisadas por professores não-nativos. 2001. 123 f. Dissertação (Mestrado) – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Letras, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre.
Hague, A. (1999). Ann Raimes - Interview. New Routes in ELT, São Paulo, 6, 8-11.
Hyland, K. (1990). Providing productive feedback. ELT Journal, 44 (4), 279-285.
Lima, M. dos S. (1997). Error treatment: how learners see it. In: Encontro Nacional de Professores Universitários de Língua Inglesa, 14., 1997, Belo Horizonte. Anais... Belo Horizonte: [s.n.], p. 225-232.
Muncie, J. (2000). Using written teacher feedback in EFL composition classes to promote learner autonomy and long-term improvement. ELT Journal, 54 (1), 47-53.

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