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Developmental Science - Early View Articles, Pages ${blockparams.parentJournalIssue.pageRange}

Number gestures predict learning of number words

Abstract When asked to explain their solutions to a problem, children often gesture and, at times, these gestures convey information that is different from the information conveyed in speech. Children who produce these gesture‐speech “mismatches” on a particular task have been found to profit from instruction on that task. We have recently found that some children produce gesture‐speech mismatches when identifying numbers at the cusp of their knowledge, for example, a child incorrectly labels a set of two objects with the word “three” and simultaneously holds up two fingers. These mismatches differ from previously studied mismatches (where the information conveyed in gesture has the potential to be integrated with the information conveyed in speech) in that the gestured response contradicts the spoken response. Here, we ask whether these contradictory number mismatches predict which learners will profit from number‐word instruction. We used the Give‐a‐Number task to measure number knowledge in 47 children (Mage = 4.1 years, SD = 0.58), and used the What's on this Card task to assess whether children produced gesture‐speech mismatches above their knower level. Children who were early in their number learning trajectories (“one‐knowers” and “two‐knowers”) were then randomly assigned, within knower level, to one of two training conditions: a Counting condition in which children practiced counting objects; or an Enriched Number Talk condition containing counting, labeling set sizes, spatial alignment of neighboring sets, and comparison of these sets. Controlling for counting ability, we found that children were more likely to learn the meaning of new number words in the Enriched Number Talk condition than in the Counting condition, but only if they had produced gesture‐speech mismatches at pretest. The findings suggest that numerical gesture‐speech mismatches are a reliable signal that a child is ready to profit from rich number instruction and provide evidence, for the first time, that cardinal number gestures have a role to play in number‐learning.

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