Is your interpersonal task truly an interpersonal task?

Is your interpersonal task truly an interpersonal task?

February 03, 2019

It’s a common misconception that any exchange between two or more people is an “interpersonal task”.  However, there are some specific elements that a task should have to be used as an accurate assessment of interpersonal proficiency, and should be how we load our kids up with authentic, real-world interaction in class EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Assessing an interpersonal task should require that your students have that "real world" conversation.  Picture this:

You walk into a store.  The clerk welcomes you. They might not ask what they can help you with, but instead, they pay you a compliment.  What do you do?

You react.  You say thank you, you explain "oh I bought it on resale" or "thanks, it was a birthday gift"...

If we don't set our students to react to conversation, they will -- wait for it -- not be able to react to conversation <-- mind.  blown.

So, let's look at our interpersonal tasks.  Basically, this is the gist. A truly interpersonal task should be defined as one that:

Communicates unknown answers: I don't know about you, but when I was in high school, our interpersonal tasks were set activities so that we already knew the answer to the question that students are asking. You’ve seen them:  There’s a picture of a blue shirt with the word Pablo under it. Student A asks What color is Pablo’s shirt? The partner says “Pablo’s shirt is blue”.  Thanks, Captain Obvious. In an interpersonal task, the conversation will have unknown answers. Sure, they might assume the answer that they will hear, but they have to ask to know!

Elicits negotiation of meaning: Asking clarifying questions isn't weird in normal conversations.  "Did you say you CAN or you CAN'T come to dinner tonight?" or "do you mean X?".  Of course, we need to teach students to do that as well, so our interpersonal task should provide topics with room for that.

Is not planned language: Bye-bye skits and dialogs...Some like to think that those will help students in a real-life situation, but it's likely that they won't.  Can you do some role plays as practice? Sure: pretend you're in a restaurant, and practice ordering. It's a practice. So, make those quick, try some improv, and they will have fun with it! Just be sure that there is authenticity there: making plans for the weekend, asking for another person's opinion, etc.

Includes exchange - To be interpersonal, there will be some back and forth, or some potential for back and forth.  For example, in an Information Gap activity (also great practice or thematic development) a student could ask something like "what's your favorite color?" The person they are speaking to says "red" and now that conversation is over.  If you were at a party and someone walked up to you, asked "what's your favorite color?", said thanks and walked away. I already know what you would say: "Weirdo." These are fun, and they get kids moving.  Extra plus: they are such amazing practice for asking questions, and working with the theme.  Use these to build on your exchange, but design assessments that require it.

So, in written interpersonal tasks, we can set them up to write a response to a piece of written text, or require that questions be asked of recipient.  In verbal tasks, we will work with both asking and answering questions, and, as proficiency increases, teach active listening, recapping what the conversation partner said, etc. #lifeskills

Like we mentioned before, we are also big believers that interpersonal proficiency should be "practiced" every day in some way.  We love to use visual literacy to have students make predictions or to discuss an image at the beginning of class. It sets the stage for using the target language, is great for thematic development, and provides opportunities to spiral linguistic structures. Try offering a Think-Pair-Share to review inferences in an interpretive task, or ask each student a different question for their contraseña. Just get them talking and you will see the results in their confidence, proficiency, and willingness to speak!


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