Perceptual support promotes strategy generation: Evidence from equation solving

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Over time, children shift from using less optimal strategies for solving mathematics problems to using better ones. But why do children generate new strategies? We argue that they do so when they begin to encode problems more accurately; therefore, we hypothesized that perceptual support for correct encoding would foster strategy generation. Fourth-grade students solved mathematical equivalence problems (e.g., 3 + 4 + 5 = 3 + __) in a pre-test. They were then randomly assigned to one of three perceptual support conditions or to a Control condition. Participants in all conditions completed three mathematical equivalence problems with feedback about correctness. Participants in the experimental conditions received perceptual support (i.e., highlighting in red ink) for accurately encoding the equal sign, the right side of the equation, or the numbers that could be added to obtain the correct solution. Following this intervention, participants completed a problem-solving post-test. Among participants who solved the problems incorrectly at pre-test, those who received perceptual support for correctly encoding the equal sign were more likely to generate new, correct strategies for solving the problems than were those who received feedback only. Thus, perceptual support for accurate encoding of a key problem feature promoted generation of new, correct strategies.

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