We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on Mar 2, 2015

Guiding Students to Increased Accuracy at All Levels

Last Thursday, #langchat participants gathered to take part in a lively discussion about student accuracy. They reflected on areas of students’ performance that suffer most from inaccuracy, when to correct students for lack of accuracy, and how to approach grading when accuracy is a problem. Participants also brainstormed ways to help students become more accurate without discouraging risk-taking and ways to help students reflect on their output. A “great #langchat CROWD” (@KrisClimer) took part in what became a heated discussion, and participants left the #langchat hour feeling invigorated.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the conversation and to our moderators, Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), Don (@dr_dmd), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and Kris (@KrisClimer)!

Question 1: What areas of your students’ performances suffer from a lack of accuracy most?

#Langchat participants mentioned specific areas of their students’ performance that could be more accurate. Some instructors mentioned oral production skills. @JessieOelke wrote, “Definitely *authentic* oral production,” and @Mr_Fernie made a distinction between students’ speech in the classroom and production outside of class: “[Students could] definitely [show more accuracy in] speaking skills when put on the spot outside the classroom. [In] class, [they are] great; outside, not so much.” Others cited students’ spelling as frequently inaccurate. @CoLeeSensei wrote, “[Okay,] I’ll say it…spelling!” @kwieser24 agreed, adding, “At level 1, minor spelling [or] accent errors aren’t a huge biggie to me… [but] some colleagues disagree.” Additionally, @davis0670 noted that “agreement of all types” can lack accuracy, and @mllemariasmith mentioned nuances, such as prepositions and articles as another area of inaccuracy.

Some participants preferred not to focus on the notion of accuracy. In responding to areas of his students’ performance that lack accuracy, @tmsaue1 wrote, “NONE! Because I don’t view it as a lack of accuracy but as a level of proficiency that comes with certain aspects of accuracy.” @kwieser24 questioned the importance of considering learner accuracy at the novice level, asking, “[At] level one, is 100% accuracy that important? […] One accent mark error [means something is] wrong?! [This idea] baffles me…”

Question 2: When do you decide to penalize for a student’s lack of accuracy?

Several participants felt that students should only be penalized for inaccuracy when it significantly hindered communication. @MmeFarab added, “Second to [situations when communication is hindered, penalties may be appropriate] when [students are making] the same mistake over and over.” Overall, @MmeMurphy noted that it is best not to nitpick student output early on: “[In] the beginning, I think the most important thing is to build confidence. Give [students one or two] areas to work on, but do not nitpick.”

Some instructors took issue with the notion of penalizing inaccuracies. For example, @tmsaue1 wrote, “I can’t believe we are talking about penalizing in a chat about learning.” @lovemysummer preferred replacing the word ‘penalize’ with alternatives: “‘penalize’? [I don’t know. Maybe it’s better to:] revise, redo, keep at it until it improves.” @jen_aston agreed, noting that feedback is more valuable than penalties for errors: “If accuracy needs to be improved, that’s feedback you should give students. Not penalties. Focus on what they can do.” Finally, @KrisClimer observed that “penalty is perhaps in the eye of the [students],” pointing out that “even a correction that is intended to refine or guide [students] can be perceived as [a] penalty.”

Question 3: How do you handle grading your students when accuracy is a problem?

@CadenaSensei spoke for many others when she suggested “giving students [opportunities] to correct their errors and improve [their] score” as a fair practice that also evidences growth. Other instructors encouraged devising a rubric that focuses on a variety of skills in order to highlight areas where students are performing well. @MmeLohse said, “I think the key is to find or create a rubric that includes lots of different skills [and] categories,” and @axamcarnes wrote, “I follow rubrics that give points for what you DO. But, if [output is] nearly incomprehensible, then [a student’s] score is much lower.” SenoraDiamond55 acknowledged that instructors should also observe whether a particular area of inaccuracy is common in a particular class, writing, “If accuracy is a REAL problem, then something needs to be re-taught.”

Question 4: How do you help students refine their accuracy without forfeiting their risk-taking?

@SraSpanglish observed that grade deductions for inaccuracy can discourage risk-taking: “I think the problem is with tying points to errors, thus discouraging risk taking, which hinders growth.” Langchatters had a wealth of suggestions about how to refine students’ skills while still promoting risk-taking. @espanolsrs wrote that instructors could meet individually with student to discuss their progress: “[It’s] hard to do this as often as I’d like, but I like to individually confer with students about writing.” In meeting with students, @jen_aston suggested setting achievable goals: “Help students set goals for accuracy that are realistic, specific and achievable.” @MlleSulewski added that instructors should be careful not to point out too many potential areas of improvement at once: “[Focus on one] thing at a time usually. Don’t pick apart all speech, but [reminders of previous lessons help] a lot.” Aside from one-on-one feedback, participants had other ideas about how to point to inaccuracies. @kballestrini suggested a more indirect approach, encouraging instructors to “rephrase, reframe, [and] repeat [phrases] using correct forms, vocabulary, tense, etc.,” in other words, to “[model] correct usage over direct correction.” Alternatively, @ProfeCochran commented that peers can be a source of feedback: “Change partners frequently within the lesson for more opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback, as well.” Lastly, Langchatters recognized the importance of creating a positive classroom environment that recognizes student achievements and supports risks and subsequent growth. @NicoleNaditz wrote that in such an environment “[assessments should not be viewed as] a trap or ‘gotcha’.” Instead, there should be a “[system] in place for [to] relearn, repractice, [and] reassess.” @SenoraWienhold highlighted the value of providing students with “tons of praise for risk taking [and] trying, [along with] constructive feedback to move [them] forward.” As @carmenscoggins said, “Students should know that it’s OK to make mistakes. You’re their cheerleader!”

Question 5: How do you focus your students’ attention on being more accurate on future performances?

Many participants ask students to reflect on their performance quite extensively. @kwieser24 said, “[My students] reflect after [a] performance [or assessment] on [their] strengths, areas of improvement, and how they’ll get there for next time.” @carmenscoggins has students “go back to those reflections before they do [another] presentation.” In @profepj3’s class, students keep a blog filled with their reflections: “I have my students write a reflection on their blog. They’re pretty honest in those [entries]—[writing about] how they did, why, what can they improve.” Alternatively, @SenorLuna10 suggested that classes could “[create] a language awareness chart […] based [on] common spoken and written mistakes” as a form of collective reflection. In @CoLeeSensei’s classroom, students collectively focus on an area of improvement through an activity: “Sometimes we do a ‘power focus’ for 5 [minutes] on 1 skill that needs more accuracy!” Still other instructors recommended cultivating student reflection by presenting students with errors in texts and asking them to offer possible corrections. @CadenaSensei said, “I identify errors, but don’t correct them. [I give students the] opportunity to think [or] ask about how to fix it.” @MlleSulewski reverses roles, purposefully making mistakes and calling on students to correct them: “[I’m always] careful to make myself look like a dummy so [students] can fix [errors] by teaching me.”


Langchatters recognized that increased accuracy in language learning comes with time. Overall, they encouraged instructors to avoid penalizing students for errors and to instead offer additional opportunities for growth through revision and reflection. Participants emphasized the importance of a positive, supportive classroom environment that refines accuracy while supporting risk-taking.

Thank You!

Thank you to all of our participants for your thoughtful contributions! In the words You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat. In case you can’t join us at that time, or haven’t had your #langchat fill after Thursday night, now you can also join us on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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