Tool: Gesture

Gesturing is an activity that people spontaneously engage in when talking about spatial content, and even when talking about non-spatial content. Space is continuous, but the language we use to describe space is not. Language divides space into categories and, as a result, is a relatively poor technique for capturing the continuous quality of space. What gesture can do is fill in the gaps left by language, allowing learners to reveal knowledge about space that is not apparent in their talk. We examine the gestures that speakers produce when describing tasks that call upon the fundamental systems of spatial learning and cognition (e.g., mental rotation tasks). But we also use gesture to explore domains that are not inherently spatial. When speakers gesture while describing a task, they bring a spatial component into their descriptions (they "spatialize" the task), which may be what gives gesture its power in bringing about learning. Finally, we consider the implications of our findings on gesture and space for educational practice. Gesturing may turn out to be particularly important in teaching STEM disciplines, as teachers often find it difficult to talk about many of these areas (e.g., chemistry, geology, physics) without using their hands. Fundamentally, the two questions we ask are: (1) Can gesture be used as a window onto spatial skills not evident through other probes? (2) Can gesture be manipulated to promote spatial learning?

The goals of our research on Gesture are:

  1. To understand how gesture interacts with fundamental spatial processes.
  2. To understand how gesture interacts with spatial learning.
  3. To understand how gesture might be used to improve education.

Point of Contact:
Susan Goldin-Meadow (Co-PI)

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