In my previous post I shared some tips for activating the interpretive mode for your students when you need to teach online. For today, I’m going to take a stab at the virtual interpersonal mode.
Let’s start by saying that getting students to engage in the interpersonal mode online is by far the most difficult of the three conversational modes. As you know, interpersonal communication demands that the student engage in some level of conversation or interaction that requires spontaneous language production. When you get into an asynchronous conversation like text messaging or writing a pen pal, you get time to craft and edit your response, and it becomes almost presentational. All that being said, I’m going to share one example of how a typed interpersonal conversation could work on a simple Google Doc.
Google Doc Guided Conversations
I’ve had students maintain free-write blogs before, and they had to post and answer a certain number of questions in the comments of each other’s posts every week. This was a good way to get them using question words, engaging in each other’s work, and reacting in some way to each other’s language. There are a number of ways you could accomplish a similar task without going through the rigamarole of getting students to start up a brand-new shiny class blog (remember from the first post in this series: now is not the time to go crazy introducing new technology!)
One easy way to get students engaging in a back and forth could be to let them loose on a Google Document. Have a pair or a group of students assigned to the same Google Doc, have each student write with their own distinctive font or color, and give them guidance for having a “conversation” similar to the guidance you would give them if you were directing a conversational activity in class.
Let’s say you wanted to students to engage with each other on a topic such as, “How is the corona virus changing your daily routine?” One way to get them going would be to have them to come up with three questions they could ask one another about their current daily lives, turned into you for a formative assessment. You collect the answers, then you could edit the list and send it out to everyone to use as anchors during their Google Doc conversation (thus creating ownership and buy-in when students see their own questions on the list). In pairs or small groups, you have them write back and forth on a Google document, requiring them to converse back and forth for, say, one page. You could even put a time limit on this activity, ensuring that they don’t fret over grammar and spelling mistakes, and that they are generating language as spontaneously as possible.
You’d use a pretty lenient proficiency-based rubric to grade an activity like this, but set the expectation that ANY use of online translators would not be tolerated. Remind them that you can easily see if a student merely copies and pastes their writing by looking at the document editing history, and that the penalties for using an online translator are very high, while the penalties for making mistakes in grammar or spelling are pretty low. You’re just trying to get them to engage in a back and forth.
Other Interpersonal Ideas
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Flipgrid as a possibility here. You aren’t quite interacting in a spontaneous way, but it at least gets students actually speaking and listening to one another, which is NOT something they are able to do with a typed conversation on a Google Document. Having a Flipgrid activity in addition to a timed, typed interpersonal activity like the one I just outlined would help you to activate speaking and listening skills, and also get the spontaneous conversational skills working as well. Flipgrid is also not a very difficult tool to introduce if you’ve never used it before. I recommend Maris’ post here if you need an introduction to how Flipgrid works.
Others have mentioned the possibility of using Google Hangouts or Google Meet, which you can also use to record videos (see Kara’s post on this topic here). If this is an option for you, you could set-up and monitor small group discussions with your students to get them conversing, but I more like the idea of using Google Meet or Edpuzzle for input rather than trying to go through the logistical nightmare of organizing multiple Google Hangout sessions with multiple groups of kids all day long (if you have tips for making something like this work, please share!)
Interpersonal communication in a remote-learning scenario is not going to be perfect, but there are definitely ways to try to get around the challenges. Good luck making it work for your students, and please don’t hesitate to share additional ideas in the comments below!