Mathematical Manipulatives and Gesture as Simulated Action: Observing Learning Through Gesture
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The importance of gesture to the gesturer themselves has been demonstrated in increasing lexical retrieval, spatial recall, and accuracy on visuospatial problem-solving (Chu & Kita, 2011; Stevanoni & Salmon, 2005; Goldin-Meadow, 2011). Specifically, perception and action have been linked in a theory called embodied cognition, which is the center of the Gesture As Simulated Action framework, or the GSA framework (Hostetter & Alibali, 2008). Embodied cognition represents the idea that the mind’s representations of abstract ideas are based on action and sensorimotor experience (Adams, 2010; Hostetter & Alibali, 2008). The GSA framework states that gesture is a result of embodied simulations of both action and perception, on which the gesturer’s thinking was originally based (Hostetter & Alibali, 2008). Physical action comes together with cognition and encoding of information to result in a representational gesture; encouraging action in representational learning could increase the efficiency of encoding information, as both physical and cognitive representations of concepts would ensure this. These representations become especially important when it comes to math learning. Conceptual math understanding is lacking in the U.S. (Liu, 2009). The current study proposes that math manipulatives, or physical representations of equations, are beneficial for conceptual learning, and the action involved in learning will activate mental simulations of the equations, which will be shown through gesturing. In this way, we believe that traces of children’s learning through manipulatives will be observable in their gesturing, and that the increased mental representations activated by use of the body will result in increased accuracy in problem-solving.
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