Reflections on Interpersonal Writing

computer-313841_640This week was a particularly exciting one on #langchat.  The topic of Interpersonal Communication had everyone so engaged that I couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire pace of the Tweets, especially given the free-for-all format.  In fact, Thursday evening’s chat left me wanting more—more insight, more opportunities to reflect, and more time with the amazing professionals that contribute each week to this amazing resource.  As a result, I logged on for Saturday morning’s session, too. The question/answer format of this session was a little easier for me to follow and also gave us an opportunity to begin a discussion on Interpersonal Writing—a topic which never came up on Thursday’s chat. While some contributors pondered whether written communication allows for the negotiation of meaning which takes place in face-to-face conversaton, the ACTFL description of the Interpersonal communicative mode clearly includes writing. In fact, as some users noted, #langchat is an excellent example of a forum in which there is an “active negotiation of meaning,” in which “Participants observe and monitor one another…” and “Adjustments and clarifications are made.”

As world language teachers, I think that it is vital that we provide our students with opportunities to engage in this same type of written interpersonal communication. After all, while some of our students may never have the opportunity to actually speak to a member of a target culture, but they can all follow native speakers on social media and comment on their Tweets, YouTube videos, Vines and Instagram photos.  In fact, many of my students have begun to do so on their own, without any prompting from me.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Fortunately, the prevalence of Learning Management Systems and Google applications makes it very easy for us to develop opportunities for our students to engage in this type of communication in a way that supports our curricular goals.  My own district has recently adapted Canvas and their discussion boards are easy to create and evaluate. Each student’s post and replies are grouped together in the “Speedgrader” and both a “Score” and “Comment” box are included so that I can quickly provide feedback and assess each student’s overall contribution.

Given the user-friendliness of this new system and my own reflection as a result of the #langchat discussion and this blog post, I’m planning on incorporating a lot more interpersonal writing into my curriculum this year.  In fact, I’ve included the frequent use of online discussion boards in my annual professional SMART goal. Not only will these assignments provide the students with an opportunity to practice a real-world skill, they also supply an audience for the students’ writing. When I assign a presentational writing task, I am usually the only one who reads their work. By assigning contributions to a discussion board, rather than a paper/pen writing assignment, I enable the students to receive feedback on the comprehensibility and quality of their messages from their classmates’ comments and questions. An additional advantage of these discussions is that they prepare the students for oral in-class discussions. Because the students have had an opportunity to look up important vocabulary and structures, formulate their opinions, and read others’ ideas, they are more confident in oral discussions on the same or similar topics.

My first two discussion boards for the year were assigned to my upper-level students who have been watching Entre les Murs.  In the first, the students discussed whether M. Marin was a good teacher.  Each student had to write one post in which she gave her opinion and then reply to two classmates’ posts, as well as to comments and questions on her original post. I used this rubric (Online discussion rubric – Intermediate), which I will no doubt modify for future discussions, to assess their contributions. While I was thrilled with the quality of the students’ responses, I wish I would have avoided assigning a due date that was before the end of the film.  I did so in order to be able to provide feedback before their summative writing assignment, but many students’ opinions evolved as the film progressed and they were a little frustrated that they couldn’t go back and add their new understandings on the discussion board. The second discussion board was created for the students to share their own “auto-portrait” using the questions provided by M. Marin in the film.  While I had originally intended that this be a paper/pen assignment in order to protect the students’ privacy, when I gave them a choice, the students preferred to use the online forum.  Their enthusiasm provides even further evidence of the value of this type of assignment!

As a result of the positive feedback I’ve received from these students, I’m planning on incorporating discussion boards with my other students, too.  This week my French 2 students will be discussing what they like to do when they get together with their friends and my French 3 students will be discussing how our educational system compares to what they have learned about the French educational system.  I’ve modified the rubric I created for the upper level students in consideration of the difference in proficiency and task-type. Although I will undoubtedly revise this rubric, this is my first draft: Online discussion rubric – Novice. I hope that these students will be as enthusiastic about sharing their ideas as the upper level students were!

I’d love to hear how you are incorporating interpersonal writing into your own classrooms.  Please share in the Comments box!