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Cap Your Red Pen

Srabani Mukhopadhyay warns teachers of the damage red ink has on a child's morale.

Danger ahead! Red eyes! Failure! Negative connotations fill the students’ minds when they see red ink corrections on the pages of their notebooks and answer scripts. Research has proved conclusively that children’s morale is affected if their notebooks have copious amounts of correction in red ink.


They are conditioned to treat the colour red as negative and aggressive, which makes a dent on their self-esteem. Red connotes failure, so it has a demoralising effect and deflates the spirit of the young learner. Instead of feeling ‘yes I can’, he/she ends up feeling, ‘no I can’t, I’m no good, I can’t do anything right’. The system has created a wreck already!

The teacher-educator can step in and try to undo the damage that threatens to affect the tender mind. We can change the traditional scenario of notebook, answer script correction and try positive reinforcements. A fun filled positive classroom atmosphere perks up the learner’s spirit. Try humour. Nothing works better than a good laugh.

A humourous approach to howlers in spelling and grammar help in removing mental blocks. Positive strokes always encourage the students to overcome opt-repeated mistakes.

Common errors may be taken up as a general discussion. Eliciting general responses from the learners and the means to avoid them help a great deal. Thus individuals need not feel threatened, singled out or humiliated.  
Be innovative.

Award a ‘star’ for a learner who has set things right. If disappointed at the learner’s repeated mistake, draw a smiley with drooping mouth. It draws a smile, the artwork is appreciated, at times even laughed at. Bad art can be a good thing sometimes!

The learner makes a mental checklist never to repeat the mistake.

Another example can be cited in the wrong use of the apostrophe – a common error. This can be taken up as a project. Newspapers, magazines, print and electronic media abound with this common error.

Form an apostrophe club to stress the need for appropriate use of this significant punctuation mark. It works.
Use the same colour, blue or black ink. It is different so the variation is less intimidating and does not cause anxiety in the learner’s psyche. This is a major milestone to make learning a stress-free exercise.

Let us not make a big deal of simple common errors that learners of English as second language commit. Allow them room to make mistakes. Rough edges will eventually get smoothened out in a positive learning atmosphere.

Language as a communication tool is important, not a perfect syntax and apt vocabulary where we pounce upon every ‘i’ that is not dotted and every ‘t’ that is not crossed.=

If Oxford University can wink at common spelling errors and confusion with words like ‘there’ and ‘their’ of British learners, and in a world where SMS lingo too is acceptable, then let us teachers of English language learn ‘2 adjst wid d times’!

Learning English can become a fun activity if the process is treated with compassion and sensitivity. Once ignited, there is no stopping the enthusiastic fired-up mind to reach for the stars.

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