|Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)|
Example 2: Student Responsibility & Societal Values by Jae Cody
Creating this unit was definitely a challenge, but I can see how it would become easier each time. I ran into trouble as I began thinking about how much class time would be devoted to the projects. I initially devoted 2 weeks of class time to this assessment, but when I began developing a timeline for my presentational task, I realized that that task alone would take almost 2 weeks. Any time investment like that is a little bit intimidating. If you don’t plan enough time for the project, then the students don’t get to finish, they get much less out of it, and I think they become less excited about future activities, because they assume that those also won’t be completed. However, whenever a class begins working on something that is so long that there is no end in sight, students start working much more slowly and dates keep getting pushed back until you realize that a month has passed and you’re still working on the same project. That actually happened to one of my classes in high school; we got involved in creating a children’s book, in German, about water conservation and preservation for the Hanover World’s Fair, and the project ended up taking way more time than anyone imagined, almost a month of class time. The final product is great (I still have a copy of the book at home), but I don’t think our teacher ever anticipated devoting that amount of time to the book. I think it’s important to create realistic expectations for the students, which is one reason that I would give them a time line for the presentational task on the first day it is assigned.
I don’t think that the IPA is something that I would try to use very often as a teacher, because the process is so time consuming, both in terms of class time used and planning time. However, I would definitely use it once or twice a year, because I think it’s a good experience for the students, and I would really like to see how they do with it. Since I’ve put so much time into this one already, I would love to see it done in a classroom. I can’t do the whole thing, since I don’t have a class, but I could see myself working through parts of it (starting with the authentic text and perhaps brainstorming about possible skits) with Arthur’s students. I know this is not how the IPA is supposed to work, but that is the reality of my current situation. The tricky thing for this project is the authentic audience of the immersion school, which would require a lot of coordination between the two schools as well as a field trip. I think the class I designed this for would have a lot of fun with it, though. Especially at the end of the senior year, it’s difficult to motivate students to work on something, and I think the concreteness of first graders watching them perform might kick them into gear.
Even though it would be difficult to take the time to do the interpersonal task, I like the fact that IPA forces me to sit back and watch 2 students interact. In the classroom, there are always problems with some people speaking more than others, students being unable to hear each other, the issue of error correction for the teacher, etc. I think sitting back and listening and watching two students interact with each other would be very informative to me as a teacher. I was always surprised in Germany to see the written work of students who didn’t speak in class; often it was much better than I anticipated. I doubt the same thing would happen in this situation, since speaking requires practice and I doubt they are practicing outside of class, but the situation created in this IPA may allow a shyer speaker to demonstrate his/her ability. I will also be able to see how well the students can communicate their ideas under pressure, which is an important skill for most people who try to use their second language in an authentic situation.
I started planning this assessment for one class, and then moved it to a class that was a year further along. However, both of these classes are very small by public school standards (11 and 17 students, respectively). I’m not sure whether or not I would be interested in using the IPA with bigger classes. With 30 students, I think it would be much more difficult to keep track of what everyone is working on. I could make the groups bigger, but the bigger the group, the more likely it is that the work is not being shared equally. Working with a larger class would, I think, require a lot more creativity in coming up with activities that require everyone’s input and can be completed in a reasonable amount of time.
The other thing that makes me nervous about the IPA is the same thing that bothers me about a lot of teaching trends. The heading on page 7 is “Why the need for integrated performance assessment?” implying that this is something that must be done in every classroom. I think things like this make good teachers feel bad about the work they are doing if they don’t have time to incorporate several IPAs into their curriculum. On the other hand, someone may pick up the manual and feel like they’re a cutting edge teacher even though their activities are not particularly motivating or innovative (the interview-based interpersonal tasks come to mind). In this case, the manual’s concept replaces the teacher’s careful thought about the needs and skills of his/her students. I think it’s important to remember that the IPA can only be as good as the quality of instruction behind it. Otherwise, it’s just a different test.