Church Profile Pic
Ruth (Breckie)
Professor Emeritus
College of Arts and Sciences
Gesture, cognition and learning
Courses Taught
Senior seminar: Special topics
Child Psychology
Adolescent Psychology
History of psychology
General Psychology
Child Development Research Lab
Research Interests
The role of gesture production and comprehension in language, thinking, learning and communication

PhD The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

BA Coe College, Cedar rapids, IA

Selected Publications

Church, R.B. (2012). 

    It’s Not Just about Drawing and Language …It’s Really about Reconceptualizing the Roles of Nature and Nurture: Commentary on Cohn. Human Development: 199–204.

Alibali, M.A., Nathan, M.J., Wolfgram, M.S., Kim, S., Church, R. B. and Knuth, E.(2013).

    Teachers’ gesture and speech in early algebra lessons: Forging common ground and resolving trouble spots.  ZDM Journal of Education: Special Issue on "Classroom-based interventions in mathematics education.”

Alibali, M.W., Nathan, M.J., Wolfgram, M.S., Church, R.B., Jacobs, S.A., Johnson, C.V.,Knuth, E.J. (2013). 

    How Teachers Link Representations in Mathematics Instruction Using Speech and Gesture: A Corpus Analysis. Cognition and Instruction.

Church, R.B., Kelly, S.D. and Holcomb, D. (2013). 

    Temporal Synchrony between Speech, Action and Gesture during Language Production. Language and Cognitive Processes.

Alibali, M.W., Young, A.G., Crooks, N., Yeo, A., Wolfgram, M.S., Nathan, M., Church,R.B., Knuth, E. (2013). 

    Students Learn More when their Teacher has Learned to Gesture Effectively. Gesture.

Carlson, C., Church, R.B., Perry, M. and Jacobs, S. (2014). 

    The Effect of  Gestured Instruction on the Learning of Physical Causality Problems. Submitted to Gesture.

Alibali, M., Church, R.B., Kita, S. and Hotstetter, A. (In Press).

    Embodied  Knowledge in the development of conservation of quantity: Evidence from gesture. Chapter to appear in International Perspectives on Mathematics  Education – Cognition, Equity &Society, Information Age Press

Church, R.B., Kelly, S.D., Wakefield, E. (In Press).

    Measuring gesture. APA Handbook of Nonverbal Communication. Matsumoto, D. Hwang, H.C., and Frank, M.G. (Eds). APA Press. 


Teaching. Dr. Church has been teaching courses every semester in child and adolescent development, childhood psychopathology, research methods in child development and senior seminars in child development.  Dr. Church has mentored many students during her time at Northeastern including non-traditional degree students and McNair scholars with as many as 60 matriculating to graduate programs. These students publish papers, present at national conferences and attend premier graduate schools. She spearheaded, organized and trained faculty to conduct the “Capstone Research Project” requirement for Psychology majors as a way to ensure that the practice of carrying out an above standard research project would be experienced by every Psychology major. This newly created activity has resulted in nearly 1/3 of Psychology majors in the past 2 years being accepted to premier graduate programs related to mental health.

Research program. Dr. Church has also maintained an active research program studying mechanisms of normal cognitive development. Her research has bearing on what types of factors can disrupt normal cognitive development. Dr. Church examines the role of non-verbal behavior as an index of cognitive transition and instability in mathematical and science understanding. In addition, her research examines the role of nonverbal communication as input that influences the child’s cognitive changes with respect to a variety of mathematical and science concepts across the life span. She has created a very healthy network with colleagues from the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, Carnegie Mellon, University of Illinois, to name a few, in the field of development and cognition that has resulted in a number of symposium presentations at national conferences such as Society for research in Child Development, Jean Piaget Society and Cognitive Development Society. She has published in a number of highly respected journals such as Child Development, Cognitive Development, Cognition, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Journal of Cognition and Instruction, Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Her primary focus has been to include undergraduate minority students in her research programs in an effort to promote their entrance into fields that have traditionally underrepresented minorities.

Administration. Dr. R.B. Church (Psychology) will serve as the Program Co-principal Investigator with Dr. David Rutschman (Mathematics) and Emina Stojkovitch (Biology).  Dr. Church is a faculty member at Northeastern Illinois University, which serves an extremely diverse student population comprised largely of minorities and first generation college students, and is a Hispanic Serving institution. She has been an active faculty member in the Department of Psychology since 1990. She received tenure and has been promoted to full professor. Dr. Church has demonstrated continued commitment to the development and implementation of programs that address the needs of underrepresented minorities throughout her academic career. She has been very active in a number of University committees that focused on academic curriculum, student life and University academic assessment. She is currently on the Non-traditional Degree advisory committee, the steering committee of the General Education task Force and on the advisory committee for the Student Center of Scientific Engagement. She also served as a faculty mentor for the Title I grant designed to address the academic needs of Hispanic students. In addition, she has been a PI for a CDC funded grant that implemented and examined the effects of high risk behavior interventions for children of one of the most impoverished housing projects in Chicago and a PI for a number of Spencer Foundation Small grants evaluating the effects of math instruction in middle school-aged children in both public and private schools in the city of Chicago. She has also conducted seminars in “The Development of Talent” at a largely minority public high school in Chicago as part of her commitment to begin reaching out to underrepresented youth early in their academic careers. For the past 6 years, she has been a Co-PI on two grants (IES and NSF) that examine the role of gesture in mathematics education. She is also a representative to the Illinois Partners for Diversity, a consortium of administrative leaders and distinguished faculty from six institutions of higher education in Illinois with the aim to enhance opportunities particularly for students of underrepresented backgrounds to enter graduate education in Illinois.

5500 North St. Louis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
United States

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