Is there any value in insisting on corrections?

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Q. I have just started at a small prep school as the sole maths teacher, teaching Years 4-8. As a primary trained NQT, the question of corrections didn't really come up.I am now feeling that the children in the later years should correct their work if they show evidence of misconception or multiple careless errors. But when? Class time is spent getting on with the curriculum, and they have homework which consolidates and reinforces classwork - so corrections would be an extra burden.

A. I agree with you that pupils in the later years should be correcting mistakes in their work. There is much debate on the usefulness of corrections, and the approach taken is also important.

Corrections should be done before a new piece of homework is marked. If a pupil has many mistakes, it might be that the work is at too high a level for them; they should be encouraged to correct only a few. Perhaps get them to focus on one of their mistakes.

Get them to see if they can decide what they did wrong, writing out in words how they would redo the problem correctly. Perhaps have a page in the back of the book - "Errors to avoid!".

Writing corrections in a different colour from their normal work also helps you and your pupils find them quickly. Having homework completed at the back of an exercise book also helps, as it means that pupils can attempt it over a longer time, as they can revisit the questions during the week while keeping it all in one place. This also helps with the marking.

I found that a marking system using white sticky labels is useful. When marking books I would write the pupil's name and short comments on a label, leaving the label on the backing sheet, which I would photocopy. In class, the label went into the pupil's planner as an individual learning plan.

Using the photocopy, in spare moments I would tackle a few pupils at a time and discuss and demonstrate the concept or point out where they had made an error and ask them to correct it. And I would encourage them to attend the homework club and ask for help. These sheets were also useful when writing reports and for follow-up at parents evenings.

Pupils need to understand the importance of correcting a misconception, the value of which comes from the teacher. If it isn't reviewed, pupils think it doesn't matter. Some teachers use the completion of corrections to form part of their overall homework grade for that week.

Mistakes and corrections are useful as they identify misconceptions, and provide opportunities to reconsider concepts to gain a clearer understanding. I don't hold with pupils having to do corrections where they have clearly understood the concept but miscopied or written an answer incorrectly. This might be "careless", but it might also suggest dyslexic tendencies.

As to when they should do the corrections before their next homework - in their own time. If they still don't understand the maths, then make sure they understand that they need to ask you in a lesson, before the next homework is due. Future homeworks then won't seem so bad and gaps in knowledge are plugged.

I can see fear, frustration and "not possible" emanating from readers'

responses: "Absolutely not. Can't be done. I have classes of 37 and do not have time for that kind of detailed marking". This balance has to be met by pupils sometimes marking their own or others' work, given the marking scheme, and making helpful comments, with pupils following up with corrections. Occasional less formal homework, such as investigations or collaborative poster submissions, may provide alternatives to lessen a teacher's load. I do emphasise that a pupil's exercise book, regularly reviewed by the teacher, helps a two-way conversation and makes pupils feel their work is valued, but the feedback has to have meaning. If we had class sizes of 15 pupils then this task would not become onerous - dream on!

An interesting research report Homework and Its Role in Constructivist Pedagogy by Jo Lyon Plato can be found at http:lrs.ed.uiuc.edustudentsplato1constructhome and a general review of homework studies by Caroline Sharp at www.nfer.ac.ukresearch-areas pims-datasummarieshwk-review-of-studies-on-homework.cfm The Ofsted report, Secondary Education 1993-97: A Review of Secondary Schools in England said: "When homework is consistently checked by the teacher it tends to have high status with the pupils. Where teachers set good-quality homework and mark it promptly and thoroughly it contributes significantly to pupils' learning. On the other hand, where pupils spend time on homework and it is ignored, or where the teacher's response is inconsistent, motivation and attainment suffer as a consequence."

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