WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Thinking with Your Hands by Susan Goldin-Meadow

I found this book absolutely fascinating. While I’ve read a lot about body language, this book is about something distinct and different. It is about the hand signals that we use in conjunction with speech, and how they can communicate and sometimes change what a person is thinking (both the person gesturing and the person observing it).

The author is a developmental psychologist and has conducted extensive research with deaf children, both those who have been taught sign language, and those who have not been exposed to it and who have developed their own homesigning system of communicating. While much of the book is about children, there is also a great deal of content about adults, particularly in the first part.

Some things I found particularly fascinating were:

• Ideas that you don’t want to express in speech, or that you generally don’t want to focus on will often appear in your hands.
• Gesture’s power to influence may come from its subtlety. We often pick up information from gesture without realising it.
• Expressing knowledge with your hands can help you develop, extend, and retain what you know.
• Gesture allows you to see the ideas that learners are working on before those ideas appear in their speech. Early insight into those ideas gives you the opportunity to foster those ideas, tailoring your instruction to the learner in front of you.
• A person’s gestures can cue us that they are ready to change.
• Gesturing can help you take different perspectives.

I can’t wait to apply some of these ideas with my students and coaching clients.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who communicates as a parent, a coach, a trainer of adults or a teacher of children. Being aware of the importance of gesture is also incredibly useful for those working with people in conflict, as you can see from some of the points I raised above.

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