Does practice make perfect? Relative effectiveness of feedback and self-explanations (PSY, Ba)


Ard Lazonder

Preliminary note

This Bachelor thesis project can be run individually, or in collaboration with a fellow student who will do a complementary project on the effectiveness of practice with and without feedback. In case of a combination, supervision will be combined where possible, and the two students will join forces in data collection (and, of course, can give each other some moral support).


Early science instruction enables children to learn about a topic by designing and performing simple investigations. Even young children (>6 years) know what a ‘good’ investigation looks like and need only a short instruction to use this knowledge in designing their own, systematic experiments (Klahr & Li, 2005). But what makes this instruction effective? Recent Bachelor thesis research in our department compared the effectiveness of two instructional variants: (1) a demonstration by the teacher followed by unguided practice, and (2) a demonstration plus practice during which children had to explain the set up of their experiments. Results showed that children who gave self explanations during practice improved more in their ability to design good experiments than did children who practiced without self-explanations. However, this comparison may not be completely fair because practice without any form of feedback is bound to be little effective. Therefore, the goal of the present thesis project is to find out whether practice with either teacher feedback or self-explanations is most effective.


Following a review of the literature, you design an experimental study in which children (aged 10-12) experiment with a computer simulation of a musical gong. Prior to the experiment, you give all children a demonstration of the way to design valid experiments. Children in the ‘demonstration’ condition receive nothing else whereas children in the ‘practice-plus-feedback’ condition can try out the demonstrated skill themselves by interacting with the simulation and, in addition, receive feedback on the experiments they design. Children in the ‘self-explanation’ condition also get the opportunity to practice and have to justify the set up of their experiments. Learning outcomes are measured by a written posttest. (As the nature of the instruction requires one-on-one interaction with a child, you should be sufficiently fluent in Dutch).


Klahr D., & Li, J. (2005). Cognitive research and elementary science instruction: From the laboratory, to the classroom, and back. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 14, 217-238.

Lorch, R. F., Lorch, E. P., Calderhead, W. J., Dunlap, E. E., Hodell, E. C., & Freer, B. D. (2010). Learning the control of variables strategy in higher and lower achieving classrooms: Contributions of explicit instruction and experimentation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 90-101.

Schwichow, M., Croker, S., Zimmerman, C., Höffler, T., & Härtig, H. (in press). Teaching the control-of-variables strategy: A meta-analysis. Developmental review, 1-27.

VanLehn, K., Jones, R.M., & Chi, M.T.H. (1992). A model of the self-explanation effect. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2, 1-59.


Scientific reasoning, inquiry learning, children, direct instruction, feedback, self-explanations.