Contingency and Multimodal Communication in the Learning Environment

A Second Language Read-Aloud Lesson


  • Steven G McCafferty University of Nevada
  • Alessandro Rosborough Brigham Young University



Contingent Interaction, Multimodal Ensembles, Perezhivanie, Instructional Conversation, Co-speech Gesture, Cultural-Historical Theory, Zone of Proximal Development, Cooperative Social Relations


From a Vygotskian (1997) theoretical perspective, teachers and learners, of necessity, need to listen and respond to one another in a meaningful way, which, significantly, entails some form of role reversal (i.e., student as teacher and teacher as student). van Lier (1996) furthered this approach in relation to second language (L2) classroom environments, emphasizing the need for conversational symmetry between students and teacher so that participation by all includes contributing individual and collective thoughts and experiences in relation to the content of a lesson, or ‘contingent interaction’, which van Lier also based on a similar approach: Instructional Conversation. Furthermore, van Lier linked his perspective to Vygotsky’s (1987) central premise that language (signs) constitutes the primary mediational tool with which we navigate ourselves and the world, which includes not only meaning (znachenie) but sense (smysl), and as applied in the case of the current study to L2 immigrant children growing up in a multilingual society. Moreover, although Vygotsky had recognized the role of proto-gesture (e.g., an infant reaching for an object that is then brought by an adult) as perhaps the earliest form of semiotic mediation, he did not concentrate on nonverbal forms of mediation, nor did van Lier. However, the current research hopes to demonstrate that speech together with nonverbal forms of communication, especially in combination (multimodal ensembles) can constitute an important aspect of creating L2 contingent interaction, and following van Lier, as connected to the Zone of Proximal Development. Additionally, emotional development (Perezhivanie) as tied to contingency and as an aspect of cooperative social relations is given treatment. Data for the study come from a second-grade classroom of L2 learners of English engaged in a read-aloud lesson directed towards L2 language and literacy development. 

Author Biographies

Steven G McCafferty, University of Nevada

Steven G. McCafferty is an emeritus professor of applied linguistics, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His academic interests center on the application of sociocultural theory to second language development, which includes cultural-historical consciousness and embodiment.

Alessandro Rosborough, Brigham Young University

Alessandro Rosborough is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education in the McKay School of Education at Brigham Young University. His research focuses on Vygotskian sociocultural theory in second language learning and teaching, including English as a second language, bilingualism, and dual language immersion in K–12 settings. His publications focus on gesture, embodied learning, and multimodality in education.


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How to Cite

McCafferty, S. G., & Rosborough, A. (2023). Contingency and Multimodal Communication in the Learning Environment: A Second Language Read-Aloud Lesson. Language and Sociocultural Theory, 9(2), 175–201.