Learning is a process of brain development and change that is caused by diverse factors contributing to the learning experience of humans. Such includes mechanisms like speech and gestures.
This paper aims to study and provide information on the role of gesture mechanism in the learning process of students. From written articles and previous studies, this paper aims to gather and analyze data on how gestures affect change and development in the problem solving capabilities of children. It addresses issues on the fundamental role of using gestures in teaching: How are children's problem solving methods and approaches influenced by teachers' gestures?
Speech, naturally, is the very common approach of imparting thoughts and knowledge to anyone. It is the easiest way of expressing ideas, of presenting information, and of allowing the mind to picture what is being explained through verbalized characterization of the subject. Aside from speech, however, there is another element that facilitates the mind in obtaining and demonstrating knowledge - the gestures. During learning, or when listening to someone, we may be unaware that it is usual for us to sometimes accompany speech with gestures. We may also be unaware that as we have the natural tendency of using gesture in expressing ideas, knowledge, or thoughts, gesture is a helpful element of communication in conveying information to others.
Several studies have been conducted on the effect of gesture, as an accompaniment of speech, in the teaching method to children. Most of which suggests that, when examined, non-verbalized approach of conveying knowledge in teaching (i.e. during explanation of a particular topic) provides substantive information to students. This paper will do an informative research on a number of studies and articles on this subject. It will also try to gather findings from previous research and studies on the relationship of gestures in teaching, in the conceptual understanding of students, and in the construction of knowledge as derived from gesture mechanisms.
Gestures at Work
Cognitive studies in the process of learning have long recognized gesture as a useful accompanying medium in the field of communication. Gestures enable communication of further and supplementary ideas in support to the general form of verbal communication. Recently, many studies have focused their attention on the relevance of gestures in the learning process and problem solving abilities of students.
What is the purpose of gestures? Based from his research on the studies of well-known psychologists, Justine Cassell, in his A Framework for Gesture Generation and Interpretation, defines the communicative function of hand gestures, stating that gestures have been shown to elaborate upon and enhance the content of accompanying speech (McNeill, 1992; Kendon, 1972), often giving clues to the underlying thematic organization of the discourse or the speaker's perspective on events. Gestures have also been shown to identify underlying reasoning processes that speaker did not or could not articulate (Church and Goldin-Meadow, 1986).
The essential nature of gestures is embedded in the diverse form of communication. In teaching and learning, for instance, gesture is classified to be within the teaching method of multiple representation.
In her Understanding Change in Mathematical Reasoning: Evidence from Gesture and Speech, a study presented by Martha W. Alibali, Alibali states relationship between problem representation and the development of problem-solving strategies. Her study discusses how problem representation affects solving skills, enabling a student to develop new approach in solving problems. Alibali suggests and hypothesizes that problem representation is a bridge between conceptual and procedural knowledge changes in problem representation may be one source of new problem-solving strategies
Alibali's study deals with evidences of gesture as an effective tool in mathematical reasoning. In her paper, problem representation includes the use of gesture in the teaching process. Gesture is a part of the problem representation that directs children to generate new solving approach. Aside from what they learn from oral representations, gestures enable them to gain more conceptual knowledge of a subject.
Gesture Basics states the findings of David McNeill, an analyst who conducted extensive analysis and research on the performance of gestures in cognition and language, on the relationship of gesture and speech.
McNeill claims that the extremely close synchrony between gesture and speech indicates that the two operate as an inseparable unit, reflecting different semiotic aspects of the cognitive structure that underlies them both. Evidence for this tight synchrony includes the fact that disrupting speech (as during delayed auditory feedback) disrupts gesture (McNeill, 1992), that stutterers modify their gestures to maintain synchrony with speech (McNeill, 2000), and equally, that deliberate mismatch between gesture and speech can influence a subject's recall of a narration (McNeill, 1992).
Gesture is a visual representation of information that illustrates the aspects of symbolism from which knowledge can also be inferred. Some instances of these symbolisms in which gesture can be applied are words like "up," "down," "adjacent," etc. Sharon Begley, in her Newsweek article Living Hand to Mouth, indicates that recent research has found that gestures facilitate speakers trigger their memory when conveying thoughts and ideas. This corresponds to Krauss's theory of "lexical memory" (Begley, 1998). Speakers often define words, such as "under," that are spatial in nature with the supplement of gesture (Begley, 1998). Further, patients of stroke whose brains are affected and partially disabled gesture more when trying to speak (Begley, 1998).
Begley also indicated an American study that focuses on the effect of using gesture and not using gesture when defining words. Based from the volunteers of the study, it was found that when volunteers were given with the definition "an instrument used for calculation," they either failed to come up with the word "abacus" or it took them time to answer.
Gestures in the Learning Process of Students
Speech is the most important instructional tool that teachers use in imparting information to students. Nowadays, however, teachers utilize other concrete forms of communication in their teaching process. Such includes visual aids, symbolisms, and gesture mechanisms which are found to be effective in learning. They allow students to grasp more concepts from what they convey.
Several research that was conducted on improving the learning outcomes of students have found that multiple representations aid instructional methods of teachers in providing effective teaching approach to students. Research has also found that students are able to develop new and more concepts when they are simultaneously presented with multiple medium of visual learning along with verbal explanations.
Multiple representations in this subject include the use of picture imageries, models, and gestures. In their article How Many Do You See? The Use of Non-Spoken Representations in First-Grade Mathematics Lessons, Flevares and Perry indicate that teachers largely use multiple representations as a method in teaching. In mathematics, for instance, speech alone cannot completely cover the teaching process because mathematics involves diverse symbolic forms. For a student to establish adequate and broad mathematical understanding, teachers often use multiple representations and verbal modalities simultaneously. Included in this are visual representations of iconic symbols as well as the use of teacher gestures while discussing lessons (i.e. pointing to mathematical symbols). The effectiveness of simultaneously using spoken and non-spoken teaching method to achieve better comprehension skills of students is supported by Mayer's study. According to Flevares and Perry,
Mayer found that students performed better if they saw verbal and visual information simultaneously than if they received verbal explanations only. Mayer concluded that instructors can aid students' mental representations by presenting the information in a "coherent" manner: in other words, simultaneously presenting information in verbal and visual modalities.
Mayer stresses that the use of multiple representations is best effective when they are presented concurrently. This can enable students to have points of reference and comparisons of each presented representation, allowing the students to develop related concepts from the symbolisms. Another study, conducted by Pimm, conveyed that gestures are helpful to teachers because they serve as means of quick assessment of what they are talking, whether they verbally voiced correct information or not.
The importance of gesture and its crucial role in establishing better comprehension and problem-solving skills of students was presented by Valenzeno, Alibali, and Klatzky in their article Teachers' Gestures Facilitate Students Learning: A Lesson in Symmetry. Their study made use of preschool students as participants, and two videotaped lessons. Both videotapes demonstrate a lesson in symmetry. One of which, however, contains a lecture in which the teacher promotes verbal discussion accompanied by gestures such as pointing to symbols. The other, on the other hand, contains a lecture in which the teacher discusses through verbal explanations alone. A set of students was made to view the first videotape, and another set of students was made to view the other tape. Valenzeno, Alibali, and Klatzky have found that, based from the test presented to the students after viewing the videotaped lesson, the children who viewed the verbal-plus-gesture lesson scored higher than those who viewed verbal lesson alone. Also, the first set had grasped more concepts of symmetry and asymmetry.
Further study on the effect of gesturing was conducted by Goldin-Meadow…