This study adopts a transdisciplinary approach to gesture research to understand how meanings of teachers’ and pupils’ gestures are influenced by broader sociocultural influences and power relations and how the meanings produced in the classroom interact with second language (L2) pedagogies the study took into account pupil in primary schools in Abia state, pupils. Gestures were subject to disciplinary regulation (Foucault, 1979) that aimed at normalizing pupils’ specific academic behavior (Toohey, 2000) while the teachers’ gestures both conformed to and challenged normative practices as well as created collaborative power relations (Cummins, 2004). Finally, following the concept of performativity, the ESL (English as a Second Language) pedagogies displayed in each classroom were viewed as emergent products [or outcomes] of the teachers’ and pupils’ repeated transmodal acts of identity (Butler, 1999; Pennycook, 2004). Drawing on the above findings, in the final chapter of this dissertation, I discuss how gesture research may inform classroom pedagogy, research and teacher education in English Language Teaching.

1.1 Background of study
When pupils use hand gestures, it focuses everybody on them even if they are sitting. So, I think I use a lot of hand gestures and so, if I, if pupils are talking, I notice that people like Indian pupils tend to be more expressive with their hands than Chinese pupils. Chinese pupils lose their audience quicker probably because of the quality of the pronunciation, could be because of what they are saying, but I think when you use your hands people look at you. People are drawn to movement. In my foundations class most [of them are] Chinese pupils, three Indian pupils, and generally speaking, the Indian pupils speak clearer. You know they’ve an accent, but they are more comprehensible than lot of the Chinese pupils. Chinese rarely use hand gestures. Their hands rarely come above the desk whereas the Indians are always, if I remember how they talk, they are always moving.

(Teacher 2, Teacher Focus Group Interview, 2015-03-14) Researchers from a range of fields have offered multiple interpretations and theorizations of gesture over the past decades. Its entrance into applied linguistics, however, is very recent and still under-researched. The importance of gestures has been recognized by linguists in various ways: one line of research conceptualizes gestures as integral to a speaker’s total expressions in which speech and gestures are inseparable, while others believe that gestures facilitate speech in interaction (Kendon, 2004). Gesture research in (applied)linguistics demonstrates that gestures have both cognitive and communicative functions in language learning contexts (Gullberg & McCafferty, 2008; Kendon, 2004; Stam & McCafferty, 2008). A growing body of studies on gestures, and non-verbal communication in general, focuses on the powerful impact of gestures and other embodied expressions on classroom environments (Bourne & Jewitt, 2003; Kress et al., 2005; Saavedra & Marx, 2016; Toohey, 2000; Quinlisk, 2008). The above quotes in the beginning of this chapter have been extracted from the nursery school teachers in Abia state’ interview excerpts in this study. The excerpts suggest how teachers often interpret their own and pupils’ body language based on conventional ideas about teaching/learning and cultural biases that may have direct influences on classroom management. In the first excerpt, for example, the nursery school teachers in Abia state were referring to a teacher’s ideal body language that should encourage her pupils to be engaged in interaction. The participants’ beliefs about language learning and instruction reflect the popular view of learner-centred approaches to second language learning (L2) which often emphasize fluency over accuracy and language comprehension and production over teaching of linguistic rules (Spada, 2007). Hence, they believe that L2 teachers’ body language should accommodate learning and instruction in a specific way in the classroom. In the second excerpt, on the other hand, a teacher participant compared gestures of pupils from two different national cultures. She emphasized how pupils’ gestures may have direct influences on the comprehensibility of their language production. Perceptions as such are also evident in research on gestures that suggest how East Asian pupils with limited gestures are often perceived as less communicatively competent despite having better verbal performance than other pupils (Stam & McCafferty, 2008).

