IATEFL Liverpool: Cecilia Lemos’ Reflections from a recovering recaster

24 Apr

Cecilia–who came all the way from Recife, Brazil to help us other recasters–enticed us to sit up front by placing little Brazilian sweets on the front-row chairs–an idea she borrowed from a conference in Turkey! What a sweet way to start! Now the nitty-gritty…

This talk was packed, as we all know we are guilty of recasting and we all know there’s a better way to correct. Ceci began by asking herself “How did I become a recaster?” and remarked that her teacher training had taught that blatantly correcting students in the communicative approach  was almost a deadly sin of ELT. It would cut communication, bring up affective filters, and frighten them into shyness. Recasting was much better!

She admitted that recasting had become an automatism—she was even doing it with friends and family! She has since become a recovering recaster and wanted to share some oral correction techniques from an experiment in correction she did with her class.

Before setting up the experiment, she began to question the effectiveness of recasting when she herself became a student. In the role of student, she realized that she didn’t always catch the recasted correction her teacher was providing. And Ceci’s a teacher herself! She figured probably less than 5 percent of her English language learners picked up on recasted corrections.

That’s when the shift set in.

She began openly correcting students in class and reassured us that she hasn’t gone to ELT hell!

However, recovering from recasting is a process. It is not automatic. Her two biggest challenges were to first stop recasting and then to revolutionize her oral correction techniques. Participants volunteered their ideas for non-recasting correction:

  • Using gestures
  • Asking students to correct each other
  • Pointing out which rule that has been broken
  • Asking for clarification
  • Echoing
  • Eliciting a correction

Ceci shared a common feeling that many teachers have about their practice: we feel like we need some validation of what we do, even when we see that it works. We need the research to support the practice. Cecilia went looking for this and set up an experiment.

Recovering from recasting: the experiment

Cecilia chose to experiment with 2 groups of A2-level adult learners because it can be more challenging to do new things with adults. One group got recasted corrections, the other group got other, more direct corrections.

She pointed out that she was careful to get permission from management to try this out, backing up her proposition with research and justifications.

When she asked one group if they had even noticed recasting in previous lessons, none of them had. They simply thought the teacher was acknowledging what the students were saying.  She then explained that she was going to stop recasting and try different techniques.

At the end of the experiment, the group that had received non-recast corrections actually performed better on evaluations. Food for thought…

Ceci was happy to say that she has since stopped recasting with all her groups. When teachers came to observe her classes, she reported that they felt like they had really learned a lot from seeing other styles of correction. Students also expressed their appreciation because Ceci helped them to clearly identify and correct their mistakes.

Maybe we have taken recasting to the extreme, especially in the communicative approach and in wanting to provide a more humanistic approach to language teaching. We’ve sometimes been told that students are not supposed to feel the effort of learning, they’re just supposed to learn. But are we doing them a disservice by “protecting” them?

Correction doesn’t have to hurt and it doesn’t have to be embarrassing. Ceci quoted a student who said “I feel like I’m learning because I know what I should do and what I shouldn’t do.” Open correction makes them feel like they are progressing, that they are getting better and that they can really see how they are getting better.

 Going back to the idea of feeling justified in our teaching practice, she showed a video of a colleague who observed Ceci not recasting and how she felt so much better about her own practice. You can find the video of Ceci’s entire talk on the IATEFL Liverpool online website

She warned us that avoiding recasting doesn’t mean constantly correcting. She used a good metaphor—you go to the doctor for him to tell you what’s wrong. You don’t want your doctor to elicit a diagnosis from you. You want their expertise. Our students want our expertise as teachers and we shouldn’t hold it from them. 

If & how:

Ceci gave us a quick test for us to see if we had recovered from recasting:

Scenario: The beginning of class with A2 learners and you ask how their weekend was. One student says “I going to the beach. It was very good.” What would you do?

Many teachers wouldn’t do anything because it’s a warmer. One teacher suggested to make a quick note of the mistake and come back to it later in class if appropriate. Another idea was to do delayed correction at the end of the lesson and also go through recurrent mistakes made throughout the lesson. And a few teachers still said they’d recast it J

This is a big source of controversy though as many teachers prefer more immediate correction for oral errors. Ceci ended by reminding us that there are many different correction techniques available to teachers and it is important to know our students what works with them so as to help them correct their errors effectively.

So what would you do? To correct or not to correct in ice breakers, that is the question!


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3 responses to “IATEFL Liverpool: Cecilia Lemos’ Reflections from a recovering recaster

  1. englishteachingnotes

    April 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    hmm. I also listened to Cecilia’s talk (unfortunately only online) and I should say you’ve written a very good summary of her talk. As for the question about correcting in warmers, I would definitely do something, and delayed correction seems a bit too far-fetched to me, as this is probably something that should be corrected at the spot and not in 15-30 -50 mins (if the grammar where the mistake was made is NOT the main topic of the lesson). But on the other hand, just blatant correction (saying “this is wrong”) could be too much for the beginning of the lesson and personal experience of the learner. So I might try to soften this by offering options or at least mirroring the student (“oh, you GOING to the beach?”/ “you GOiNG to the beach or you WENT to the beach?”) but I like the last example the least, as this is again recasting and making life too easy for the students.
    I would also like to add that I’ve been feeling recasting wasn’t the best option for many of my students for some time already, and I sometimes risked and opted for just saying that what the student said was wrong, asking him/her to think again, and I could see in many cases this worked and was remembered much better. So I am very grateful to Cecilia for this justification of non-recasting!
    And what would you do, by the way?



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