What the Three Modes Mean to Me

This is republished from September, as it bears heavily on the current discussion:
Robert in your May 8th blog entry on assessment you wrote:
…at the moment I am pondering how to fit other aspects of the Standards into these three modes….
I made a few connections between the your focus on the three modes as you described them in that article and the Standards. It may throw some light and help guide us along in pulling the attention of language teachers more and more to the three modes as we develop curricular models and assessment models over the next few years that are more based on the Standards for real. (I feel that this work with the three modes is going to be slow, for some reason – we don’t just instill fabrics of goodness and positive regard with focus on HOW people in the class interact with each other when the data teeth have been firmly sunk into the arms of most kids and their teachers But we can try.)
The first connection I made is based on what you wrote here in that blog entry (bold print in your original text):
1. Interpersonal mode is the heart of language acquisition. It is defined thus: Interpersonal mode is active oral or written communication in which the participants negotiate meaning to make sure that their message is understood. If a student isn’t actively negotiating meaning (sitting up, shoulders straight, focused eyes, cute answers, choral response, no private conversation, no distractive behavior, etc.), then he is not meeting this standard.
My connection with that is that we can compare the interpersonal mode to the listening standard (which we focus on approximately 50% of our academic year). This is the quid pro quo of back and forth human interaction researched so heavily by Bill VanPatten and Stephen Krashen and others. At the lower levels, we speak and they listen. At the upper levels, as Bryce described so well in a blog comment yesterday, there is a real sense of a fabric of goodness going on between the teacher and the students, one in which the students are capable because of all the listening done earlier on in the lower levels, allows them not in the upper levels to actually speak with the teacher. Bryce really does describe in that upper level class a fabric of goodness (as he said, “Oprah like”), one that we all know, intuitively if not consciously, will eventually drill the teeth right out of the head of the data monster now loose on the streets and firmly implanted in the arms of the students of our nation.
Here is what you wrote about the interpretive mode:
2. Interpretive mode is based on command of the “receptive skills” (hearing and reading) as well as an understanding of culture and language structure (albeit at an often unconscious level). It is defined as follows: Interpretive mode is the ability to listen to or read a text and interpret the meaning. If students are unable to tell what a text means (e.g. give an English equivalent) or state what has been happening in class discussion, they obviously are not meeting the standard of the interpretive mode.
Note very importantly that what the connections I am making are not aligned perfectly with the modes as defined. In mode one, the term interpersonal, as defined in the ACTFL text, refers to written communication as well, whereas I want to focus on the oral piece, and in mode two, the term hearing is used to describe the term interpretive, whereas for me I want to define interpretive as just reading. I want to do that because the modes as defined are overly vague, general, and bordering on the obtuse because of that vagueness. For me, the term written in mode 1 and the term hearing in mode 2 are best removed. I need to tie this stuff down and simplify it in terms of comprehensible input if I am going to be able to work with it in a meaningful way in terms of the vision you have set forth here.
So I would like to suggest that only the reading skill (which we focus on for the other 50% of our instruction in any given academic year, or should be anyway) be compared to the interpretive mode.
Indeed, for teachers using comprehensible input, the interpersonal mode IS listening – it is what we focus on most of the time in the lower levels. And, for teachers using comprehensible input, the interpretive mode IS reading.
You wrote this to describe the third mode of communication, and I suggest no changes to this definition:
3. Presentational mode is based on a command of the “productive skills” (speaking and writing) as well as a certain facility in language manipulation plus an understanding of culture. Presentational mode is written or oral communication in which the presenter must take into account the impact on the audience since this is one-way communication with limited opportunity for feedback. This would include fluency in writing (e.g. timed writing), accuracy in speech and writing (both grammatical and phonological – at the appropriate level, of course), use of idioms and more. Obviously it is the most difficult of the modes and the one acquired last.
Of course, these are the output skills of writing and speaking and so we can say that the presentational mode lines up accurately with the output skills, where production finally happens.
But my effort to simplify modes 1 and 2 by removing the words “written” from #1 and “hearing” from #2 allows me to suggest modes that more accurately align with what we do in our comprehensible input instruction. For me, the interpersonal mode IS the listening piece of the kids sitting up, squaring shoulders, clear eyes, as you mention above. Likewise, for me, the interpretive mode IS reading. We expect our students after enough auditory input to be able to interpret a written text. And, of course, when enough listening and reading has occurred, then the presentational mode of writing and speaking happens naturally.
For those interested, here is the link to Robert’s entire blog post – a most  important article – from May, from which the quoted texts above are taken:



