I am slowly building towards making Interpersonal assessments work well in my classroom. The reason why I have kept at it in spite of it being a struggle is because the Interpersonal mode is central to learning to speak a language. When I attended French class with Karen Girondel at Lexington High School in Lexington, MA in the 1980s, Gigi (as we called our teacher) made it look so easy. She would get us talking about what interested us and we wouldn’t even notice we were working! Seeing that I don’t have the same natural skill as Gigi, I have had to work at it. Back in the day my students did skits at the front of the room for a grade. More recently my students have had real world spontaneous dialogues that were recorded and I would take home to laboriously evaluate.
Interpersonal assessments build on information leaned in Interpretive assessments and the information students gleam from each other during Interpersonal assessments can be used in Presentational assessments. In this way assessments are truly integrated around a theme. I give Interpersonal tasks as a chance to explore culture from the learners’ point of view. Middle School students like to talk about themselves and the world around them. Taking about their own culture, my novice students gain the tools to later talk about cultural comparisons. An Interpersonal task is the chance for the student to use the new vocabulary and structures to talk about his or her practices and products, i.e. culture. I see speaking about perspectives, which is the third component of culture, as a later skill for intermediate and advanced speakers.
Image :University of Maryland School of Psychology
On Thursday, October 29, 2015, at the annual convention for the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association I attended a session given by Dawn Carney and Rebecca Blouwolff and it was there that I got an idea to bring me a little closer to meeting my goal. Rebecca has a classroom management strategy that is genius. Break the class into thirds, have one do the Interpersonal assessment with the teacher, one do a reading and one do what she calls a fluency count. A fluency count is to have the students challenge themselves to write as many sentences as they can in 10 minutes. Rebecca’s management works better that what I have tried in the past because both of my solutions, recording pairs or taking turns two by two at the front of the room, were time consuming. The station idea is also better because a small group is a true conversation, not a back and forth dialogue. Conversations permit students to think while others are speaking. They offer a natural asking of questions and building of ideas, not a tennis match of expressing the same or opposing opinions back and forth. We will be building on what we already know, but in a more open-ended format.
To get each student to speak, Rebecca gives each one five jewels and puts the jewel container in the center of the table. As the individual speaks in a full sentences he or she ads a jewel to the pile. The teacher evaluates the contribution to the conversation real-time based on a rubric that promotes speaking in complex sentences, accuracy, listening carefully and helping move the conversation along by asking questions. There isn’t one way to do an Interpersonal assessment, but today I learned a very good way that corresponds to how I teach. I am getting there.
My discovery of backward design came at the right time. I have been slowly making the shift from teaching students about language to teaching students to use language, what we sum up as teaching for proficiency. Backward design allowed me to make a change in what the students understood they had to do. The teacher gives students the objectives formulated as can-do statements. Then shows them how to use language in a series of three tasks that reflect the three modes of communication, Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational. We call this triad, developed by ACTFL, an Integrated Performance Assessment.
There were many characteristics of the IPA that worked for my teaching. Principally, it allowed me to use culture as the overarching theme to my unit. Culture is the relationship between the products, practices and perspectives of people. When we show students an authentic document (in an Interpretive task for an IPA) we give them a chance to observe culture and draw conclusions for themselves. I wasn’t doing them any service by making generalizations about French culture myself. It is much better to show them the culture through readings, videos, and pictures. The teacher is in effect bringing the culture into the classroom.
On Friday I am going to present on Infusing Culture through Assessment for novice learners at my state’s annual professional development conference. Putting together my presentation gave me time to reflect on where I am in the process of writing and implementing IPAs. I haven’t mastered IPAs, so I am hoping that my audience will appreciate what I have to say about what I have learned so far through the process. The process I have been through has convinced me that IPAs drive a method of instruction that gets learners from the beginning to “use” language and teaches them to speak spontaneously. This method, to me, is worth exploring further.
Please see my presentation posted below.
Here are my handouts for the presentation.
Here is a Spanish example IPA from my colleague Lauren Carroll
As a World Language department, we have been excited about the ACTFL test called the AAPPL. We recently changed over from traditional pen and paper tests to Integrated Performance Assessments and it seemed like a good time to gather some baseline data on our program. And, the AAPPL assesses the different modes of communication that we focus on in our program.
So I was pleased when I came across a free support online to help my students prepare for Interpretive tasks included in the AAPPL, a program created by TV5 Monde called Première Classe. It uses snippets of authentic video to teach new words and practice grammatical structures and pronunciation. The activities don’t line up exactly with my 7th and 8th grade curriculum, but if you pick and choose, your students can cover many of the topics usually taught in a middle school language program. See the list below for the themes. One word of caution, the site was written for adults and so some of the videos aren’t appropriate for the middle school audience, which is why in addition to directing the students to themes that will be useful, I also stipulate which activities to do. I have included the handouts that I give to students so you can see how I direct them.
Se presenter Première Classe 1
Donner des informations sur son état civil Première Classe 2
Parler de ses activités Première Classe 3
Parler de son entourage proche Première Classe 4
Proposer une sortie Première Classe 5
Passer Commande Première Classe 6
Décrire un lodgement Première Classe 7
The activities on Première class are Interpretive tasks and are good for computer lab time or homework. Unlike when I do an Interpretive activity or assessment with the whole class, students work at their own pace and working independently with immediate feedback is a nice change. Some students repeat the short videos many times while others work quickly through. I ask the students to keep a list of words that they have learned as they work and that list is all the proof I need that they have completed the assignment. It seems fair to me to evaluate their progress based on a list of new words they have encountered.