About Error Sheets, page 4

uncomfortable with the method after having started to use it. I want to discuss some of them briefly here.

1. error sheets are hard work: Error sheets do involve quite a lot of work — for both teachers and students. From the teacher’s point of view, there is first the effort of collecting the errors and then of putting the sheets together which involves typing, formatting, editing, and copying. On top of that, there’s the need to make notes in order to be able to identify and explain the errors clearly and confidently in front of a class. And then there’s the mental energy required to keep thinking sharply during the whole classroom session. For students too, error sheets are hard work: Faced with ordinary-looking sentences written in a language other than their own and knowing only that there are errors of some kind, somewhere, they have no choice but to think. And even after the first, most difficult stage of the session is finished, they have to make the effort required to understand both the questions and comments of their fellow students and the explanations of their teacher. Finally, if they want to take full advantage of the session, they have to be courageous and confident enough to ask questions themselves.

2. respect for grammar is required: Most people find grammar — the grammar of their own language or one they are learning — an unattractive subject. Perhaps grammar seems distasteful just because linguistic knowledge is so deeply, and unconsciously, lodged within the human brain that the process of bringing it to the conscious surface goes against “human nature.” It might be expected that in the field of language instruction the general repugnance toward grammar would not prevail. However, in the case of English instruction at least, that expectation is not always borne out. In fact there seems to be a good deal of hostility toward grammar in the minds of many trained ESL instructors and there is a good deal of pedagogical theory which strives to support this attitude. This is not the place to take up the pros and cons of including a strong grammar component in a general ESL program but it is perhaps the place to point out that effective error sheet work demands a respect for the idea that explicit discussion of grammar should be an essential part of such a program. And it is worth noting here too the special appropriateness of error detection work for a program that gives prominence to the development of accuracy in writing. That connection lies not just in the fact that the material for the error sheets comes from writing assignments but also in the fact that the weakness of a laissez-faire attitude toward grammar instruction is most striking when it comes to teaching students to write well.

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