Children are more likely to get a concept if they go through the trouble of explaining what they think. Self-explanation also forces children to wrestle with the underlying concepts, making them discover connections we might otherwise overlook.
Children are likely to attempt explanations when they encounter new information that doesn’t jibe with their prior beliefs. Inconsistent outcomes prompt children to think about possible, hidden causes and unseen mechanisms. The explanations they generate then inspire them to actively test their hypotheses.
Conventional educators believe that explaining is valuable because it makes children aware of what they don’t yet understand. But, research shows that when teachers provide children with high-quality, concept-driven instructions in mathematics and science, children receive no added benefits from self-explanation. They found out self-explanation to be less helpful when children are already well-informed about the concepts.
On the flip side, self-explanation might fail if children possess too little information. It isn’t realistic to expect children to rediscover major mathematical or science concepts on their own. The key here is to provide children with the right support and help them make connections.
Benware CA and Deci EL. 1984. Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal.
DeCaro MS, Rittle-Johnson B. 2012. Exploring mathematics problems prepares children to learn from instruction. J Exp Child Psychol.