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Lending a Hand Makes Sense

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According to a Washington Post article, research shows that educators who use hand gestures while teaching are more likely to convey their ideas to their students. And, students who make hand movements while thinking about new ideas have a better chance of retaining information. Researchers today are looking beyond the dated perception that the brain functions like a computer, and instead exploring the pathways that link the body and mind—and their findings are influencing education.

Neurologists have determined that the segment of the brain responsible for speech is engaged when people are gesturing. They have also found that the part of the brain that controls hand movements is often active while people are working through math problems—providing a scientific rationale for counting on your fingers. Researcher Susan Wagner Cook, who is also exploring the link between gestures and learning, has conducted a field study that supports the neurologists' findings. Her students have successfully learned to balance equations by combining verbal cues with hand gestures.

The article includes a video of Cook demonstrating her method of teaching.

3 Comments

We use hand signals to teach in our class and it has been very successful.

i also heard that you can teach young children to sign (using the sign language words) for water, food etc before they can speak/ pronounce words.
i know for ESL students, esp. newcomers, we can use Total Physical Response to communicate.
this is another strategy for reaching our students

Yes, we learn and think best when we can involve our hands: I am sure that students who are allowed to physically interact with test questions by marking them up with underlining, circling, etc., do better than those who have to passively stare at the question and are only allowed the hand movement of bubbling in a circle.
This creates two serious problems: Given the fact that some school systems allow students to mark on tests and others don't, the test administration conditions are not the same and results not comparable. More important, students are often prevented from showing their knowledge and skills by the frustrating marking-up prohibition.

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  • Angelika Pohl: Yes, we learn and think best when we can involve read more
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