Episode 7 - Bite-Size Research on Elaborative Interrogation

Show Notes:

This is a bite-size research episode, where we briefly describe research findings on a specific topic. This week, Megan Sumeracki talks about elaborative interrogation with middle school students. 

In the study Megan describes (1), elaborative interrogation worked well for students who were working independently, and with a partner. In this study, 6th and 7th grade students learned two types of science facts: those that were consistent with their prior knowledge, and those that were inconsistent. An example of a consistent or unsurprising science fact from their research is "the larger an animal is, the more oxygen it needs to live". But take, for example, this fact: "the sun is made up of every color, including blue and violet". This type of fact might be more surprising to students. The study looked at how elaborative interrogation impacted learning of both types of facts.

The students worked either independently, or in pairs - and in one of the following three learning conditions:
1) Elaborative interrogation: answering the question "why is that fact true?" and using their class materials to help.
2) Select their own study strategy: students were told to study the facts in whatever way they think will help them learn them best, and think back to strategies that have worked in the past.
3) Read the information for understanding, out loud.

Learning was assessed both immediately, and 60 days after the study session. Learning in pairs versus independently did not make a difference, but students who practiced elaborative interrogation learned more than those in the other two learning conditions. This was true both for facts that were consistent, and those that were inconsistent with prior knowledge. Importantly, this learning was durable - 60 days after the study session, students who practiced elaborative interrogation still performed best. It's interesting to note that students who selected their own study strategy did not better than those who just read for understanding.

Here's an important caveat to the findings: the quality of the elaborative interrogation answers mattered. Students performed best when they produced an adequate response to the question. However, producing an "inadequate" response was still better than providing no response at all. And finally, studying in pairs did not lead to a larger number of adequate responses than studying alone.

So far, we’ve covered retrieval practice, spaced practice, and elaborative interrogation in our podcasts. Over the next three months we’ll be talking about interleaving, concrete examples, and dual coding!

The Learning Scientists Podcast is funded by The Wellcome Trust.

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(1) Woloshyn, V. E., & Stockley, D. B. (1995). Helping students acquire belief-inconsistent and belief-consistent science facts: Comparisons between individual and dyad study using elaborative interrogation self-selected study and repetitious-reading. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 9, 75-89.

Episode 8 - Interleaving

Episode 6 - Elaborative Interrogation