# Education Endowment Foundation:EEF Blog: Mistakes and Explanations

## EEF Blog: Mistakes and Explanations

EEF Blog: Mistakes and Explanations
Author
Bob Pritchard
Content Specialist for Science
 Physics teacher Bob Pritchard explains how worked examples can support pupils’ problem solving.
Blog •3 minutes •

Like many science teachers, I’ve often used Worked Examples to provide pupils with a scaffold as they learn a new process. But that’s not all they can be used for.

The FAME approach provides four simple strategies to help maximise the effectiveness of worked examples, by supporting pupils with managing cognitive load and developing their metacognitive thinking.

FAME stands for Fading, Alternation, Mistakes and Explanation. Fading and alternation can help you support pupils as they tackle a new strategy. But it’s Mistakes and Explanation that can really help your pupils take it to the next level…

#### Mistakes

Once pupils have become competent in a problem-solving strategy, providing them with worked examples that contain mistakes (and asking them to identify and correct them) can lead to improved long-term knowledge and understanding.

In one study[i], researchers found that pupils who had the opportunity to unpick worked examples that included mistakes outperformed their peers on a later test, suggesting that this strategy can lead to deeper and longer-lasting learning.

Incorrect worked examples can also provide an opportunity to highlight common mistakes to pupils. For instance, in Figure 1 below, a specific heat capacity calculation, there are deliberate mistakes. The mass needs to be converted from g into kg, and the substitution is incorrect. These are very common errors, even for pupils who are comfortable with calculation questions.

In Figure 2 the incorrect solution includes dividing activity by four, the number of half-lives (rather than dividing it by two, four times). I’d written this incorrect worked example after spotting pupils making similar mistakes in class.

Both examples have been planned to deliberately include realistic and common errors. Hopefully drawing attention to these mistakes to pupils will help them avoid them in their own work.

However, it is important to carefully consider when to use worked examples that include mistakes. Introducing incorrect examples too early (before pupils are competent in using the problem-solving strategy) could be counterproductive [ii] and may lead to the pupil learning incorrect solutions. Instead, these should be used later in a learning sequence to allow pupils time to acquire the necessary knowledge and expertise.

#### Explanations

Explanations are vital to the success of using worked examples in the classroom. By providing verbal explanations alongside worked examples, teachers can model how to approach problems. This Think Aloud process helps make the problem-solving strategy more explicit. The EEF Think Aloud planning tool, although originally designed for Maths teachers, can be a useful aide to planning teacher explanations.

Self-explanation (pupils explaining their own thought processes) has been shown to benefit learning [iii]. Encouraging pupils to Think Aloud whilst solving the problem can be particularly effective for helping pupils transfer the problem-solving strategy [iv] to other (more abstract) scenarios. Pupils can be encouraged to Think Aloud using prompt questions that require either a written or verbal response. For instance, what have they done first? Why? Did they convert units? Why? How?

Recently, some of my pupils were getting confused when solving half-life calculations. I decided to revisit the topic and focus their attention on two key steps; working out the number of half-lifes, and then using that information to find how the activity changed. As demonstrated in Figure 3 a couple of simple reflection prompts led to the pupils thinking more carefully about the purpose of the different stages in the problem-solving solution.

When adapted to the needs of your pupils, the FAME approach to worked examples can provide support in the initial stages of problem solving and deepen their understanding of how best to tackle problems.

[i] McLaren, B. M., Adams, D. M., & Mayer, R. E. (2015). Delayed Learning Effects with Erroneous Examples: a Study of Learning Decimals with a Web-Based Tutor. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 25(4), 520 – 542. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40593…

[ii] Heemsoth, T., & Heinze, A. (2014). The impact of incorrect examples on learning fractions: A field experiment with 6th grade students. Instructional Science, 42(4), 639 – 657. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251…

[iii] Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4 – 58. https://doi.org/10.1177/152910…

[iv] Berry, D. C. (1983). Metacognitive Experience and Transfer of Logical Reasoning. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 35(1), 39 – 49. https://doi.org/10.1080/146407…

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