Teachers’ gestures and students’ learning: sometimes “hands off” is better

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During mathematics instruction, teachers often make links between different representations of mathematical information, and they sometimes use gestures to refer to the representations that they link. In this research, we investigated the role of such gestures in students’ learning from lessons about links between linear equations and corresponding graphs. Eighty-two middle-school students completed a pretest, viewed a video lesson, and then completed a posttest comparable to the pretest. In all of the video lessons, the teacher explained the links between equations and graphs in speech. The lessons varied in whether the teacher referred to the equations in gesture and in whether she referred to the graphs in gesture, yielding four conditions: neither equations nor graphs, equations only, graphs only, and both equations and graphs. In all conditions, the gestures were redundant with speech, in the sense that the referents of the gestures were also mentioned in speech (e.g., pointing to “2” while saying “2”). Students showed substantial learning in all conditions. However, students learned less when the teacher referred to the equations in gesture than when she did not. This was not the case for gesture to graphs. These findings are discussed in terms of the processing implications of redundancy between gesture and speech, and the possibility of “trade-offs” in attention to the visual representations. The findings underscore the need for a more nuanced view of the role of teachers’ gestures in students’ comprehension and learning.



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Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications

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