Gestures Can Enhance the Narrative Ability of Children with Learning Disabilities

By Xiao-lei Wang, Léandre Eberhard and Ronan Bernas.

Published by The International Journal of Literacies

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The purpose of this study is threefold: First, it examines the effects of adult hand gestures on the narration of children with learning disabilities. Second, it explores whether children model adult gestures in their story narration, and if so, what the long-term effect of adult gesture input is on children’s narrative production. Third, it investigates whether boys and girls are equally susceptible to adult gestural input. Forty 7-year-old children who have learning disabilities participated in the study. They were asked to retell a story after listening to it under two different reading conditions: without and with hand gestures. The results suggest that all children showed an immediate improvement in their narrative production when the story was read with hand gestures, as evidenced in their increase in idea units (both in speech and gesture), words (including types of words), gestures (including types of gestures), and recollection of details about the story. However, only the children who modeled the adult’s gestures, recast them into their narratives, and produced more speech-gesture mismatches retained the benefits of the adult gesture input 4 weeks later. In addition, boys benefited more from adult gesture input than girls. In light of this study, several teaching strategies are recommended.

Keywords: Hand Gestures, Narrative Ability, Learning Disabilities

The International Journal of Literacies, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp.1-23. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 805.122KB).

Dr. Xiao-lei Wang

Professor, School of Education, Pace University, Pleasantville, New York, USA

Xiao-lei Wang is a professor at Pace University in New York. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She is an interdisciplinary scholar, who has expertise in several fields such as child development (with multicultural focus), language acquisition (including multilingual acquisition), literacy development (including multiliteracy development), nonverbal communication, education (including early childhood education), and cross-cultural parenting styles. Her recent books, “Reading and writing in the multilingual family” and “Growing up with three languages: Birth to eleven” focus on the challenges of growing up multilingual.

Léandre Eberhard

High School Junior, Hendrick Hudson High School, Cortlandt Manor, NY, USA

Léandre Eberhard is a high-school junior. He is a simultaneous trilingual of English, French, and Chinese from birth and has acquired Spanish as his fourth competent language. Léandre is a member of the US National Honor Society as well as a member of the Hendrick Hudson High School Math Honor Society and the Future Business Leader Club. He tutors high school students math and chemistry twice a week after school. Since 10th grade, he has proofread research articles and books. Moreover, Léandre has been actively participating in the research projects regarding the effects of hand gestures on comprehension and production. He is also interested in exploring the benefits of peer tutoring on tutors and tutees and is in the process of collecting data for his next research project.

Ronan Bernas

Professor, Department of Psychology, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, USA

Ronan Bernas is a professor at the Department of Psychology of Eastern Illinois University. He grew up in the Philippines and moved to the United States for graduate school. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology (Committee on Human Development, now called the Department of Comparative Human Development) from The University of Chicago. He also received graduate training from the Committee on Research Methodology and Quantitative Psychology and was a research assistant at the Methodology Research Center of the National Opinion Research Center. His current areas of research are on mindfulness/mindful awareness, wisdom, the dialectical self, the Buddhist notion of no-self, and contributions of Buddhist philosophy to Western psychology and neuroscience.