Monday, October 4, 2010

more on ecological approaches

Recently I have been reading a couple of articles by Charles Goodwin and here is another one I want to share, The Body in Action.
In this article Goodwin examines an interaction between an expert and a novice archaeologist during an excavation. In this article, Goodwin develops the idea of symbiotic gesture to refer to gestures-for-social-action that are accompanied by other modes of communication such as talk, and that are closely linked to materials in the environment. Goodwin writes, “The neglect of symbiotic gesture, despite its pervasiveness, might thus arise from the fact that while existing approaches to the study of gesture provide units of analysis that include psychology, distinctive culture (Kendon, 1995), bodies, and interaction of the participants, they do not encompass phenomena in the environment, such as the soil in example 1. In short, symbiotic gestures seem to slip beyond the traditional classifications of gesture in that they include not only movements of a speaker’s body, but also something outside the body: structure in the surround” (p. 24). If you think about how important pointing is, it is quite odd that the environment is neglected. Underlining the importance of investigating the interactions of different sign systems, Goodwin states that “This suggests the importance of not focusing analysis exclusively on the properties of individual sign systems, but instead investigating the organization of the ecology of sign systems which have evolved in conjunction with each other within primordial site for human action: multiple participants using talk to build action while attending to the distinctive properties of a relevant setting” (p. 36). I find Goodwin’s ecological approach very stimulating.

One article that looks at symbiotic gesture in second language learning is published by Eton Churchill, Takako Nishino, Hanako Okada, and Dwight Atkinson. The abstract is below. The article shows how a symbiotic gesture can facilitate language learning not only by helping the tutee remember but also by directing her attention, ultimately making grammar, the relationship between tense and adverbial, visible for the student. I have been reading about some ecological approaches like this one. I hope to share more of them with you soon.

This article argues for the embodied and environmentally embedded nature of second language acquisition (SLA). Through fine-grained analysis of interaction using Goodwin's (2003a) concept of symbiotic gesture—gesture coupled with its rich environmental context to produce complex social action—we illustrate how a tutor, learner, and grammar worksheet interact to create perceptible links across cognition, social action, and the material world in studying English grammar. We begin by summarizing what we mean by a sociocognitive approach to SLA. We then describe the mundane-looking grammar worksheet as a complex sociocognitive resource that enables tutor–learner interaction. Next, we provide an extended description of the tutor's repeated use of a symbiotic gesture to make her perception of the grammar instantiated in the worksheet publicly available to the learner. We conclude by arguing that SLA involves the dynamic, interactive alignment of learners, teachers, and their ever-changing environments, suggesting that symbiotic gesture is but one example of humanly improvised resources guiding ecosocial alignment and participation in SLA.

Churchill, E., Okada, H., Nishino, T., & Atkinson, D. (2010). Symbiotic gesture and the sociocognitive visibility of grammar in second language acquisition. Modern Language Journal, 94, 2, 234-253.

Goodwin, C. (2003). The body in action. In J. Coupland & R. Gwin (Eds.). Discourse, the body, and identity (pp. 19-42). New York: Palgrave-MacMillan.

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