The gestures that children produce when they talk are clearly associated with learning. At a minimum, they serve as an index of the child's readiness-to-learn. The goal of the proposed research is to determine whether gesture not only reflects thought but also plays a role in shaping it. The research has two aims.
Aim 1 : Does gesture play a role in the learning process? Gesture conveys information in a visuospatial format distinct from the verbal format of speech. It thus offers an alternative representation of """"""""to-be learned"""""""" information that may be particularly accessible to a child on the cusp of learning. To explore the effect that other peoples' gestures have on child learning, Studies 1-3 manipulate the gestures children receive during instruction and observe the effect of that manipulation on learning. Gesture also allows children to use a visuospatial format to convey information that they might not be ready to convey in a verbal format. Once represented in the system, this information could then catalyze change. To explore the role that the child's own gestures play in learning, Studies 4-6 manipulate the gestures that children produce and observe the effect on learning.
Aim 2 : What is the mechanism underlying gesture's role in learning? Gesturing while speaking has been found to reduce the speaker's cognitive burden and increase working memory. Since listeners with more working memory are good at excluding irrelevant material, gesturing while speaking might help children focus on relevant information and thus lead to better learning. To explore the effect that producing gesture has on working memory, Studies 7-9 manipulate the gestures that children produce when explaining a task and (using a dual-task paradigm) ask whether children expend less effort when gesturing while speaking that when not gesturing. To explore the effect that observing gesture has on working memory, Studies 10-12 manipulate the gestures that children see during someone else's explanation and (again using a dual-task paradigm) ask whether children expend less effort processing explanations that contain gesture than processing explanations that do not contain gesture. To achieve these two aims, children ages 6 to 10 years will participate in a math or conservation problem-solving task and their spoken and gestured responses will be videotaped and later analyzed. Gesture may prove to be a particularly effective tool to use in instructing or assessing children whose language is developing normally, as well as those who have difficulties producing and comprehending speech. ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Mccardle, Peggy D
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University of Chicago
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Wakefield, Elizabeth; Novack, Miriam A; Congdon, Eliza L et al. (2018) Gesture helps learners learn, but not merely by guiding their visual attention. Dev Sci 21:e12664
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