Correction Using Hand Signals Gets A Thumbs Down From Me

hand_signals.jpgThis is one technique which I just can’t use with a straight face. I’m not saying hand signals are bad, but I worry that students won’t get them and furthermore will find them patronizing, Also, it just seems silly.

In theory, the idea of using a gesture to indicate a mistake – and how it can be corrected – is a good one. The teacher isn’t repeating the mistake or correcting the student – the student is correcting him- or herself relatively independently. But I think a great amount of time can be wasted trying to get students to guess what you’re getting at and shushing the ones who just jump in with the right correction. One solution is to come up with a couple of hand signals for routine types of errors, which you then use regularly. I guess I do sometimes use simple and intuitive ones (well, I think they are intuitive), like a gesture to show two words are reversed: computer laptop…but people don’t really reverse words like this often.

When I teach one to one students, trying to use hand signals feels even weirder. It depends on the student of course, but once something awkward happens – they then feel awkward not only because they made a mistake but because they can’t figure out your hand signal either now, and you still have to continue on with the lesson with that very student. (You can’t turn to the next one to take the spotlight off the mistake-maker).

There are probably teachers who use hand signals successfully, and in a non-patronizing way, and students who come to see the benefits of them and like them. As with pretty much everything, what turns out to be the best strategy, or strategies, just depends on the students, the teacher, and the situation.