Dealing with Errors

Putting priority on the meaning a child attempts to make over the form it takes certainly contributes extended discourse and a lowering of the affective filter. It allows the child to concentrate on assembling and comprehending the many linguistic facets of the meaning being made while being motivated to do so by the act of communication. Stopping a child midstream -- interrupting -- to correct a grammatical or word choice error can derail the meaning making process and contribute to a higher affective filter. It also conveys the message that form is more important than the meaning the child wishes to communicate. Yet, it is critical that ESL learners be corrected as part of their learning process.

Forms of process instruction -- writing process, collaborative learning, whole language -- value meaning over form. The ESL student can benefit a great deal from meaning making aspect of these activities. They provide more and richer opportunities to actively and meaningfully use English. However, ESL students also need direct help with the forms they are in the process of internalizing. They need to be reminded of correct forms and word choice so that they can make these a part of their developing linguistic system. However, these childen are not likely to pick up on gentler forms of remediation typically used with native speaking children. The messages that get communicated to native speaking children in a statement such as -

I like your ideas. Watch out for punctuation next time.

may be lost to NNS whose limited English denies them access to the critical "instructional" messages that lie between the lines. In her description of a process-oriented bilingual classroom, for example, Maria de la luz Reyes sites the case of ESL students and process writing. The teacher had consistently responded to the meaning in the child's journal writing without correcting mechanical errors. At the end of the year, children were "incredulous" that the teacher had never let them know that they were writing incorrectly and that she allowed them to go on making mistakes (Reyes, 1992).