Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One C Through the Other Four?

The National Standards for Foreign Language Education, along with the corresponding version for Latin and Greek (opens a .pdf), have always seemed a bit strange to me. They are built around the "Five Cs": Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Listing these five areas together can mislead one to think that they are all equal in the foreign language classroom.

Today in professional development, however, it clicked for me how to picture the alignment between these 5 Cs and the more recent work from ACTFL on the three modes of communication. I like this graphic, which we discussed this morning and which I subsequently pulled from a page on the University of Minnesota's website, as a way to show how communication should have the primary role in learning a second language:

Technically it is a graphic representation of the foreign language assessment framework from the National Association of Educational Progress.

Note how communication is central, which corresponds with ACTFL's own "90% Use Statement."

You engage in communication by way of the three modes--interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.

We can then take the inner circle--the "four skills" of listening, reading, speaking, and writing--as the source for the specific "I can" statements that make up our performance expectations.

The outer circle is where it gets a little trickier. Without an understanding of the three modes and the 90% Use Statement, one might be tempted to make the same mistake I have made so many times before, that is, assuming that activities about Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities can (and maybe even "should" or "may") happen without Communication, that is, that they can be developed and presented in L1. Doing so kills the goal of getting to 90% in the target language, and turns our foreign language classes into something more like social studies classes.

My conclusion: Communication in L2 is the primary goal, so we should use the four other Cs as the subject matter of the communication. (The outer circle in the above graphic can rotate. The presentational mode, for example, is not locked up only with Cultures; the presentation can be about any of the four "little Cs," but must of course include a lot of L2 Communication.)

As a side note, the three steps of TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) line up nicely with this view. 1) PQA (Personalized Question-and-Answer) and 2) story-asking opens up opportunities for Comparisons and Connections, while the final step of 3) reading lets the class experience Cultures by means of carefully chosen and culturally-rich readings.

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