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'Gesturing helps students learn better'

The gestures students themselves produce, as using their hands to mimic their teachers' gestures have an impact on their learning, says a study.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 21:40 IST

A new study has revealed that the gestures students themselves produce have an impact on their learning, as using their hands to mimic their teachers' gestures keeps their brain more active all the time.

The research carried out by University of Chicago has revealed students who spontaneously picked up on the teacher's gestures and used them without being told to while learning mathematics, learn new strategies more quickly than those who don't.

According to Susan Goldin-Meadow, Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago who carried out the research with her other colleagues, spontaneous gestures may aid student learning by reducing the amount of memory needed to solve a problem and by providing students with an image, supported by an action, that helps them understand and remember what they've learned.

"Including gesture in instruction encourages children to produce gestures of their own, and producing one's own gestures is associated with learning. Children may thus be able to use their hands to change their minds," said Susan.

The research, the results of which are being published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Cognition and Development in an article "The Role of Gesture in Learning: Do Children Use Their Hands to Change Their Minds?" was conducted with third- and fourth-grade students, who were being taught new ways of understanding addition.

For the study, researchers worked with 49 students who were given instruction in mathematical equivalence with gesture and without it. Students were shown how to solve an addition problem, such as 4 + 6 + 3 = 4 + __. They were asked to determine what number was needed to make both sides of the equation equal. After the instruction, the students were given problems of their own to solve.

Researchers varied instruction in two ways: Some students were taught using only speech, while others were taught using both speech and gesture. As an example, the teacher using gesture swept her left hand under the left side of the equation and then swept her right hand under the right side of the equation. The gestures concretized the idea that the two sides must be treated in the same way to solve the problem correctly.

Researchers discovered that students who produced the strategy in gesture and speech got significantly more problems right than students who produced it in speech only.

"Students given instruction in gesture and speech expressed the teacher's strategy in gesture four times more often than children given instruction in speech alone," she said.

The research was supported by a grant from NICHD and a Spencer Foundation grant to Goldin-Meadow.

First Published: Feb 20, 2006 17:58 IST