Apart from the above issues, gestures also have potential to express emotions, impressions and power relationships beyond semantic and pragmatic functions. Non-verbal studies in social psychology point to how gestures and postures often reflect the ways in which people relate to each other in terms of power relations that demonstrate dominance and subordination (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010). Gesture, whether intentional or not, always sends messages that are interpreted by the audience, which is why meanings of gestures are often “co-constructed through intention and interpretation of senders and receivers” (Quinlisk, 2008, p. 25). Hence, how the complex meanings of gestures are interpreted and negotiated by teachers and pupils in the classroom are underreported in applied linguistics research. This limitation in gesture studies provides a rationale for this research study, in which I aim to explore multiple meanings of gestures in five ESL classrooms in Central Canada. I specifically focus on teachers’ and pupils’ gestures and their effects on the classroom pedagogy. In this chapter, I will briefly discuss the ongoing developments in gesture research, the limitations in current gesture research, and the purpose of this study. I will also provide definitions of important terminology used in this study. For documentation, the 6th edition of APA (American Psychological Association) has been followed, and italics have been used to emphasize important terms and concepts throughout the dissertation.

Gesture Studies – An Emerging Field of Research
Gesture is generally considered as a part of nonverbal communication even though it has become an independent area of research since the mid-twentieth century. Stam and McCafferty (2008) provide a brief history of gesture research in the introduction to their edited book Gesture: Second Language Acquisition and Classroom Research. As suggested by the authors, gesture research started taking a systematic approach in the mid-twentieth century following the work of Efron and Birdwhistell. Around that time, gestures were investigated mostly within research on cross-cultural differences in body movements. Later, in the 1970s, the theoretical framework that modern gesture research is based on started emerging based on Adam Kendon and David McNeill’s work on gesture-speech relationships. McNeill’s (1992) research is noteworthy because he proposed a specific theoretical perspective in which gesture and speech are integral parts of the same thought processes “that have been connected within” (p. 33). His hypothesis emerged from his observation of gesture as a translator of his speech.

Early studies on gestures focused on acquisition of specific types of gestures by L2 learners possibly because L2 learners’ use of gestures during L2 production often influences native speakers’ perceptions of their overall L2 proficiency. Research suggests that L2 learners who lack gestures and facial expressions may be assessed as less communicatively competent in L2 contexts (Neu, 1990). Some early studies, as discussed in Stam and McCafferty (2008), thus, focused on how L2 learners showed better comprehension and reproduction of L1 gestures when they were exposed to the L2 in naturalistic contexts. Following this, more recent studies show that L2 learners often imitate and reproduce their teachers’ gestures (Haught & McCafferty, 2008; McCafferty, 2004; Smotrova, 2017), so the role of gestures in the L2 context gets more attention. Some researchers also propose that learners should be taught L2 gestures as there is evidence that this may help them improve learning such as developing vocabulary in L2 (Stam & McCafferty, 2008).

Current studies on gestures focus on the multiple roles and functions gestures play in the classroom, especially within SLA contexts. The role of gestures in understanding power relationships has been investigated in non-verbal communication research. Quinlisk (2008), for instance, discusses how teachers’ non-verbal behaviour emits signs of positive and coercive power, which may make pupils empowered or reluctant to participate in classroom activities. According to other studies, gestures have multiple functions in interaction, including the use of gestures to add information, to retrieve lexical items, to facilitate turn-taking in conversation, and to organize special information and thoughts in the process of communication (Stam & McCafferty, 2008).