5 thoughts on “What the Three Modes Mean to Me”

  1. Ben, I’ve been reflecting a bit on your comments above.
    I think what you are suggesting is probably a functional distinction for the lower levels. It certainly makes grading easier.
    For upper levels, especially 4 and AP, I think you have to include writing in the interpersonal communication and oral in the interpretive communication. The latter is probably easier to do: play a song without a printed text, do a podcast, watch a scene from a film. For the former, I have introduced an Internet component. Currently it is a short period of time in which I create a Facebook page and open it to class members only. (I’m also looking at other possible venues for doing this so as to avoid Facebook.) I don’t (and don’t plan to) do this activity with the lower levels.
    For everyone, here is part of the difference between where Ben is coming from and where I am coming from. Ben concentrates on level 1 (and 2?) because that’s what he teaches. I have to think about how everything looks at all levels. This was very clear to me in the post about “Culture can wait” – the cultural elements in levels 1 and 2 are the ones that come in naturally, like using the thumb to show “one”. In levels 3 and 4/AP we can talk about the culture in the target language; I have my students “move” to either Berlin or Vienna and learn about the culture of those cities as we do our class activities. For my medieval unit we look at ways that the language still reflects the time, e.g. “on his high horse”.
    And as long as I’m rambling . . .
    . . . while I find the changes to the AP test for German and French very positive, we still need to remember that AP is intended for a level of language acquisition that most of our students cannot reach in four years. (According to the State of California, students who have been in language classes for 13 years should be ready for AP.) I’ll send Ben a comparison I did of the CEFR, ACTFL and ILR levels, plus AP. Maybe he can post it somewhere.
    CEFR – Common European Frame of Reference
    ACTFL – American Council on Teaching Foreign Language
    ILR – Interagency Language Roundtable (used by Foreign Service Institute)

  2. Thank you so much, Ben and Robert, for your hard work on this important matter. I teach Levels 1-5, grades 8-12, and was torn by the intuitively contradictory requirement of output in the early levels with the interpersonal and presentational modes. Your thoughts, Ben, help me to clarify in my mind what these standards look like for the lower levels (and get rid of the guilt of not requiring much output at all in levels 1 and 2). Invaluable.

  3. Hey, Kelly. Yes it is an amazing thing that we can allow ourselves to be guilted by people who haven’t even thought the input/output thing through. There is this cavalier Tarot fool kind of assumption in the minds of many that output can happen right away.
    Is it only Krashen who talks about input in the form of reading and listening as a crucial prerequisite for writing and speaing later? He can’t be the only one, and yet where in the Standards – if they are to be based on current research – do we see this key fact reflected?
    The part about language acquisition being an unconscious process, also, so key to everything we do, gets little if any mention.
    I wrote about a month ago here that what allows me to even grasp those illusive – they are very slippery – terms is a simple formula using hand gestures (I always need to simplify everything):
    Mode 1: When I think of interpersonal I put my hands out in front of me, kind of to my sides, and then I move them across the front of my body so the line thus described is back and forth in front of me. That is two people negotiating meaning. In the lower levels, since I am the only one in the classroom who speaks the language, this takes the form of the kids actively listening for a few years before they start speaking spontaneously (in the spring of level 2 in my experience) because of all the hard wired input they have experience for almost two years. Without those initial two years of listening, in my view, true interpersonal speech, true negotiation of meaning using speech, cannot happen. Interpersonal is when the students listen to input early and produce output later, but are all along negotiating meaning.
    Mode 2: When I think of the interpretive mode of communication I put my hands out in front of me like those people who bring planes to a stop at the airport – they wave the plane in with those orange things in their hands. I put my hands out and wave in the information. That is interpretive to me. It is input as listening and reading. Interpretive is input.
    Mode 3: When I think of the presentational mode I think of my hands going in the opposite direction from the interpretive mode. They go out away from my body like I would want to put the plane in reverse and go away from me. This is output in the forms of writing and speaking in which, as the Standards say, there is “little opportunity for feedback”. Interesting to note that it is impossible for planes to back up on their own, they have to be pulled out from where they park in those huge parking lots for planes. So also, it is impossible for our students to do any authentic speaking or writing before they have had, in my opinion, hundreds if not thousands of hours of input in the forms of listening and reading. Presentational is output.

  4. My nephew-in-law is getting a doctorate in communication. He has never heard of the 3 modes. I think they were invented by ACTFL. Am I wrong?
    I saw online 3 types of communication: verbal, non-verbal and written. The non-verbal is interesting because it is included in the interpersonal mode and the body language standard on the rubric that Robert has.

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