May 18, 2016

How to Create and Give IPAs: Part 5: Managing an Efficient Interpersonal Task

Anytime I hear the concept of the interpersonal task introduced to a teacher who is unfamiliar or at least has not tried it in the classroom, there is a ton of resistance. I totally get it! I was the same way when I first learned about interpersonal speaking assessments.

Here are just a few of the concerns I've heard teachers discuss (with some help from my amigas on the Spanish Teachers in the US Facebook page) and then I'm going to address the primary concerns in a moment.

Concern #1: It takes way too much time to assess speaking.
This is probably the most common concern that teachers have about the interpersonal task.  For most of my teaching career, I agreed though I forced myself to do interpersonal speaking assessments, but hated it. I use to find listening to students speak be one of the most time-consuming, mind-numbing activities I ever had to do as a teacher. Thankfully, that has changed and I now thoroughly enjoy them. More about that later along with tips to get through 30 students' speaking tasks in one just one class period. It can be done.  I promise.

Concern #2: What do you do with the rest of the kids while I'm testing students?
Typically, I focus my complete attention only on the students speaking while the other 28 run around like wild animals. Kidding! I usually have students take the interpretive reading and/or presentational writing portions while I listen to students speak and grade them. I honestly works perfectly.  Sometimes students work on projects (usually an extended presentational task) or learn their new unit vocabulary online while I grade.  Once you set the expectations for how students should behave during the interpersonal and reinforce them, it really goes very smoothly.  I think you just need to have an individual task that can be done silently and independently and you won't have any issues.

Concern #3: My kids aren't yet able to have those kinds of conversations. 
I'm a believer that even my 6th graders can perform an interpersonal task if the expectations are appropriate. However, if your students haven't practicing interpersonal conversations or teacher-based question and answer activities beforehand, they probably won't be able to have a thorough conversation. I found that when I went with my current model for interpersonal tasks, I really had to change my teaching practices to include more daily conversation. If this is your primary concern, I'd love it if you could read yesterday's blog post for a bunch of tips and tricks to preparing students for the interpersonal speaking task. 
So, what does my model for interpersonal speaking assessments look like? In the past, I would call a student up to my desk and the two of us would have a conversation. I've heard of some teachers doing them in the hall, which sounds a little scary for a classroom management fanatic like myself.  My old way took forever and I apparently didn't clearly explain what the rest of the students were supposed to do because, in short, it was a chaotic nightmare.

I'm happy to say that all of that chaos is in the past. Last year, I attended a session on Proficiency with ACTFL presenter Laura Terrill. If you've been reading all of the previous blog entries about IPAs, you know how I feel about her ideas. She seriously changed my teaching and finally made the IPA interpersonal make sense. Based partially on her teaching and ideas I picked up previously, this is what I know do for my interpersonal tasks. See more detailed explanations further below.

1. I re-explain the scenario and the grading rubric to students before the task. This results in fewer questions and confusion and makes the process go faster, plus it's always good to remind students of how you're assessing them on the day of.

2. I carefully plan and clearly explain what students are working on while I'm assessing, but most often students work on the interpretive reading and presentational writing tasks.  Believe it or not, I can typically do the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentation tasks all in a 50 minute period for over 30 students. It can be done! Plus, I usually still do a warm-up. You could really do any individual task, but I find that the other IPA tasks work perfectly because it keeps them silent so I can focus on the assessment at hand. Some would say, however, that not all 3 tasks should be done on the same day. I'll stick with what works for me and my students.

3. I randomly pair up two students and I've never had students questions this practice. I set the precedent at the beginning of the year that my partner selection isn't a discussion or a debate. If I know the kids I randomly pick aren't a good pair, I usually just make a quick change and the students are none the wiser. As to the practice of pairing two students versus me having a conversation with a student, Laura Terrill claims that a teacher and student aren't a good interpersonal pair because the teacher inevitably will bail the student out while their peers won't. I've found I agree, but the best part about pairing two students is that I can kill two birds with one stone and I grade half as many conversations. Yay efficiency!

4. At Laura Terrill's suggestion, I give each pair 2 minutes to prepare. At first, I completely disagreed with this concept because I argued that it makes the situation not spontaneous. However, I decided to try it out and I love the effect that 2 minutes has upon my sanity.  Besides, I've found that 2 minutes isn't enough for students to memorize anything, but just enough to work out the kinks and get the interpersonal moving much more quickly and efficiently. While one pair is performing, another pair is on deck so things move smoothly. 

5. I grade using a rubric while each pair presents and provide feedback to each student on the spot. I've spent a lot of time revising and rethinking the grading rubrics I use to ensure I have the criteria I'm looking for and I'm really happy with this one. For the moment at least.
In the next post, I'll be discussing the presentational task and, while it is the area of IPAs that most teachers are most comfortably with, I think it helps to see some different examples.  Also, if you're interested in checking out some of my IPA units by thematic unit, please visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store:


  1. I stumbled upon your blog on Pinterest this morning on my commute to work. Thank you for writing down all that you do! So very helpful!

    1. I'm so glad you're finding my blog helpful! Have you implementing any of these suggestions? I'd love to hear how it went!

  2. This sounds like an efficient system. For myself, my concern is that my high school students would try to cheat or would be disruptive while I'm listening to pairs in the hallway (I do prefer the hallway, as my kids get nervous speaking with their classmates in the room). Any suggestions? Also, how long are your blocks?

    1. So sorry in the delay in getting back to you! I didn't see your comment somehow. That's an understandable concern, which is why I actually stay in the room and do the interpersonals. I can keep an eye on students. Seems to work well for me :) I have 50 minute periods and can usually get them done in one class period.

    2. Also, the whole interpersonal thing makes students nervous, but I've never had major issues with students complaining about their peers listening to them. I feel like if you set the expectation that this is how it will be, no discussion, they fall in line pretty well. You may get pushback at the beginning, but it dissipates quickly is my experience.

    3. Thanks for your reply! I think if I try the 2 mn practice before speaking for me, this will help too.

  3. I simple ADORE Laura Terril!! Thanks for the awesome information. I've already shared with at least 10 colleagues!

    1. Isn't she inspiring?! I'm glad you're finding my blog posts worthwhile and helpful! Thanks so much for sharing!