Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 77, Issue 2–3, pp 157–174 | Cite as

The role of gestures in the mathematical practices of those who do not see with their eyes

  • Lulu Healy
  • Solange Hassan Ahmad Ali Fernandes


In this paper, we aim to contribute to the discussion of the role of the human body and of the concrete artefacts and signs created by humankind in the constitution of meanings for mathematical practices. We argue that cognition is both embodied and situated in the activities through which it occurs and that mathematics learning involves the appropriation of practices associated with the sets of artefacts that have historically come to represent the body of knowledge we call mathematics. This process of appropriation involves a coordination of a variety of the semiotic resources—spoken and written languages, mathematical representation systems, drawings, gestures and the like—through which mathematical objects and relationships might be experienced and expressed. To highlight the connections between perceptual activities and cultural concepts in the meanings associated with this process, we concentrate on learners who do not have access to the visual field. More specifically, we present three examples of gesture use in the practices of blind mathematics students—all involving the exploration of geometrical objects and relationships. On the basis of our analysis of these examples, we argue that gestures are illustrative of imagined reenactions of previously experienced activities and that they emerge in instructional situations as embodied abstractions, serving a central role in the sense-making practices associated with the appropriation of mathematical meanings.


Gestures Blind mathematics learners Mediation Abstraction Embodied cognition 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lulu Healy
    • 1
  • Solange Hassan Ahmad Ali Fernandes
    • 1
  1. 1.Post-Graduate Programme in Mathematics EducationBandeirante University of São PauloSão PauloBrazil

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