Wisconsin 5 C Chart

A few days ago I complained about the ACTFL Five C Chart, that it misrepresented the role of Communication, as Nathaniel described a few days ago and which is a must read if you haven’t read it yet:
When a teacher is told that culture is as important as communication she ends up justifying pinatas and making little flags to hang up in the room. We all know that the door to the culture and communities and comparisons and connections (whatever the heck that means) is thick and requires a key – the key of language.
So Alisa sent me this, which they use in Wisconsin. It makes me think that there is some hope for Wisconsin after all. This is really the right image and not the one ACTFL has on their standards page and thank you Alisa for sharing it with us:
image (1)
I just wish they had not put the four skills on there. They are from the last century. They justify an immediate and early focus on writing and speaking in the minds of 99% of foreign language teachers who don’t get the role of early output in what we do. That is a disaster.



11 thoughts on “Wisconsin 5 C Chart”

  1. In defense of the graphic: Listening, reading, speaking, and writing are constituent parts of the three modes of communication, so as a description I think it works reasonably well. As a prescription for teaching, however, it is too open to various interpretations and has some serious issues. Some of this could, perhaps, be overcome by a different color scheme.
    However, there is a significant component of communication that is totally ignored in this graphic as well as most descriptions of a foreign language program: non-verbal communication. This is every bit as culturally determined as the words and syntax and needs to be taught as a key part of Communication. Elements of non-verbal communication include
    – Facial Expressions
    – Gestures
    – Paralinguistics (non-verbal components of the sound of the language)
    – Body Language and Posture
    – Proxemics
    – Eye Gaze
    – Haptics (touch)
    – Appearance
    – Artifacts (objects and images)
    Of these, only “artifacts” are mentioned by any descriptions of or prescriptions for teaching a foreign language that I have seen, but we know that they are important elements of communication. If we are going to include the “four skills”, shouldn’t we also include these non-verbal skills as well?

  2. You could rework it into an isosceles triangle with presentational on the smaller side. I’d also note the your blog software doesn’t recognize presentational as a word, but it does recognize interpersonal and interpretive.

  3. Very nice, Eric. I also love Robert’s idea of representing the four skills in a different color scheme to somehow convey the importance of input over output. When teachers see those four skills represented in that way, nothing is there to prevent them from considering all four of them equally and therefore wasting precious instructional minutes on output too early.
    Three words emerge from this discussion as key in our classroom success: interpersonal, communication and input. All the other words on that chart pale in comparison to interpersonal communicative input, which sounds a lot like personalized comprehensible input. We should make our own graphic.

    1. I would love to see someone’s version of this 5C graphic, emphasizing interpersonal, comprehensible input, and communication but not “communicative” … we don’t want to come across as promoting the communicative approach.
      And instead of the “Reading/ Writing” and “Listening/ Speaking” boxes, we could cut and paste with “non-verbal communication”.
      I’m going to put this on my calendar to try and tweak a graphic, even if not for a couple of months from now.

  4. I’ll anxiously await such a new graphic, Sean. We are sufficiently done with the old way of looking at things that if I could put up a graphic like the one you describe for everyone in our group it would be a fine thing. We just need to look forward. The four skills and all that are definitely old hat now.
    Could you also explain this statement for new people:
    … we don’t want to come across as promoting the communicative approach….

  5. How about “comprehensible reading” and “comprehensible listening”? This focuses on the channels of comprehension rather than the “skills” of reading and writing.

