Off you go!
I’m sure some of us have had the teaching moments where we explain a concept and then say, “off you go!” Of course any passing by teacher will ask, “how did you know they understood?”. Of course, formative assessment comes in many different forms, especially with the hearing of ‘mini-plenaries’ in lessons. This may be the perfect opportunity to ask pupils to explain back what they have learnt. However, have we ever wondered the specific amount of time that is needed for it to actually enhance their learning? Lachner et al. (2020) explores this with their recent publication in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
What did they do?
The researchers recruited 99 university participants to take part in the first experiment and 132 university participants for the second experiment. The first experiment involved participants were informed that they were going to be learning about combustion engines and were instructed that they would engage in different learning activities.
The First Experiment
The participants completed a pre-test and then studied the
first text unit for 10 minutes (two groups: in-between explaining group and
retrieval and afterstudy group). After
this, the participants were required to indicate their invested mental effort
and provide a judgement of learning. Then,
students in a different group (retrieval and afterstudy explaining group)
engaged in the same procedure for the second text unit for 10 minutes.
So far, we have explained two different groups in
this first experiment: the in-between explaining and the retrieval and
afterstudy explaining group.
During this time, a first study group (the in-between
explaining group) first provided an explanation about the first text unit (15
minutes) and estimated how much effort they invested in explaining before
moving to the second text.
After completing the second text unit, participants in the
afterstudy explaining and retrieval practice condition engaged in explaining or
retrieval followed by effort and judgement of learning ratings.
Finally, all participants completed a conceptual knowledge
and transfer test. These tests allowed
the researchers to accurately measure their findings and draw conclusions.
The Second Experiment
The researchers used the same procedure as the first experiment but included an “in-between retrieval practice” condition. In addition to this, the participants in the retrieval practice groups recalled the learning material in written form.
What did they find?
In the second experiment, they found a cascaded trend which showed that in-between explaining significantly enhanced students’ conceptual learning compared to in-between retrieval practice and afterstudy explaining. In fact, the afterstudy retrieval practice showed the lowest test performance.
This demonstrates that explaining was more conducive to students’ learning as compared to written retrieval practice. This is suggested because, in the written study, participants were had lower social presence, reducing the effectiveness of the retrieval activity.
How does this help me in the classroom?
Although this is one study with limitations (detailed in their research paper), it suggests that in-between explaining activities can promote conceptual understanding. This could be through an open-ended question or peer-teaching approaches.
Here’s an example lesson structure to show this:
- Teacher-led introduction
- Modelled example with children
- Child explains to another child what they have learnt.
- Child-led activity.
- Stop – child explains to another child what they have learnt.
- Address misconceptions.
- Child-led activity.
- Stop – child explains to another child what they have learnt (check to see if they have addressed previous misconceptions).
- New teacher input (building on previous concept).
Lachner, A., Backfisch, I., Hoogerheide, V., V., & van Gog, T. (2020). Timing Matters! Explaining between study phases enhances students’ learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(4) 841-853. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000396
Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117–175. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s1532690xci0102_1
Plötzner, R., Dillenbourg, P., Preier, M., & Traum, D. (1999). Learning by explaining to oneself and to others. In P. Dillenbourg (Ed.), Collaborative learning: Cognitive and computational approaches (pp. 103–121). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
Roscoe, R. D. (2014). Self-monitoring and knowledge-building in learning by teaching. Instructional Science, 42, 327–351. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11251-013-9283-4