Following Frances: Expert corrective feedback in action at Columbia University

Just today Laura Soracco posted a fantastic collection of 14 short reflections from teachers on their TESOL 2016 convention experiences (including mine). Rather than pinpointing my favorite moment of the conference I decided to deflect reflect on the notion of ‘takeaways’.

But I thought of a moment. A very specific moment. Here’s what happened:

I saw her and did a double-take.

Then, a bit like an irrational superfan: “You’re the woman from the video! It’s you! Oh my god, it’s an honor to meet you! You’re from the video! I just want you to know, I think you’re the coolest. It’s you, from the corrective feedback video!”

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The woman was Dr. Frances A. Boyd (see her impressive bio here). The video was:

I first saw it as part of Carol Numrich‘s presentation “Students and Teachers: Differing Perspectives on Oral Corrective Feedback” at TESOL 2014 in Portland.

Since then I’ve used the video often to give CELTA trainees a glimpse at how an expert teacher harnesses corrective feedback to give learners the kind of responsive feedback they need to notice, upgrade, and internalize the language they’re working on and working with.

It’s a great exposition on corrective feedback. It’s also really well produced – giving us the teachers’ actions, plus her personal narrative illuminating her decision making in her own authentic voice. See? This is what accounts for my fanboy moment! (A more graceful one than reaching out to shake Scott Thornbury‘s hand…in the men’s bathroom). This film is an instant classic and Frances is a star! 🙂

Here are the photos I took at the TESOL 2014 presentation:

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As you can see, there’s really nothing new under the  “Pardon the Correction” workshop presentation sun. This presentation is an aunt or uncle, if not a parent, of ours two years later.

So thanks, Carol. And thank you Frances! I’ve got the signed version of this photo already framed up on the ELT hall-of-fame wall in my mind…

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5 thoughts on “Following Frances: Expert corrective feedback in action at Columbia University

  1. Hi! Thanks for this post and for the great blog!! Correction is something that I’ve been reviewing/pondering a lot recently so this struck a chord. I can never quite decide where to fall on the too/much too little correction continuum, (or with the questions of when/when not to correct and implicit vs explicit correction either for that matter). Really enjoyed Frances’ video (it’s a big improvement on some i’ve seen during INSETTs) but watching it my immediate reaction was “woah that’s a lot of correction!” I wonder if that’s just a slightly outdated/dogma from the CELTA I’ve yet to lay to rest though? I know as a language learner I love being corrected myself….

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  2. Hey Waffle! Thanks for dropping in and the great comment. The old-school ‘standard’ CELTA input session (out of the Thornbury/Watkins book) begins with the ‘continuum’ idea you mention – introducing teachers Olga, Mariagrazia, and Paula and their stated beliefs about correction, respectively: “Errors need to be avoided at all costs. I don’t want my learners to pick up bad habits”…Errors are a natural part of the learning process – and as teaching material they’re really useful…I feel bad correcting my students’ errors – it’s judgemental and de-motivating”. Clearly Mariagrazia is the “middle path” representative, and the teacher we hope trainees see as the best model of the three. But all three are in the pudding and in all of us.

    The fictional Mariagrazia’s point, however, takes her beyond being the halfway point between the black and white views of Olga and Paula. Not unlike the Buddhist conception of the ‘middle path’, it’s not simply moderation of two extremes but more imporantly transcendence of the tense duality’dichotomy of tense opposites. Here, our lovely and thoughtful Mariagrazia (I picture a Maria Constantinides-like brilliance) touches the ground (again with the Buddhism: like Buddha in the face of deluding Mara, touching the earth and saying “this is real, I’m grounded, take a hike”) and keeps ‘errors’ where they belong: for lack of a better descriptor, supra-personal. She’s not between Olga and Paula, she’s beyond them.

    She’s in the realm of interlanguage development and internal syllabi suggesting emergent curricula. She’s seeing The Matrix while Olga and Paula can’t.

    Like “teacher talk time”, while it’s perhaps a bluntly useful construct in certain situations, perhaps there’s a limit to how much we can/should approach something like this in terms of quantity. In the open space left behind when we let that rest a bit more, what can we focus on?

    I see you’ve commented on the previous post as well! I’m off to check that out – and thanks again for engaging! I hope my response leads to many more in a dialogue we can have here. That’s the whole point, isn’t it! 🙂

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  3. “watching it my immediate reaction was “woah that’s a lot of correction!”

    That has been lots of folks’ reaction, too. I do mention that it’s a bit ‘concentrated’ for the purposes of this short video. But I also suggest that one should follow that thought with this one: “do the students like feel/think the same? whose reaction should really guide my own perception of this?”

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