- Keywords: Error correction, audio feedback, writing, noticing, technology-enhanced language learning
- Learner English level: Intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: High school and above
- Preparation time: Varies by length of writing samples
- Activity time: 1-2 class periods (50-90 minutes each)
- Materials: Computers or mobile devices, and headphones
Audio feedback on written assignments often takes the form of one-way conferencing from teacher to student. Less commonly explored is the potential of the aural mode to address localized treatment of errors. To this end, I have been developing what I term reformulative audio feedback as a novel alternative to the hand-drawn symbols and cryptic mark-up schemes typically employed in error correction on student writing. Rather than starting from a returned assignment the teacher has “bled all over” in red ink—generally a disheartening, mechanical exercise in amending decontextualized errors—students revise by hearing their work read back to them, the repairs having been seamlessly integrated into the instructor’s reformulation without disruption to the contextual integrity of the work itself.
Step 1: Record yourself reading the student’s written piece while simultaneously correcting treatable errors on the fly. Here, a treatable error refers to non-standard usage, such as, He goed to the park. This is key. While recording, use emphasis, pauses, and intonation cues to draw attention to points in the text that need revision. At the same time, consider that overtly flagging every error in this manner may cause the student to tune out any material read at a more natural pace. You may elect to address instances where awkward vocabulary or stilted language interferes with comprehension. At such times, you can suggest alternate words or turns of phrase in your audio recording. Take caution not to put words into the student’s mouth. Where you cannot work out what a student is struggling to communicate, simply make an aside to that effect in your recording or provide multiple interpretations of what the student may be getting at.
Step 2: Save the audio file and make it ready for distribution via email, portable memory device, or online course management system, preferably just before the start of class.
Step 1: During the first class period, have students listen to the reformulative audio feedback as they read along with their previously submitted written draft.
Step 2: When they note a discrepancy between the instructor audio and what is written on their page, students should pause to consider what triggered the repair and revise accordingly. Make yourself available to answer any student questions during this process.
Step 3: Collect the revised drafts. Listen to the audio feedback once more for each. Use the fast playback feature found on most media players to save time. While listening, highlight any items that students overlooked or got wrong.
Step 4: In a subsequent class, or even as homework, direct students to revisit the audio feedback and focus on the areas you have highlighted as being in need of attention.
Have students keep a journal to track commonly occurring errors over the course of future written work or to share with classmates. Time permitting, have students edit a paper together as each may hear different features within the audio feedback.
I have found that with a little practice, creating reformulative audio feedback takes no more time than marking a paper with error codes and comments. It is ultimately more satisfying, and I actually enjoy the process. Students have also responded positively to this activity: they enjoy the challenge of close listening and appreciate being presented with alternate ways to express their ideas. Even when I do get it wrong, the breakdown in communication often nudges student authors in the right direction. Above all, students cite the personal aspect of having their work read back by their teacher as motivation to do better. Though still a work in progress, reformulative audio feedback is staking out new terrain on the corrective feedback landscape, straddling the implicit/explicit divide, and bears further investigation. It may be just the thing to turn error treatment in L2 writing on its ear.