Contemplating my dissertation

I can’t believe it’s only been a little over a year since I started my doctorate program. In April, I will take my comprehensive exams, and in July, I start the dissertation process which should take a year’s time.

When I started my doctorate program, I was set on a research study that involved massage and critical thinking skills. My thinking was a bit skewed, but I had hoped to look at whether kinesthetic learners could improve their critical thinking skills by receiving massage. After much contemplation and input from friends such as Shelly Loewen, I came to the realization that these kinesthetic learners would be receiving a kinesthetic activity (massage), and if anything, I could measure how the massage practitioners may benefit from performing the activity. This is not to say that learners wouldn’t benefit, but it might be more related to the fact that their stress levels are reduced and have no tie to their learning style, whatsoever.

In October, I reconnected with a friend I with whom I went to college.
Claire Vallotton has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health for her work with infant language. As we talked, she impressed upon me the connection of actions and language. As my initial passions were tied to language learning, she had me well engaged. At her suggestion, I changed my research idea all together, departing from massage but not from cognition. I now wanted to look at how actions, or rather iconic gestures, are tied to language learning.

Also, in October, I was enrolled in advanced research methods. This course helped me to solidify my ideas to the point that I felt confident in a bare-bones proposal:

One area that is receiving much attention in the field of educational psychology is learning strategies. This term encompasses learning styles and multiple intelligences. It is particularly of importance to the area of second language acquisition as researchers seek to better understand how a second language is learned, and in the United States, to best assist those students whose first language is not English.

One such learning strategy could be iconic gestures. Iconic gestures are defined by Pika, Nicoladis, and Marentette (2006) as those “which are related to their referent by virture of some actual physical resemblance between the two, for instance, drawing a circle in the air to signal the sun” (p. 320). Donovan, McDevitt, and Kelly (2006) performed a study to look at whether iconic gestures aided in the semantic learning of Japanese. Within their study, they observed whether movement in general (termed mismatched gestures), iconic gestures (matched gestures), speech, or repeated speech had the the most positive relationship with written recall of the foreign language. They discovered in their short term study that foreign language learning was aided with the instruction via iconic gestures. There were some limitations to their study, however. Donovan, McDevitt, and Kelly (2006) reported only “twenty-seven adults” as participants taking part in “a 30-minute instructional session on 12 novel Japanese verbs”. Further Kelly, McDevitt, and Esch (2007) reported that recall was measured through writing the English translation for each spoken Japanese word (p. 9). While this study does appear to indicate that instruction with iconic gestures is helpful, there is no indication that the students used gestures as a learning strategy for recall.

As gestures have been shown to be tied to spoken language (Pika, Nicoladis, and Marentette, 2006), it may be useful to observe whether there is a relationship between iconic gestures and second language learning when considering for learning styles and strategies.

The proposed study would involve fifty adults who have previously taken the TIPP™ learning styles and temperaments assessment. The TIPP™ Learning Styles assessment has been normed for “ adult men and women, ages 18-72, with face validity results of 98.9%” (Adams, 2001). After obtaining consent to access the results of the assessment for the individuals, they will be randomly assigned to two groups, making sure that there is an equal number of kinesthetic, auditory, and visual students in each group. One group will be taught vocabulary from either the Japanese or Chinese language through auditory and visual instruction. The second group will be taught the same words using iconic gestures. The instruction will take place over two weeks. It is not known at this time how many words will be taught. Nor is it known the exact details of the instruction. At the end of the instruction, the participants will be tested for recall immediately and then after a delay of one week and then two weeks to determine retention. Students will be asked for the English translation verbally and/or the iconic gesture for the learned vocabulary. Data will be gathered from each individual on how many gestures, words, and words plus gestures were made in response to the foreign word.

Two repeated measures ANOVA’s will be calculated with the results of this study. The first will determine if and what kind of relationship exists between the ability to recall and the use of iconic gestures. A second will include the participant’s learning style as a covariate. The hypothesis is that, in general, the facilitation of iconic gestures has a positive relationship with semantic language learning. A second hypothesis is that the facilitation of iconic gestures has a positive relationship with semantic language learning by those learners who have kinesthetic learning strengths.

Adams, W. (2001). TIPP™ Assessment: Scale and sub-scale blind-test retest reliability study. George Fox University, Portland, OR.

Donovan, K., McDevitt, T., & Kelly, S. D. (May, 2006). Iconic gestures help children and adults learn and remember foreign verbs. Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) conference, New York, New York.

Kelly, S. D., McDevitt, T., & Esch, M. (2007). Brief training with iconic gestures lends a hand to word learning in a foreign language. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Pika, S., Nicoladis, E., & Marentette, P. F. (2006). A cross-cultural study on the use of gestures: Evidence for cross-linguistic transfer. Bilingualism: Language and cognition, 9(3), 319-327.


About debhalasz

I am a free-lance writer, skilled in writing press-releases, profiles, web copy, articles, and album reviews. I also am a skilled researcher in all areas. I have a MS degree in Educational Pscyhology and am currently in the dissertation phase of my PhD program. My passions are second language learning, learning strategies, music, musicology, neuroscience, and neuroeducation. I am a fan of all genres of music and love learning more about both indie and major-labeled artists as well as the behind-the-scenes people who make them look so good! View all posts by debhalasz

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