1.2 Statement of problem
This study complements and extends the growing interests in interdisciplinary studies within applied linguistics [see Swain & Deters, 2007]. Firth and Wagner (1997) called for initiatives in linguistics, more specifically, SLA research that views the learner more holistically as active agents within the language learning context because, as Ehrman and Dornyei (1998) suggest, language learning is directly influenced by the learners’ own perspectives to and construction of the interaction as a whole. Acknowledging the importance of the interdisciplinary expansion in SLA research, the Douglas Fir Group (2016) has proposed a framework for understanding and advancing transdisciplinarity in SLA: “a framework as problem-oriented, rising above disciplines and particular strands within them with their oftentimes strong theoretical allegiances. It treats disciplinary perspectives as valid and distinct but in dialogue with one another in order to address real-world issues” (p. 20). Such a “dialogue across paradigms” (Varghese, Morgan, Johnston & Johnson, 2005, p. 24) has been identified as crucial to look at the learners more holistically. Varghese, Morgan, Johnston and Johnson (2005) also call for an action “to juxtapose alternative theoretical approaches to see how different underlying assumptions alter our perception both of what is interesting and of what the research reveals to us” (p. 24). Researchers like Pennycook (2004), in fact, projected the view that language studies across diverse contexts would benefit from transdisciplinary knowledge including theories from “cultural studies, philosophy, literary theory, postcolonial studies, sociology, history, gender studies, and more” (p. 2). A growing body of applied linguistics research, as discussed in Swain and Deters (2007), shows how transdisciplinary knowledge, encompassing poststructural theories, situated learning and sociocultural theory, for example, has strengthened SLA studies by providing valuable perspectives to applied linguistics research. Therefore, restricting gesture research within specific theoretical boundaries of applied linguistics also will limit the understanding of the diverse meanings of gestures in the classroom.

Although a growing trend to use alternative approaches is observed in studies on L2 learning in general (Duff, 1995; Miller, 2012; Norton, 2000; Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000; Pennycook, 2004; Swain & Deters, 2007; Varghese, Morgan, Johnston & Johnson, 2005), research on gesture has not received adequate attention within these trends. To that end, in this study, I incorporate multi-theoretical approaches such as the sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), multimodality in communication and learning (Jewitt, 2009; Kress, 2010), embodied actions as shaped by discursive knowledge (Foucault, 1979; Kubota, 1999; Luke, 1992; Ramanathan, 2010; Saavedra & Marx, 2016; Toohey, 2000) and the concept of performativity (Butler, 1999; Miller, 2012; Pennycook, 2004) to understand multiple meanings of gestures in ESL classrooms; the theoretical framework is discussed in greater detail in chapter 2. In the following sections of this chapter, I present the purpose of this study while laying out an overview of how gesture is defined and understood in linguistics/educational studies. I will incorporate only relevant descriptions that will help readers understand the concepts used in this study.

1.3 Purpose of this Study
The purpose of this study is to explore meanings of teachers’ and pupils’ gestures and their relationships to classroom pedagogy, learning and instruction in adult ESL classrooms. The purpose of the study is to investigate the teachers and their pupils’ gestures in the classrooms from different theoretical perspectives.

1.5. Research Questions
The specific research questions this study seeks to answer are:

1) How do the participants understand and negotiate the meanings of their gestures?

2) What meanings do the participants’ gestures produce in the classroom in relation to L2 classroom pedagogies?

3) How might this study on gesture contribute to classroom pedagogy, research and teacher education in English Language Teaching (ELT)?

1.8. Important Definition of Terminology
In this section, I present definitions of gestures and some other important concepts used in this dissertation.

1.8.1. What is gesture? Kendon (2004) describes gestures as visible actions that are deliberately produced for the purpose of communication.

1.8.2. Structure and classification of gesture. There are different components or phases of gestures, and together, the phases make up a whole gesture or a gesture phrase (McNeill, 1992; Stam & McCafferty, 2008). The main phase in a gesture phrase expresses the meaning and is completely synchronized with speech.
1.9. Organization of this Dissertation In chapter 2, I present the theoretical framework used in this study. I specifically review research literature on how the body and its activities, including what’s commonly known as gestures, are investigated from some theoretical perspectives within applied linguistics and educational research. Chapter 3 provides a detailed discussion of the methodology adopted in this study. Next, in chapter 4, I present specific data excerpts from this study with their analyses based on each theoretical concept to demonstrate how meanings of gestures may be interpreted within each theoretical construct. Finally, chapter 5 presents a discussion on the findings providing implications for teacher education and research.

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Item Type: Project Material  |  Size: 50 pages  |  Chapters: 1-5
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