06 October 2016

5 Tips for Low-Stress Interpersonal Assessment

Ah, the affective filter, our old friend. It's not that students can't do what we ask most of the time, but that they have this little barrier that inches higher and higher the more they stress out. The higher the barrier inches, the less language can get through--coming or going.

It may be at it's worst when we're trying to assess interpersonal skills because they're on the spot in a way that all processing really has to be spontaneous. Reading, writing, even listening: you can reconsider what you are thinking before actually committing to an interpretation or expression.

With interpersonal it's all over your face from the beginning.

And I'm recording.

The recording might seem cruel and unusual, but I assure you that it's important for several reasons:

  • They're going to want evidence for their portfolios. They can edit out the confounded silences later, but they're going to need something to start with.
  • Listening to yourself is one of the most valuable forms of reflection. It's one of the toughest, but it really allows you to hear--and see--what you're doing well and what you need to work on when you are editing out those English asides and seconds of blank stares and nervous giggles.
  • Also having a running record of your progress will definitely make you feel better in the end. Even the next week, it's sort of a privilege to look back and cringe at your former self because you've come so far.
So how can we make this beneficial process as painless as possible? I've found a few things have both put my students more at ease AND gotten better results out of all of them.

1. Interview in partners

One-on-one is too intimidating, and talking to three leaves too much time to twiddle, tune out, and generally get lost. I don't recommend just sending partners off to record on their own, as the temptation to script the whole thing is overpowering. Plus if you've got two novices or two intermediates who both get stuck, then who can rescue them and get the conversation back on track?

Also, if there is one other person there suffering communicating with you, you're not alone with Sexton's stare--or the iPad's. Plus you can take hints from what your partner says and build on it and ask and answer questions with someone who's at your level.

2. Help prepare questions ahead of time

I don't let them read the questions during the conversation, and since they're still just trying to break out of novice, a lot of what they say just will be memorized--fact of life. I had them suggest questions they wanted to hear in the interview on a Classroom question, then A) picked out the best examples and B) cleaned them up before C) letting them choose which ones they wanted to practice with.

I offered Classcraft XP for bringing the cards where they wrote their selections back with answers written on the back. When it was their turn to record, they just handed them over to me. But not before I...

3. Give a few minutes to discuss their game plan

When one set was under the gun with me, the next group was in the hall--with their cards if they had them--figuring out what they wanted to do however they wanted to do it. They weren't going to be able to have anything to read, and they would still have to answer a few of my questions that weren't necessarily on anyone's cards, so for our purposes, it's still pretty spontaneous production. Plus it makes them just feel ready.

And after one group finishes, you send another group to send your next set of victims volunteers in for their turn!

4. Offer a trial run before recording

Rather than having the stress of the iPad camera right off the bat, run through one of your questions and one of each of their questions so they can work out those nerves and those little kinks in their questions or responses. Again, it's more about the feeling that it gives them to have that chance than it is about actually getting game-changing assistance.

5. Designate a partner to upload to Seesaw

This person is responsible for making sure the video fits. I've been pretty good about cutting off at 5 minutes, or if they really seem like they have more to say, finding a pause to stop and restart so there are 2 videos to upload. Buuuut it's not foolproof. So leave it up to them to figure out how to get it uploaded to Seesaw and appropriately tagged so that they and their partner have access come portfolio time. Then they can clear the memory and move on!

One more tip I have to make the process a little easier for you, too, is to split the process up over two days, while students are working on reading, listening, and/or writing assessments, as well as some work like, oh, say blog posts that they could do for homework if need be. XP also works great here to get volunteers to go on the first day and spread out the speaking.

Have you found anything else that keeps your kids' affective filters low and their confidence high?

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