You might have heard that really smart people talk to themselves. Wonder why? It might be because they use a neuro strategy of self-explanation that serves their learning and improves comprehension!
Self-Explanation is Self-Instruction
Self-explanation is simply a method of self-instruction of talking through a procedure or making connections of what is already known and what is new to the learner. Self-explanation relies on two primary cognitive systems: metacognition and mental models.
Metacognition is merely thinking about thinking. Explicitly monitoring how you’re learning something can heighten your understanding of that concept.
Mental models on the other hand, are like a road map in your brain that you rely on to solve a problem. For example, think of how Montessori students are able to repeatedly “map” the entire layout of the decimal system after being shown once. Their internal representation of quantity is a literal “bird’s eye view” and is a mental model they rely on to understand the concept of increased value.
Self-Explanation Scaffolds Exposition and Procedures
According to the research presented in The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use , leveraging self-explanation as a strategy for learning is best applied to expository materials or learning about a system or something that requires procedures to execute.
In Montessori elementary and adolescent environments, reading comprehension can be enhanced with explicit training using self-explanation techniques such as outlined in our Quick Tips section below. I think of how I learned certain Montessori math materials such as Test Tube Division and how confusing the steps were the first several times I tried to use it independently. In the future, I would encourage my students to explain the purpose of each step in the procedure which would then lead to greater comprehension of the whole on their part! Another way to use self-explanation is when students create a layout with materials and are in that place where they’re getting annoyed with using materials, ask them to “take a picture” with their minds eye so they can rely on it for the future.
How does self-explanation work? When a learner verbalizes the parts of a problem, they are better able to draw inferences. Filling in these gaps and connecting ideas flows easier when the learner takes the leap to explain it themselves.
Quick Tips for Improving Comprehension with Self-explanation
Improving comprehension of expository or sequential learning using self-explanation is enhanced by three principles according to researcher Alison King (1994):
Guide students to build sentence frames with these three principles:
- Use your own words
- Emphasize how and why over what, when and where
- Connect new ideas with what you already know
How are you going to incorporate self-explanation in your lessons tomorrow?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.