Using the three modes

In last week’s #langchat, I made a statement that earned a lot of retweets and provoked thought amongst the other chatters. The tweet in question said that my planning philosophy this year is “If I can’t figure out what mode an activity is, I probably shouldn’t use it.” For those of you who might be new to the modes of communication, they are:

interpretive – This mode is when the student needs to understand language but is unable to negotiate meaning with the speaker or author. Examples of the interpretive mode are reading a story, watching tv, or listening to music.

presentational – Presentational is the flip side of interpretive. If you have a student in the presentational mode, then the others are interpretive. Presentational is when a student is producing output in the language but again, cannot negotiate meaning. Examples of presentational mode are giving a speech, making a podcast, or performing a skit.

interpersonal – Interpersonal is really the bread and butter of communicative language. Interpersonal mode is the interaction between two or more people (whether it be through text or spoken words) where they are able to negotiate meaning to come to a clearer understanding. Interpersonal mode is particularly interesting because many students (including me!) are nervous about interpersonal communication, since someone else can point out their mistakes right away. On the flipside, having someone to point out your mistakes and help you fix them in the moment is invaluable in language learning.

So what does this have to do with my lesson planning? Well, thanks to the ideas I borrowed liberally from Camp Musicuentos, I redesigned my planning process this year. (Although I couldn’t make it in person, the blog posts and examples from people who actually attended it were incredibly helpful.) I have real, cohesive unit plans! Amazing! With this format, I try to mark out a day for each mode of communication, and the other two for other activities as necessary. With my lower classes, I try to have an extra day’s worth of input. With my upper classes, I do a dialogue journal and free reading. And of course, it’s always nice to have an overflow day, review day, or just a day to do something fun. This format has really helped steer my teaching and give it purpose rather than doing activities in no particular order. It’s everything I dreamed of doing when I was a young, idealistic student teacher.

By planning by mode and not by grammar point, I feel like my instruction so far this year is more comprehensible and palatable to my students. Most of them seem to enjoy the stories, readings, music, and other fun things we get to do in class. However, there are times when a non-mode-related activity might be appropriate to focus in on a specific problem. For example, Amy Lenord’s question workshop (although technically that was increasing interpersonal proficiency by creating good questions) or if you need to clean up grammar because it’s interfering with comprehensibility.

Another tweet I made in the same #langchat received as much, if not more attention. One of the toughest things about switching to comprehensible input and mode-based planning was the pushback in upper level classes. As I began the transition last year, many students were upset and frustrated. They did really well with conjugation worksheets and vocabulary quizzes – because they only require rote memorization, the lowest level of thinking. It was easy. When I asked them to start being able to DO something, that’s when they balked, even though (in my opinion) what I was asking them to do was way more interesting, personal, and fun. It also required me to use a lot more Spanish. I had a lot of students mentally check out and choose not to take Spanish again. This may be an ongoing issue for those of you who are not a department of one.

This year, I’ve found that my lower level classes (Spanish 1 having CI from the beginning and Spanish 2 only having about 3 months of traditional instruction) have had zero issues with the way I teach. When I started with mostly Spanish from the beginning, it garnered far less complaints. In fact, I can’t imagine how awful one of my younger classes would be if I asked them to sit down and take a class period’s worth of grammar notes (that most of them would barely look at ever again). By using videos, songs, and stories, they can remain engaged and well-behaved, which leads to happy students and happy teachers. I am very pleased with the results of my changes so far and 11 days in, I am still having the best year ever!

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