Prompting students to justify their response while problem -solving: A nested, mixed -methods study
The relationship between the self-explanations students provide while solving problems or studying worked examples and their subsequent learning has been studied for some time within the realm of cognitive psychology; however, little research has been conducted examining the feasibility of implementing prompts for explanation or justification of problem-solving strategies or solutions in a large university classroom environment.
This study sought to extend the previous self-explanation studies and investigate the use of principle-based justification prompts with students completing applied economic problems. A pretest-posttest control group design with random assignment, together with qualitative data collection and analysis, was used to investigate whether justification prompts or scaffolded justification prompts could facilitate college students' learning and transfer in applied economics problems. It was assumed that when students are asked to explain or justify the reasons for their own actions during problem-solving, they will engage in self-reflective, intermediate processes comparable to metacognitive processes of monitoring, evaluating, and regulating ongoing problem-solving.
Participants for the study were drawn from two intermediate microeconomic classes at a large Midwestern university. Three treatment groups were used: one received prompts to justify their response; one received scaffolded (principle-based) prompts to justify their response; and the control group received no prompts to justify their response. Data were analyzed quantitatively using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and qualitatively using techniques of coding and developing themes. Results indicated that prompting students to justify their response while problem-solving does not necessarily result in learning gains, yet for those students who received scaffolded justification prompts, the increase in quality of justification response was significant. It was also apparent that the students felt that it was the prompt to justify that pushed them in the direction of expending more effort on the exercises.
Overall, the results are promising given the ease with which one can implement the instructional methods used within this study and as a result increase the possibility of students engaging in metacognitive processing. Implications of the study as well as future research directions are discussed.