Some would argue that in these days of text messaging, tweeting, video games and the like, our students are exposed to less face to face conversation than in generations past. Yet foreign language teachers are charged with getting students to a point where they can converse in a second language.
Since my full switch to a proficiency-based classroom, interpersonal speaking has always seemed like the most difficult skill to teach. That is just what I had to do with my Spanish 2 students this week. We had worked on reviewing many of the key concepts about family that with which they should have left Spanish 1.
ACTFL says that Novice-Mid learners should be able to:
- Identify family words on a family tree
- List family members, their ages, and what they like to do
- Say what family members look like
- Say what family members are like
ACTFL says that Novice-High learners should have the added skill of being able to:
- Understand questions or statements about family
- Ask and talk about family members and their characteristics
- Describe family members
To me, this seems like something best assessed by a conversation. We started by modeling a conversation about family in English. I chose 3 students at random to participate in the conversation with me and the rest of the class was told to make observations related to to the questions "What is a conversation? What does it look like? What doesn't it look like?"
Here were some of there observations which definitely made them more conscious of what we were trying to achieve.
- unrehearsed, not pre-planned
- tend to follow a common theme or topic
- wide variety of back and forth questions, answers and comments
- reaction statements like "that's interesting", "that's terrible", "that's cool"
- shared responsibility to keep the conversation going and involve all members
- no rules as to who talks when
We talked next about how our ability to hold a conversation in our first language (English) was obviously more advanced than our ability to do the same in Spanish. Therefore, to make the goal attainable, we would have to control some factors that we may not have to in English.
Here were the goals we identified for our first Spanish conversation:
- Partial pre-planning and rehearsing
- Family theme
- Identify 4 common questions and answers
- Learn some positive and negative reaction statements
- All group members take part in conversation equally
- Q & A Tag Format
Based on our goals, I split students up into groups of 3-4 and developed this conversation cheat sheet which was given to each person in the class.
We practiced our conversations the first 4 days of the week. Each day we varied the practice and increased the difficulty to build our memories and abilities with the identified questions.
Day 1: Practice the questions in order with full use of conversation cheat sheet
Day 2: Practice the questions in random order and remove English supports/translations
Day 3: Practice the questions in random order and remove the Spanish Answer models
Day 4: Practice the questions in random order and remove all support materials
On each of these days I would take turns sitting with my different groups giving them feedback and making sure that they took part in the practice rounds. For further reinforcements, we practiced the same questions in writing as well.
On Day 5 (Friday) I shadowed each groups full conversation without any guidance or interjection and assessed each member of the group using the same rubric that they saw in class. Since I needed to convert this rubric into an actual grade, I assigned percentages to each column of the rubric. There are 5 areas of assessment in each column (language function, text type, communication strategies, comprehensibility and language control).
Here is an example of a completed rubric and how I converted it to a grade.
Interested in having your students do a presentation project on the topic of family? Check this one out!
How do you assess interpersonal speaking in your class? Feel free to share some ideas and methods in the comments below!