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Embodied meaning making: A case study investigating the use of gesture in the responses of year 1 children to a wordless picturebook

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Hulston, Samantha Jayne 


This research paper explores how embodied communication modes affect the dialogic meaning making of year 1 children when responding to wordless picturebooks. Through observing the paired interactions of children, it appears that children are able to use gesture to navigate between intra-dialogic and inter-dialogic meaning making. A review of the literature identifies talk as a key strategy for meaning making (Mercer, 1994; Alexander, 2011). However, the theory of multimodality is used to support the claim that attention should be paid to how children use embodied modes, specifically gesture, as part of meaning making. It is suggested that this is of significance to year 1 children as they have recently experienced the Early Years Foundation Stage, which supports the use of multimodal resources and responses. Methodologically, this research paper is rooted in qualitative, naturalistic inquiry. This approach was selected for its ability to allow for ‘thick description’ of complex interactions (Geertz, 1993). The research design involved a small-scale, theory-seeking case study that used unstructured video observations. This resulted in multimodal data. Inductive coding, influenced by constructivist grounded theory, was applied to the gestural content of the data. These codes were then grouped into themes that suggested how children used embodied modes to manage space, identify narrative entities, make connections across those entities and to imagine beyond what is immediately present in a visual text. The latter two themes involve creative ‘possibility thinking’ (Craft, 2000). The prominence of creative ‘possibility thinking’ makes a case for recognising the value of embodied modes as part of meaning making for year 1 children. However, it is recognised that the research presented is preliminary and the field of embodied meaning making in primary schools deserves further research.



EYFS, Dialogic meaning making, Multimodality, Wordless picturebooks

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Cambridge Open-Review Educational Research e-Journal (CORERJ)

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Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

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