Problem Solving Before Instruction
Doing a quantitative research on how well PSI works is of course extremely challenging. The topic or subject could easily be a factor. Obviously, the teacher is also important. Thus, at the moment, the best we can have are preliminary investigations that can probably provide a rough overview of whether such practice is beneficial or not. One such study is a recent work scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. In this work, a specific lesson on slopes is considered for more than 200 ninth-graders in Switzerland. The students are divided into five groups, one group is assigned to the traditional "Tell and Practice" in which instruction comes first before problem solving. The other four start with problem solving first and these differ from each other in terms of what is asked of the student: self-explain or invent, and the type of problems: grounded (specific) or idealized (general). To remove the effects of the teacher, the instruction involves a 5-minute period during which the student is asked to read the following:
The researchers find that not all PSI are superior to "Tell and Practice", especially when it comes to a later test, four weeks after the instruction.
A straight line goes through the point (x, y). Is it right or wrong to say that the slope equals y/x? Give an explanation!Second, the topic covered here is very important in basic education. In fact, my son who is currently in sixth grade already works on this. Nonetheless, due to the importance of slopes in math and the sciences, students are only bound to encounter this concept so many times during their schooling. And because of its importance, one can just imagine how easy it is to extend slopes to almost any problem. It may have been better if the study has picked a less general concept. Third, it uses reading as a substitute for direct instruction. This short instruction is static and therefore not capable of responding specifically to where the students are, as opposed to a teacher who has the capacity to tailor the instruction depending on the outcome of the initial problem solving. It is therefore amazing that even with these limitations, the researchers still manage to find some benefit in Problem Solving Before Instruction.