Systematizing Interpersonal Communication

Making systems is critical if you want to stay sane as an instructor. If you’ve gotten to the point of teaching languages for a living, you’ve invented systems that work for you, even if you don’t realize it. In the last two years, I’ve finally been able to systematize a gradebook item that had frustrated me for years: interpersonal communication.

I tried to make this work with an electronic attendance taker (Skyward when I taught at high school and Canvas at the College), but it was always clunky. Not good for systematization. I finally had a breakthrough when I went back to basics – good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. Below is a mockup of a what an Interpersonal Communication scoresheet looks like. You can download a .docx version for free here.

Let me break down what’s on this sheet, because there is actually quite a bit.

0. I write down what week I’m in at the top of the page. I keep each class’ work in a color-coded folder (which can be a separate post if there is demand for me to write such a post), and the number helps me keep the pages in order if they get lost.

  1. The first column (labeled “A”) is an absence column. I want to know how many absences a student has. In my class, they will lose 1% off their final grade if they have more than three absences. This lets me keep track without having to turn the page.
  2. The second column (labeled “#”) is just to see how many students are in my class. Frankly, it’s not that important, except to start the quarter. It helps me consider how many students I want to overload, if any.
  3. The “student” column is just my learners’ names. I try to leave enough space here to write down their preferred name. After the first week I change names to preferred names so I don’t have to keep correcting it by hand. Systematization and whatnot.
  4. “Days of the week” columns – One column for each day of the week. I keep track of attendance and interpersonal communication here (see below).
  5. The “IC” column is for writing my students’ Interpersonal Communication grade for the week. Each day is worth 5 points, so I write a number in this column at the end of the week.

The Andrew Snider’s Super-Fancy, Awesomest Systematization of Interpersonal Communication™ in Action

This is easier to write on by hand vs. on a trackpad, so forgive the sloppiness. Not that my handwriting is any better.

Let me break this down for you. This is a week-1 Interpersonal Communication scoresheet at the end of the week.

  1. The course started on a Tuesday, so I crossed out Monday. This also happens on holidays or if I have to cancel class. This week will only be worth 20 points.
  2. Dots represent a student being present. Unless otherwise marked, they earn full points for that day. Easy and quick, two of my favorite words.
  3. I start each class period handing back name tags, even after I memorized their names. I say hello to each and every student and ask how they are doing. At the end of greetings, I take the name tags of those not present, and quickly make them absent. This is the fastest way I have ever taken roll. It’s also great for building class community.
  4. For each absence, I write A1, A2, A3, etc. in the appropriate box. It helps me to quickly see how many absences somebody has. If they start to wrack up (it happens, especially at the CC), this lets me know how many absences somebody has without having to add. I don’t like unnecessary math.
  5. There is a T up there for student 5. That means they walked in late, for which they lost points. I’m sometimes lenient with this, but it can and will become a problem if you’re too lax about it.
  6. One of my waitlist students was there every day! Welcome aboard, Waitlisted 1!
  7. One of my roster students was absent every day! They are now losing points for each absence (and 1% off their final grade per absence above 3 – You can’t learn a language if you’re not in class).
  8. I tally up all their absences and write it on the of the week (below). This lets me line up next week’s page with this one and quickly write in the number of absences each student has.
  9. Once per week (never more), I take sit down at the computer and enter in this grade. I type as fast as I can and go right down the IC column on my sheet. I will batch my boring work and do it quickly, or be damned to live a life of data entry.

Below is my week-2 Interpersonal Communication Scoresheet. It’s updated so that non-attendees are gone. SNYDER, SPELLED WRONG finally emailed me and said he’d be there. I didn’t have do an admin drop because he contacted me. As you can see, he’s attending but not demonstrating interpersonal communication. He’s really just a blob in the back of the classroom, and blobs don’t communicate well.

Sometimes I write a reason why students lost points. P (phone), E (English), O (off task when I observed) are quick ways to remember why it happened in the off-chance that a student comes asking. They usually don’t come asking.

The End of the Term

At the end of the quarter, I modify my sheet to look something like the grade sheet above. I copy over absences to this sheet. Then I copy students’ final percentage from the gradebook and convert it to a GPA using the scale from the syllabus. If the student stopped attending, I write down their last date of attendance. This makes it a cinch to enter in final grades. I paper clip all the sheets to gather (from end of quarter to beginning of quarter) and keep that stack in my box of graded materials from that quarter. It’s come in handy many times.

The Best To-Do List to Boost Productivity

I’m always looking for ways to make my time more productive. I want to maximize efficiency and minimize the time spent on work tasks. Obviously, I want to do the highest quality work that I can, but I also need to have time for my family and hobbies.

Done correctly, storytelling can free up loads of time for family and hobbies. But it can also be this monster that takes over your life, writing endless stories and tasks for learners.

In order to combat task creep*, we need a battle plan. When we sit down to do grades or check email, we need to prioritize our “to-do’s”, or they will expand to fill every last available second. The tool I use to organize my day might surprise you.

*I read a book called “The 4-Hour Work Week“, by Tim Ferris. It has absolutely nothing to do with education or storytelling, but I took away many concepts that have made me a better teacher. One such concept is called “task creep”, which Ferris defines as “doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less”.

The Paper To-Do List

I choose a paper to-do list because it limits the amount of items I can write on it. There are only so many hours in the day, and this constraint forces me to prioritize what needs to be done.

I take a 4″ x 6″ index card and fold it half (pictured below). This gives me four sides to write on. The folded card fits perfectly into the pocket, and I carry it with me at all times during the day.

Amazon has a pack of 500 for less than 6 bucks.

I only have two preps this quarter (don’t hate me), and so I use the front and back to write that day’s plan. I you have more preps, you can write a separate plan on each side.

My Spanish 2 classes are M, W blocks, so today’s plan was blank for those sections.

When I get to class, I write the plan on the board and slip the folded notecard back in my pocket. Doing this every day makes my classes go smoothly. If I ever forget what we’re doing or where we’re going, I just glance at the board and we’re back on track.

During my office hours (when there are no students) or scheduled work times outside of class, I unfold the card and voila, I have my to do list. The limited space makes me focus only on the important tasks.

This is my to-do list for today, warts and all.

Since I only have two preps this quarter, I have a “Notes” section as well. I use this space to jot down anything that comes to mind throughout the day. These items that pop into my head can be very distracting, but my mind is freed up to complete the items on the to-do list once I write these interruptions down.

Two Final Tips for Writing Your To-Do List

1. Write your to-do list and lesson plan down the night before. Your subconscious will keep working on it while you sleep (also, sleep more) and your classes will go smoother the following day.

Whenever I don’t do this the night before, my classes are noticeably less cohesive.

2. Write your to-do list with “actionable” verbs and be very specific. This will help you know exactly what to do when you sit down at your workstation.

Examples:

  • Write story for French 1
  • Send stories to the point shop, 
  • Post In-Class Essay 1 scores for 101 & 102

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