  6. When discussing the four activities (listening, speaking, reading, writing), it may be helpful distinguish between the four skills as skills and the four skills as four channels of language. The TCI/TPRS focus is on language and meaning. But language and meaning cannot be experienced apart from the four channels.
    As listeners we can experience language through our sense of hearing. As readers we experience language through our eyes. As writers we experience language through our hands. And as speakers we experience language through our mouths and noses.
    Speaking is a completely natural channel. We have something to say and we express it in the language we have at our disposal. Listening is, likewise, a completely natural channel. We hear someone speak and we try to make sense of it. Writing may be less natural, but maybe not. Maybe it is just less necessary. Maybe it is just as natural to preserve our meaning in a more permanent form like clay, stone, and paper, as it is to express meaning in a more ephemeral, spoken manner. Perhaps reading is more natural than writing. Perhaps it is an expression of the desire to make sense of the world about us, to decode what we find encoded, to take dominion over that which baffles us.
    When these channels are treated like skills, then the goal is to practice skills, at times with the most tenuous bit of language, correct them and refine them. They best we get for most students is their native language encoded to L2. When the four channels are treated like channels, there is a natural flow. And that flow is the natural result of human beings with a message do what human being do when in possession of (or in the presence of) a message. They speak, listen, read, and write. Messages occur and language happens.
    Language and meaning must be experienced through a particular language. Once a language is present, there are aspects of that language which can be treated as skill.
    Consider writing as a skill. How much of teaching writing as a skill is really training in expressing thinking in an ordered manner? The focus may be on sequencing of thoughts, prioritizing of thoughts, connection of thoughts, clarification or illustration of thoughts, and so forth. And how much is learning the vocabulary necessary for sequencing (first, finally), prioritizing (least relevant), connection (therefore), clarification (in other words), etc? How much is formatting, punctuation and crediting one’s sources?
    Or speaking. As a skill, one can be taught to slow down, pause, project one’s voice, enunciate, look the audience in the eye, take a certain posture, control the hands, pronounce according to a certain dialect. Generally the same body parts are used, but in a way which is the result of training.
    Or reading. One can be taught to skim, outline, pause and reflect, take notes, ascertain the meter, discover the rhyme scheme.
    But this skill learning is only possible with already established language. If we try to develop a language “skill” when there is no language base or expect to produce skill in a language vacuum leads to frustration for teacher and student. Most of us are not at the skill-building level of language. We are rather at the language acquisition level which is prerequisite to any desired skill-building. And so we just do what comes natural: we access and encourage the most appropriate channels of language in order to focus on meaning.

    1. Excellent thoughts, Nathaniel. I see in a number of areas that what happens in a comprehension- or communication-based classroom may in some ways not look all that different from the activities in a communicative or legacy classroom, but the divergence is significant because of how those activities are treated.
      Your distinction between “channel” and “skill” is one of those divergences. Sometimes in my classes we spend time “practicing” the sounds of the language – but it isn’t really practice; rather, it’s playing with the sounds of the language. Usually it happens when one of my students has a moment in which she realizes that the sound coming out of her mouth isn’t really the sound she wants to make. Then we will spend a few moments making the sound and laughing. In level 3, I do this deliberately when we look at concrete poetry. Ernst Jandl’s poem “ottos mops” contains only the vowel “o”. Once we’ve read it for meaning and understand it, we then re-read it several times, each time substituting a different vowel (along the lines of the camp song “Apples and Bananas”). The main idea is to have fun with the language; re-enforcing the sounds and their production is a fortuitous by-product.
      Grammar is another area. Instead of being an end in itself (a la Traditional/Grammar-Translation Method), grammar is addressed when it aids understanding. I don’t teach subject-verb agreement or past-tense forms, or any of a number of other grammar items, because they are part of the syllabus (i.e. ends in themselves) but because they help other people understand what I’m saying and help me/my students understand other people.
      Similarly, grading on interpersonal communication looks a lot like a participation grade, but the distinction is significant (at least to me and with a nod to Chris Stolz, who disagrees).

  7. Thank you, Robert. It is interesting that you mentioned playing with the sounds. Let me share my reflection from yesterday that I cut out of the above comments.
    “What originally got me to thinking about the distinction between channels and skills was a comment by Bill Van Patten. He said something to the effect that pronunciation is the aspect of language learning most difficult to acquire. I have a Brazilian friend who has been several decades in America. She is articulate, gregarious, and refuses to speak Portuguese and yet her accent is so prominent that we must listen very closely at times. I started thinking about how that perhaps pronunciation is more like a skill. It is not a covert, mental process like language acquisition. It is an overt, physical process. Learners can be led to properly produce or at least approximate the sounds of L2. It can be demonstrated (watch my lips when I say this word). It can be instructed (open your mouth wider and the [English] “uh” will change to a [Spanish] “ah”). It can be imitated and applied to one’s own L1. It is independent of meaning.”
    Your “ottos mops” poem sounds like a a great opportunity for fun, authentic input. I do not know that we have a one-vowel poem in Spanish. But my methods professor (years ago) taught us a song “La mar estaba serena” and explained that it was a popular children’s activity in her native Peru to sing the song and then someone would call out “con A” and then sing with the vowel A (ah) substituted for all vowels–as you explained with the poem. Singing through a few times with same vowel, the mouth muscles feel like they have had a workout, everyone has fun with the repeated sound, and sometimes it is hard to finish the song for chuckling.
    And I have not done that yet this year. Thanks for the reminder.

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