Assessing with Storytelling: Interpersonal Communication

Communication is king/queen/the democratically elected executive officer of the week.

This is the daily grade that has replaced the “participation” grade in my syllabus. In reality, this is the way we norm students to set themselves up for success — These are the habits we want them to have so their affective filter is lowered and their focus is on communication in the target language.

This is a daily grade, but it goes into the gradebook only once per week for my own sanity (5pts per day x 5 days = 25pts per week). Systematizing your gradebook like this will save you hours of data entry over the course of the term. I highly recommend you figure out this kind of trick sooner rather than later.

The Interpersonal Communication Rubric

Good artists copy. Great artists steal. – Pablo Picasso

Another way to systematize your course is to use rubrics — really good rubrics. The rubrics that I use for Interpersonal Communication is a modified version of jGR (Jen’s Great Rubric – I’m sorry, but I cannot for the life of me remember who the Jen is from this as I first read about it many years ago… Jen, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!).

My version of this rubric also borrows from Mike Peto, whose work you can find at My Generation of Polyglots. It is outlined below:

5/5—Pays attention and Contributes at the 4.5 level and Goes Beyond by:

  • Adding interesting and useful comments that are appropriate and in the target language
  • Speaking aloud voluntarily with longer spontaneous answers in the target language
  • Helping build a positive classroom community by volunteering for jobs (e.g. acting, which lets us use more and different language naturally)

4-4.5—Pays attention and Contributes by:

  • Using English only with permission
  • Regularly using the “I do not understand” signal or the “slow down” signal to help keep comprehensibility high
  • Playing the game by answering with one-word answers or short responses, participating enthusiastically, and particularly by showing that you get the idea that, “Anything is possible in this class.”

3-3.5—Pays attention by:

  • Showing your intent to understand with body language and responses
  • Sitting up; Maintaining eye contact with the instructor, peers who are speaking, and media
  • Having nothing on lap or desk—particularly cell phones—in order to more completely focus on communication in Spanish
  • Observably listening when others speak
  • Not distracting or disrupting
  • Not blurting out in English and not having side conversations.
  • Late to class (especially if more than twice per week)

2.5—Does not pay attention regularly as evidenced by:

  • Having something on lap or desk (such as a cell phone)
  • Slumping in chair; Showing limited effort and/or eye contact
  • Using English more than once without permission


  • Why? It is not possible to contribute or pay attention if you are not in class—this includes excused absences. You cannot demonstrate interpersonal communication if you are not here! – Note: You get three free absences without affecting your Interpersonal Communication Grade. Refer to the syllabus for more details.

You’ll notice that students cannot earn a lower score than a 2.5/5 per day if they are present. Interpersonal Communication is a formative assessment, and I see no reason to penalize students more than 50 percent, even if they are really not living up to expectations. Fifty percent is already an F.

This rubric is powerful. It norms the class for storytelling, keeps the class  90%+ target language, builds classroom community, is easy to keep track of (you know instantly who is doing all the right things to succeed), and can be systematized into a once-per-week data entry task.

This is by far one of the best tools for getting storytelling to work at the college level.

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