Just back from a camping trip (the canoe didn’t capsize with three kids on board–success!) and I’m using this space today to work through a couple thoughts I had in between swatting mosquitoes.
There’s been a fair amount of discussion recently on Ben’s blog about the need to develop solid rubrics for evaluating language, but in moving away from the four modalities (reading, writing, speaking, listening) towards the three modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive and presentational) as espoused by ACTFL. I admit that I am not really as familiar with these as I ought, so I looked up what the ACTFL website said about them in its FAQ section (http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3328) and found the following:
3. What is meant by the headings Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational?
They are the Communication Modes that are a direct tie to Standards. They provide a redefining organizing principle, and an enriched view of language that reflects real communication. The Interpersonal Mode is characterized by the active negotiation of meaning among individuals. Participants observe and monitor one another to see how their meanings and intentions are being communicated. Adjustments and clarifications can be made accordingly. The Interpretive Mode focuses on the appropriate cultural interpretation of meanings that occur in written and spoken form where there is no recourse to the active negotiation of meaning with the writer or the speaker. The Presentational Mode refers to the creation of oral and written messages in a manner that facilitates interpretation by members of the other culture where no direct opportunity for the active negotiation of meaning between members of the two cultures exists.
For myself, I’m trying to map out situations where each of these come into play. What’s the point of having a rubric when I don’t know when to use it?
The presentational mode is perhaps the easiest to recognize because it is the most traditional. This crops up where students might be giving a report on what the class mascot did over the weekend, telling a picture story their group came up with, marching through a PowerPoint they created on a three day tour of Germany. These types of interactions happen for me much more frequently in my upper level classes than my lower levels, obviously, but even story retells could qualify as presentational.
Interpretive (moving backwards through the list) then crop up more in a situation such as reading a novel or watching a film. The key phrase from the blurb here seems to be in figuring out “the appropriate cultural interpretation” of a given text. So here students are supposed to not only comprehend a text, but interpret it according to the cultural strands embedded in it.
One aspect of TPRS is that I find myself focused often upon the developed “classroom culture” of my students more than the target culture (in my case of Germany, Switzerland or Austria). I work to intermingle these, of course, but I’m personally not committed to making the relative target cultural appropriateness the horse that pulls this given buggy in my classroom. The texts we use and generate often arise out of the classroom culture rather than the target culture, at least up until we get into my German III/IV class, so I think this cultural aspect would need some flexibility.
So when would this crop up? After we watch a film or read a text, primarily, “where there is no recourse to the active negotiation of meaning with the writer or the speaker.” So my rubric then would need to capture how well they not only comprehend a given text, but how well they can pick out the cultural strands that comprise it?
The problem is, I want my students to actively renegotiate a given text I give them, not just interpret it. I want parallel stories. I want students to rework the characters and rewrite endings. I want to riff on what a given text gives us. Yes, we aren’t talking directly to the writer or speaker, but for me the bulk of the time what would fall under interpretation is a launching pad more than the destination.
But isn’t an alternate interpretation a form of interpretation? Can’t I demonstrate how my students understand a story through the ways in which they alter it, recognize what is essential and what is discardable? How in the world would I write a rubric to capture that?
I get what the original ACTFL standard is poking at here: they want me to dissect a story and lay its organs out on a clean white sheet for classification. I don’t teach that type of class, though. To extend the metaphor a bit, I’m much less of a med school doctor than I am a Dr. Frankenstein who prefers to replace and reanimate the component parts of a given story to give it some additional kick. Don’t mad scientists get rubrics too?
Hmm. Chewing on this some more. I’ll get to intercultural down the road a bit.