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Hand Gestures Might Determine How Fast You Learn, According To Study

Hand Gestures Might Determine How Fast You Learn, According To Study

University of Chicago psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow has been fascinated by the mysterious effect of gesticulation on learning and memory. She seeks to identify why people who talk with their hands tend to learn faster and remember longer than others.

The Experiment

Initially, Goldin-Meadow studied deaf children of hearing parents, or what she calls “home signers.” These children were not schooled according to standardized sign language, but had crafted their own signed speech. Goldin-Meadow has gone on to focus on gesture and learning. Importantly, the gesturing Goldin-Meadow studies is not signing, but what she calls “co-speech gesture,” that is, hand movements combined with speech to communicate ideas.

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She and her colleagues at the Goldin-Meadow labaratory have observed that children are more likely to remember the name of objects when they point (a type of gesture) at them. This can be seen in the classroom, where the gestures children choose may indicate their readiness for learning.

Goldin-Meadow’s research has found that children may first show they understand, through gesticulation, before they can verbally communicate understanding. For example, a student may point to the correct answer for a math problem her teacher has written on the chalkboard, but verbalizes incorrectly, revealing a ‘mismatch’ in learning.

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How to make use of mismatches in learning

According to Goldin-Meadow, “mismatch is a transitional state, between one in which gesture and speech are both incorrect, and they match, and one in which gesture and speech are both correct, and they match.”

The student’s teacher could make this a powerful learning opportunity by making explicit the student’s understanding. She could lead her student through a co-speech gesture, pointing to, and correctly verbalizing the answer to solidify the new knowledge. Goldin-Meadow confirms that gestures are “part of the learning conversation.”

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Any difference between concrete gesture and abstract gesture?

Goldin-Meadow’s research also reveals gesturing to be discrete from action. It’s one thing, for instance, to point to an object (gesture) and another to move an object (action). The distinction seems to make all of the difference, according to one of her studies in which she and her colleagues set up three groups of students to get closer at learning strategies.

In the “action” group, students were instructed to physically move plastic numbers on a whiteboard. In the “concrete gesture” group, students were asked to mime that same movement, but without touching the numbers. Finally, Goldin-Meadow had students in the “abstract gesture” group, use their fingers to create a peace-sign to show that they wanted to add the numbers on the whiteboard.

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The findings show that students of both the concrete gesture and abstract gesture group showed better understanding on the follow-up questions where they were asked to solve problems based on their knowledge of the math principle covered in the study.

Goldin-Meadow explains that gesture, “allows a space for abstraction.” When the mind is freed up from having to adhere to the, “particulars of an item, of a  problem, a word, or an experience,” it can focus on processing new information.

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Though Goldin-Meadow has produced substantial provocative research, experts are still uncertain about the exact mechanisms at work when we combine gesticulation and speech. She postulates that gesturing serves to off-load some of the cognitive stress of learning, or the total mental energy a student uses to pick up novel information and commit it to working memory.

Featured photo credit: dooder / Freepik via freepik.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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