A reading group in the animal kingdom.

On an online post, a teacher recently wrote:

I would welcome suggestions of how to structure reading groups to target all three modes of communication.

So you have a group of language students, and you have them in a group, presumably reading under the guidance and control of the teacher (usually that’s what “reading group” means in mainstream terms). And you want them to output language in interpersonal mode (talking to other people one-on-one) and presentational mode (making a speech to a group) and also use interpretive mode (understanding what others are saying).

Paralysis by analysis.

In CI teaching, the difference between these “modes” is laughable. Yeah, I said it. It’s a joke. A cruel one perpetrated on teachers to force ever more navel-gazing and analysis and boxes to check.

At the primary/secondary levels (in fact, most levels below Advanced High or Superior, which some of us maybe aren’t even at ourselves let alone teacher others to be), there is no appreciable difference between these modes.

If you are going to be “interpersonal”, you’d better be able to “interpret” what the other person is saying to you, or that interaction is going to lack a lot of “inter-“. Properly speaking in “interpretive” mode the student wouldn’t be able to interject or use strategies to control the interaction (such as asking for repetition or clarification) — but is that the extent of what we want to be teaching students to do? I don’t think so. I think that providing opportunities to understand language when there is an opportunity to get clarification is much more valuable than simply “practicing” listening to check a box next to “interpretive”. And anyway, if you are only talking about communication, reading is interpretive language full stop. What else could it be? So “interpretive” is really already taken care of because it’s a reading group and there’s reading of a text going on.

On to interpersonal. Are you talking to your kids during this reading group? Are you doing it in the target language? Are you asking questions about the text and extending those questions to include the real lives of the students and relating their present knowledge and experience to the content of the text? Um, that’s interpersonal. I assume the students aren’t just sitting there listening to the questions and saying nothing (and if they are, go ahead and check the “interpretive” box again…LOL)

So, for presentational. This is where it gets sticky. Because if we believe that input drives acquisition, and that students have not yet acquired the language we are currently teaching them, having them “practice” it by making a speech for all the other students who haven’t yet acquired that language to hear isn’t very sensible. It’s perpetuating poor-quality input.

There’s also the point that at these levels (sub-Advanced High, I’d say) there is absolutely no difference between the language one needs to output for Interpersonal speaking and for Presentational speaking. Have kids memorize the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” in the target language and you’re golden.

So, TL;DR: the top three ways to get all three modes into a reading group.

3. Have students record a one-minute reaction to the book on their own time, outside of class. Not during the reading group! Use class time to provide more good input by reading and discussing. Discard student recordings since no one has time to “grade” that many and the results won’t be very meaningful anyway. Or just react to WHAT they’re saying, not HOW they’re saying it.

2. If you’re determined to do presentational in the reading group, have each student stand up, get totally nervous, agonize over what to say, and make a mini-speech to the group about the book or text. Watch the other students tune out because a) they are next and need to “practice” what they’re going to say, or b) they’ve already gone so they’re off the hook now.

And the top recommendation to get all three modes into Reading Group:

  1. Don’t worry about it. Overthinking doesn’t drive acquisition. Comprehensible input does.