Academic Commons

Theses Doctoral

Grouping Gestures Promote Children's Effective Counting Strategies by Adding a Layer of Meaning Through Action

Jamalian, Azadeh

Preschoolers can often rattle off a long sequence of numbers in order, but have problems in reporting the exact number of objects even in a small set, and have trouble in comparing numerical relation of two sets that differ by exactly 1 item. The present study showed that representing and highlighting sets by showing a circular, enclosed diagram around them with or without a grouping gesture helps children to enhance their understanding of cardinality and to improve their overall math competence. Nighty-three preschool students, ages ranging from 3years-10 months to 4 years-9months (M= 51.82 months, SD= 3.56 months), from three public schools in Harlem, New York participated in this study. Children from each school were ranked based on their pre-test score on the Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA-3), and were then assigned randomly to one of the three math comparison groups or the reading control group. Children in diagram-plus-gesture math group, were asked to draw a bubble by making a grouping gesture around each of the two sets on a touch screen device, indicate the number of fish in each bubble, and judge whether there were the same number of fish in each bubble, and in case the number was not the same, indicate which set had more fish. Children in the diagram only condition simply saw bubbles around sets without the need to do a grouping gesture around them. Children in the no diagram- no gesture condition neither saw a bubble nor did a grouping gesture. All participants played on the software for 4 sessions within a two-week time period and the data were examined microgenetically. Results showed that all children in the math comparison groups improved in their math scores during the game-play and improved in their overall math competence from pre- to post-test, unlike the children in the reading control group. More importantly, children who saw the circular diagram (bubbles) around sets with or without the grouping gesture outperformed children who never saw bubbles nor made a grouping gesture in their accuracy, understanding of cardinality, and overall math competence from pre to post. Further, children with lower executive functioning skills benefitted from performing the grouping gesture in addition to seeing the circular diagram. Gestures can have the same form as diagrams, and hence, they may carry information that is redundant with diagrams. Such redundancy reinforces the message by presenting information in two modalities-- a redundancy that may not be necessary for some, but beneficial to others (i.e. children with low executive functioning skills). Finally, over the course of game-play children who did the grouping gesture never counted the two sets together as one set when asked to compare their numerical relation-- a mistake many preschoolers make; children in the other groups made that mistake occasionally. Because gestures are actions and dynamic by nature, they appear to be especially suited for changing actions and promoting early counting skills.


  • thumnail for Jamalian_columbia_0054D_12158.pdf Jamalian_columbia_0054D_12158.pdf binary/octet-stream 4.34 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Tversky, Barbara
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014