Teaching Mathematics to English Learners: The Interplay Between Gestures and Discourse in Explaining Mathematical Concepts

Teaching Mathematics to English Learners: The Interplay Between Gestures and Discourse in Explaining Mathematical Concepts

Khanh Nguyen Bui (The University of Georgia, USA) and Ruth Harman (The University of Georgia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9348-5.ch002


Recently, teachers in the United States are encountering an influx of multilingual immigrant students. The linguistic diversity can be challenging for teachers who need to think about how to foster language and disciplinary knowledge awareness in meaningful ways. Multimodal instruction (i.e., use of gesture, drawing, and movement) can serve to support conceptual understanding of emergent bilingual students in disciplinary areas such as mathematics or science. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate the interplay between gestures and mathematical concepts. This study takes place in a ninth grade ESOL Coordinate Algebra Classroom. Using systemic functional multimodal discourse analysis, the researchers analyze the teacher's gestures through a corpus of three video recorded lessons. The results show that the teacher's gestures endowed with meanings and mathematical concepts can enhance students' understandings. These findings can contribute to recent research on multimodal pedagogic practices among teachers with multilingual and multicultural students.
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Informed by functional linguists, language is not the only resource used in making meaning, but there are other resources e.g., visual displays, or graphs which teachers may use to construct meaning to learners (Kress, 2003). According to Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), to help make meaning in the classroom, full repertoire of meaning-making resources (e.g., action, visual, spoken, gestural, written, three-dimensional, and others, depending on the domain of representation) should be used in different contexts. This approach can help learners use other semiotic resources besides language to articulate their understandings.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Presenting Action: A spontaneous gesture which does not carry representational meaning (e.g., picking up a pen).

Multimodal Semiotic Pedagogy: The application of multiple meaning making resources in teaching.

Indexical Action: A gesture used with speech (e.g., pointing gesture used with the word this ).

Systemic Functional Multimodal Discourse Analysis: The methodological tool of analyzing other semiotic resources (e.g., image, gestures) rather than language. It includes three metafunctions: ideational meaning, interpersonal meaning, and textual meaning.

Semiotic Resources: Means of making meaning (e.g., gestures, visual displays, pictures).

Interpersonal Meaning: Indicates the relationship between semiotic resources and participants.

Textual Meaning: Indicates the cohesion of semiotic resources in a text.

Representational Action: A gesture that carries a representation of an object (e.g., showing one index finger to articulate number 1).

Ideational Meaning: Indicates the representational meaning of semiotic resources.

Conceptual Blending: Using similarity between human’s body and mathematical concepts to construct meaning.

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