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August 8, 2020

"Interpersonal" Mode Hacks for Distance Learning

I'm active on a large number of Spanish and World Language social media groups. One of the common, recurring themes I keep seeing is about how teachers will approach interpersonal mode in distance learning. There are always suggestions of how to approach it, but we all know it's not going to be the same as having those two-way exchanges in the classroom.

My students won't start school for another month and I'm already mourning the loss of speed-dating, class-wide interpersonal conversations, and watching my students crack up as they do their interpersonal speaking assessments as part of our IPAs. It's just so freaking sad! Don't worry though... I have a solution.

Yes, I know we can do breakout rooms in our Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. and I definitely plan to do that for our twice a week synchronous lessons, but it isn't the same as actually being with people in person. P.S. if you haven't watch this amazing NECTFL video from the ACTFL 2020 Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Blouwolff, you MUST especially if you'll be doing hybrid or distance learning. She gives so many applicable instruction ideas for breakout rooms and more for synchronous instruction, that I'll be watching this video again in the weeks to come for more ideas.

What is interpersonal mode?

To be clear, usually I am extremely black and white about interpersonal communication. It has to be a two way exchange, it has to be spontaneous, and there has to be some sort of negotiation of meaning. If you're unfamiliar, see more about my ideas on interpersonal practice and assessment.

When it comes to asynchronous instruction, that whole spontaneous requirement kind of goes out the window; kids are going to prepare, which shifts what would usually be interpersonal activities into presentational mode because they're pre-planned, rehearsed, and memorized.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to step off of my high horse this fall. I usually hate skits because I know they are actually presentational, but I'm going to have to be more flexible. I mean, if 2020 has done nothing else, it's definitely forced us to adjust, right? It's also made me more anxious, overweight, short-tempered, and lots of other things, but I digress.

What does interpersonal mode look like in 2020?

As I was saying, I'm going to have to be more flexible, which *may* mean that I will have to allow skits or conversations with yourself to suddenly be considered interpersonal tasks.  Last Spring, when schools shut down, I dabbled with having my 6th graders record skits on Flipgrid and it brought me so much joy to watch them. Here are some of the options they chose for their "interpersonal mode activities:

  • Some of my 6th graders recorded conversations with their family members, some of whom were older siblings I'd taught in years previous. 
  • Some uploaded Facetime videos talking with their with classmates. 
  • Others used stuffed animals or put different colored socks on their hands to make impromptu sock puppets. 
Their little conversations were adorable and creative and I got to see my students being silly and in their element, which was awesome considering I'd never met these students in person. I guess I forgot to mention that my school started a new quarter of kids in the middle of COVID lockdowns. Regardless, I let it slide that these conversations were prepared and rehearsed. They were speaking Spanish and that was enough for me.

What could interpersonal mode for Flipgrid?

When I saw Flipgrid's new features released in this video, I immediately knew that I just had to try out the "mirror screen" feature to simulate interpersonal mode. She does it at about 29:00 minutes, but I've made a quick demo of what it would look like here. No judgement please. I'm wearing no makeup, I haven't spoken Spanish to anyone in like 6 months, and I didn't even practice. I just went for it and didn't let myself rerecord. How's that for spontaneous?

So, what do you think of using the mirror screen option to simulate interpersonal mode. Can I work? I'd love to hear you opinions, thoughts, and suggestions in the comments below!


  1. YOU ARE A ROCK STAR!!!!! I think that's the closest we can get, unless it's in a live conference/zoom/meet... maybe with setting time limits (must be done by noon, assigned the day before)!? no sé, pero es una idea... and it's cute and it works. Thank you for all you do, LOVE your energy and ideas!

    1. HA! OMG, I'm so NOT a rock star lol. I feel ridiculous making these videos (no makeup on no less), but I think that when I make myself vulnerable, hopefully other teachers and my students will feel more comfortable too, right? I hope this idea helps make this WILD school year just a little bit better )

  2. I love your video! It was so cute! I think the students would love it!

    1. I hope they do because I felt ridiculous! :)

  3. That's awesome!! Thank you for the idea! I am definitely going to be using that!!!

    1. I'm so glad you like the idea! We need all of the ideas we can get this year, amiright?

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  5. Google classroom is doing the breakouts. IF it allows students to record those conversations you can have students record them and have those interpersonal assessments and practice. You can give different prompts or rolls that they can't prepare ahead of time. My department is going to play around with this idea tomorrow.