Interpersonal: my assessment

Wow. Doing REAL interpersonal assessments with my students has provided so much insight and excitement for me.

In the past, I’ve been known to ask a set list of questions. Students should “know” how to answer all of the questions (from the unit, duh!) and are expected to give me details, information, and fun all in one sentence, while I never use a word that they haven’t heard before. How inauthentic.

As you can imagine, I was often disappointed. Conversations felt rehearsed. I was worried about “giving too much away” during them. If students didn’t understand the question, I moved on. “How much can you expect me to give you,” I’d think to myself, “you should know how to answer this question, we’ve done it before.” Sometimes, I’d ask all the questions and a student wouldn’t respond at all. Where’s the negotiation of meaning, past Wendy? Do you even know what “interpersonal” means? How young and naive I was (read: still am sometimes.)

But for the past three days, I’ve been giving non-scripted conversations, that, while on the same topic with the same general questions, differ from student to student. ACTFL says that we’re supposed to be “sympathetic listeners,” and I think the term sympathetic differs from student to student. Please feel free to give your (better educated?) opinion on this.

What led me to change my ways? A lot of things, but the catalyst was reading this post by Megan at the Creative Language Class prior to planning my assessments. It’s called “4 Steps for Smooth Interpersonal Assessments,” and man, it worked for me like a charm. I gave advance notice of sign up times and let the conversation follow an OPI-style theme. We start easy, I ask tougher questions, and when I can sense students feeling uncomfortable, we head back into their comfort zone. (Disclaimer: while I’ve never received formal OPI training, part of my methods class was spent on learning the phases of it, recognizing questions and sorting them by phase, along with practice/assessments, and we had to take both the OPI and the WPT to graduate. So I’d like to say I’m pretty familiar with its parts. And how sweaty your hand gets while holding the phone during the OPI. Yikes.)

These are my pluses (+) and deltas (∆) from the experience:

  • + I love talking to each student on on one. In this particular assessment, at the end, I had them describe a celebrity, and we negotiated together who they might describe (Like basketball? The Cavs? Talk about Lebron or Kyrie. Like football? Browns or Bengals? Johnny Manziel it is! Video games? Zelda is your favorite? Describe Link from WindWaker) and they got excited to tell me about their celebrity.
  • + I was amazed by what kids could do with the language, and what they could understand from me, even if they’d never heard that word before. Powerful.
  • + Keeping these Novice Mid, borderline Novice High conversations to 3 minutes was perfect. Conversation kept moving, barely any awkward pauses, kept me to my scheduled number of kids per day.
  • + Follow up questions!! I used to not interrupt students’ trains of thought, but follow up questions definitely ensure that I get the detail that I want.
  • + Asking questions and talking about myself was great, too. It helped relax students and made it truly interpersonal, not just “talk about this and I’ll listen, now talk about this and I’ll listen and maybe nod.”
  • + The growth that students could show in the range of one conversation really blew me away. Even if it started rocky, kids were able to give more info, answer my follow-up questions (mostly with more than one word! YEAH!) and comprehend/reuse and repeat necessary words/chunks when I asked intermediate level questions. I can’t explain how excited this makes me for future conversations.
  • ∆ Explicitly teach conversational strategies. I’m not very good at this in general, and they need them, especially when speaking to each other.
  • ∆ I need a rubric more like Kara and Megan’s so that I can check during the convo and don’t have to write/transfer so much! Our rubric requires a lot of writing, and I’d like to have a different one, at least for interpersonal.
  • ∆ I wrote during some and recorded some, both options let me transfer the info to another rubric. While I like not having to write during it, the jury’s out on which method is better.
  • ∆ When my room gets new furniture, I’d love to talk in a lounge-y area in the back of the room. A booth, or table with ottomans setup will be a relaxed atmosphere so students (maybe) aren’t so nervous.

Oh! I almost forgot my biggest delta: What do you have kids DO during the 3+ days of conversations? This unit didn’t seem conducive to interpersonal and presentational summatives, so I didn’t plan a project. And with each student having their own devices, leaving them to their own … well … devices … was not a good option. I had individual activities per day, but would love better ideas.

What are your favorite things about giving interpersonal assessments? What works best for you? What’s one thing that you’d really like to change? I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, successes, and deltas if you have the time to share them!

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3 thoughts on “Interpersonal: my assessment

  1. What an amazing reflection! So well said and honest. I can identify with ALL of that. My biggest “delta” was keeping the others engaged in another activity. I’ve done everything from them finishing a project that was a presentational assessment, finding resources for the next unit (my real world homework or a scavenger hunt!), reading something (like a little TL novel or magazines), letting students work on an assignment for another class (everyone had a huge English paper due once so we worked that out), and lastly I’ve even put on a movie. The interpersonals are SO valuable that I accept that the other part is still developing.

    1. Kara, thanks for the ideas and wonderful insight. And truth be told, it’s hard to keep students engaged or on track when you’re not with them. I might try a scavenger hunt next time, or maybe there will be a better project opportunity. Thanks again!

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