kitchen table math, the sequel: "Gesturing Gives Children New Ideas About Math"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Gesturing Gives Children New Ideas About Math"

Anonymous left a link to this new study by Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues:
ABSTRACT—How does gesturing help children learn? Gesturing might encourage children to extract meaning implicit in their hand movements. If so, children should be sensitive to the particular movements they produce and learn accordingly. Alternatively, all that may matter is that children move their hands. If so, they should learn regardless of which movements they produce. To investigate these alternatives,we manipulated gesturing during a math lesson. We found that children required to produce correct gestures learned more than children required to produce partially correct gestures, who learned more than children required to produce no gestures. This effect was mediated by whether children took information conveyed solely in their gestures and added it to their speech. The findings suggest that body movements are involved not only in processing old ideas, but also in creating new ones. We may be able to lay foundations for new knowledge simply by telling learners how to move their hands.

Psychological Science - March 2009
Volume 20—Number 3 p. 267 - 272
I'm keenly interested in this work, and in fact taught one set of gestures to the kids in my afterschool Singapore Math class.

I'm wondering whether this phenomenon is related to mnemonic devices. I've been thinking about this subject lately because I've been making my way through an amazing book: Spanish by Association, which deserves every one of the 5 stars Amazon reviewers have bestowed upon it.

I need to learn more about mnemonics. From what I gather thus far, mnemonic devices work for a different reason than I had thought. More anon.

I'll try to steal a moment to read the Goldin-Meadow study, too. If you'd like a copy, send me an email. cijohn @


RMD said...

hmmmmm. . .

I wonder if this effect is because of the gesturing, or because teachers were required to get students to "produce correct gestures."

In other words, could it be that the teachers demanded more out of themselves and their students?

Anonymous said...

I hope someone shows this to my old calculus teacher. She would always accuse me of "handwaving" whenever my proofs got a little fuzzy.


Susan said...

The Jolly Phonics synthetic phonics programme uses mnemonics to help children learn the GPCs of the 'basic code'.

Go to page 8 for a guide to the mnemonic actions:

concernedCTparent said...

I checked out Spanish by Association and I can see why you're liking it.

I was raised in a bi-lingual home and so, never experienced learning another language from scratch until I studied German and Italian (but mostly German because it's not Latin-based). I'm not sure if I ever took the time to consider how I organize language until more recently.

Anyway, I had a funny experience where I consciously realized that when I hear a word, particularly Eng/Span, I have an image, a sound (music, voice), or a feeling, etc. running through my mind. These references are tagged with words in the languages I speak and in the case of Spanish I can recall them just as easily as I can in English. These associations are what allow me to be fluent which I am less so in Italian, and even less than that in German. In Spanish the associations are on par with the English while the other are weaker. It only makes sense that finding an efficient way to tag or associate concepts would improve your ability to speak and understand another language, or anything for that matter.

Strangely enough, I recently picked up a couple of mnemonic books (Thirty Days Hath September, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge) as a result of this feeling that I should be helping my children associate many of the concepts they've been learning so they can more easily retrieve the ideas when they need them.

Kim Hughey said...

I've been using gestures for many years in my algebra classes, but I had no idea there was research backing them up. I only knew that gestures AND mnemonics help me learn things. I even teach a workshop every summer at our state's math conference called Crazy Antics and Gestures for Hard to Remember Math Facts

Just yesterday we were doing quadratic calisthenics where the students act out transformations of the quadratic parent function while I call out different functions.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh -- Mrs. H!

You've got to fill us in on the next conference!

My revelation about mnemonic devices is that a mnemonic device doesn't really have to "make sense." Apparently, anything you associate to a word you're trying to memorize will do.

Of course, I should have known that, since the Greek mode of memorizing speeches was to attach each part of the speech to a part of a memorized house (right?)

But I'd always assumed somehow that mnemonic devices had to "add logically to" the meaning of the new word I'm trying to remember.

Gestures may work in somewhat the same manner; it may be that you don't need a meaningful gesture for the gesture to be a useful recall device.

Goldin-Meadow's work, btw, typically involves meaningful gestures (i.e. gestures that have some logical relationship to the concept they express...)

I've got to get Dan Willingham in here to tell us what's what...

Catherine Johnson said...

I read a terrific article about why middle-aged people forget names, which I'll have to see if I can dig up.

I believe the explanation was that you have fewer "paths" through the brain to the name you're trying to remember (because of interference or general brain rot or whatever it was...)

Attaching a mnemonic device to the proper name gives you one more path through the brain to that name.

I'm guessing that's why gestures may increase recall.

btw, this has nothing to do with "kinesthetic learning," etc.

As far as I can tell, what we're talking about is a "more is more" phenomenon: the item to be recalled has been linked to more "stuff" inside the brain.

Catherine Johnson said...

and yes, I need to get Dan Willingham in here FAST

Catherine Johnson said...

I fear I may be experiencing an explanatory emergency

Catherine Johnson said...

RMD--In other words, could it be that the teachers demanded more out of themselves and their students?

I assume that's an important factor.

We remember what we pay attention to & I assume gestures are often going to help you pay more attention.

This brings us directly to the doodling study.

Have you seen it?

People who doodle while listening to lectures (or telephone calls?) remember more of what was said. The tentative explanation is that doodling blocks daydreaming.

Anonymous said...

I concur with the doodling. It may seem counterintuitive, but doodling helps one to concentrate.

(No proof; speaking strictly from experience.)

Niels Henrik Abel

Anonymous said...

I was a major doodler. Major. All day, every class. All notes covered with drawings on the edges.

I'm not sure it helped me concentrate. Maybe sometimes.

It probably helped keep me awake in a lot of instances.


Catherine Johnson said...

I'm going to have to try doodling.

I think women probably use knitting the same way.

Until I started doing math I used to knit constantly.