May 13, 2016

How to Create and Give IPAs: Part 3: Preparing the Interpersonal Task

The interpersonal is by far the most daunting and complex of the the three IPA tasks, in my opinion.  I hear a lot of complaints about how the interpersonal takes too long, how they are dreaded both by students and teachers alike, and how they are a classroom management nightmare. Additionally, there seem to be many misconceptions about what the interpersonal should look like.  Though my heart was in the right place, I've made a lot of mistakes with this task in the past. Thankfully, through lots of reading and professional development from the likes of Laura Terrill and the Creative Language Classroom, I've gotten to the point where my students and I enjoy the interpersonal and I can see distinct growth  in their communication abilities.  I'm excited to share some tips and tricks for creating and giving interpersonal assessments in my next couple of posts.

Here are the three most important things I've learned about the interpersonal task:
1. There needs to be an exchange of information. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't involve just answering questions. In the past, I was known to put written questions like ¿Cuántos años tienes? on a test and call it day. There has to be some sort of 2-way communication, which may be either written or spoken.
2. Interpersonal tasks must be spontaneous. I was never much for skits anyway, but a skit is really a presentational task because students perform memorized scenarios. Let's say, for example, that I want my students to show competency for the ACTFL I-Can statement, "I can order a meal." It's extremely common to have student do the ever-famous restaurant skit, but this would technically need to be the presentational task.  I personally am of the belief that my students and I could brainstorm appropriate questions and exchanges for ordering food in a restaurant and have them practice with peers, but the performance task itself would be spontaneous.
3.  Interpersonal tasks need to sound like a conversation.  I've been in several districts where the interpersonal portion of final exam involves me interrogating students by asking them 3 random questions they were given on a list to memorize.  This is actually still the practice in my district and I'm hoping it changes really soon.  Students need to learn how to negotiate the language and how to make adjustments when they don't understand. If I'm asking them questions and all they have to do is answer, none of this happens.

I recently came across this amazing graphic from the Ohio Department of Education in their publication Evaluating Oral and Written Communication. Since I'm a Michigan native, I've been raised to generally dislike our neighbor to the south, but the Ohio Department of Education has got it going on. Seriously. Their documents for World Language are downright inspiring. Anyway, back to that graphic:

I think that this T-chart does an incredible job explaining the goals we should be setting for our students.  In previous years, I've been guilty of several of the no-nos listed above. In fact, I actually recall a stage in which I encouraged strict turn-taking and I didn't care if my students ignored their partner's communication until very recently.  At the same time, grading interpersonal tasks used to be downright painful.  I used to dread them more than anything.  More than the dentist. More than the timed mile in middle school gym class. Yet somehow, I've come to really enjoy watching my students do their interpersonal tasks and it's all because I changed my expectations and the way I prepare for this assessment piece.

For my next post, Part 4: Preparing Students for the Interpersonal Speaking,  I'm excited to share with you how preparation, grading methods, and careful planning can make the interpersonal task manageable and even gratifying.  So that you can be sure to read the rest of this series of IPAs, please take a moment to subscribe to my blog using the "Follow by email" section in the right sidebar.

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