Friday, August 10, 2007

Hold That Thought!

Does talking with your hands reflect mastery of a concept, or help students gain mastery of a concept? According to the Washington Post: "Teachers who use gestures as they explain a concept -- such as the hand sweeps that [grad student Susan] Cook uses to emphasize an equation's symmetry -- are more successful at getting their ideas across, research has shown. And students who spontaneously gesture as they work through new ideas tend to remember them longer than those who do not move their hands.

Now Cook's work with elementary schoolchildren is helping to find out whether the gesturing done spontaneously by many quick learners is simply a reflection of the fact that they are "getting it" or is actively helping them learn. ...

"Everyone gestures," said Cook, a postdoctoral student at the University of Rochester, deferring at first on the Italian question. "People start gesturing before they can talk, and they keep gesturing for their entire lives."

Even blind people gesture when they talk, as do people chatting on telephones -- proof that gesturing is not necessarily for the person who is listening."

I find this interesting not only because I constantly talk with my hands, but also because of a recent article I've read regarding study of Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, a sophisticated gesture language created by and used only in the town of Al Sayyid in Israel's Negev desert, a town with a large percentage of congenitally deaf inhabitants. The language seems to have developed on it's own in the last 70 years, presumably when the number of deaf people reached some sort of critical mass, and is quickly being replaced by official Israeli Sign Language as the Al Sayyid children go to school outside the village.

It makes intuitive sense to me that gesturing is a vital component of learning and communicating. That's really the point of taking lecture notes, isn't it? Using the physical movement of the writing hand to help cement the concept you're already getting by ear and, hopefully, eye? And what a boon for the VSL student if all teachers are trained to use appropriate gesture along with their lessons!

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