Language learning, and teaching, rely on the information given as a reaction to a product to a person's performance in the attempt of providing improvement. Our reactions can be spontaneous or calculated, and serve to inform our interlocutor on how well/badly they are doing and gives us hints as to what to do next in order to improve, or why not, make it better (because, yes, we can always deliver a little bit more and go beyond what is expected or required.
This played out marvelously recently with some students of mine - as they begin to come to that awareness of the need to take risks as an autonomous learner. Oh, and in case you haven't latched on to the word I am talking about yet is Feedback, and its related terms - debriefing, motivation, external stimulus, constant and multiple assessment - to name a few. While revising for their written text, look at what one of them wrote as a self evaluation:
Apologetic as she might have been, I made it a point to laud their efforts and sympathize with their errors:
The short exchange that follows reinforces the need not to simply say what is right or wrong, but also to provide insight into what is needed to go to the next level of consolidated and cumulative learning.
More importantly is the dire necessity to be sensitive to what students say/do not say and to capitalize on each person´s contributions to stretch their learning even more. Note that this takes place AFTER the test, which shows that the students are set on making sure they do not learn FOR the test.
Feedback goes both ways and is a reliable indicator of what we still have to learn.