Parents’ Assistance of Their Children’s Scientific Reasoning

January 1st, 1999 | RESEARCH

Research suggests that parents are effective at scaffolding their children's learning to help them become self-regulated problem solvers. Yet little is known about parents' effectiveness at assisting their children with problems that parents find unfamiliar and, thus, do not have at hand either the solution or strategies that a novice child could profitably implement. In this study, 20 dyads of parents and their preadolescent children spent 45 min solving a scientific reasoning problem that entailed generating and interpreting a series of experimental trials to understand the causal structure of a moderately complex system. As the dyads worked, researchers tracked their experimentation strategies, patterns of interaction, and changes in their domain-specific beliefs about the system. In comparison to solo participants observed in previous research, the dyads performed well on strategies for generating and interpreting evidence. However, parents assumed most of the difficult conceptual tasks, including recording data and making inferences, and delegated the logistical roles-the actual manual operation of the equipment-to the children. Parents did not cede the conceptual roles to children as the session progressed. On the positive side, parents shared control of the problem solving and engaged in collaborative discussions with their children. Parents also provided valuable assistance of many kinds, usually during the evidence-generation phase of the trials. They missed key opportunities for helping children interpret evidence, and as a result, children failed to achieve the gains in understanding that the parents did. The beliefs of parents and children did not come into closer alignment over the course of the study. We conclude, especially as children reach school age, that parents who wish to assist their children's learning may increasingly need to understand how their children think-not just in general, but about central kinds of problems and content domains.


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Team Members

Mary Gleason, Author, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Leona Schauble, Author, University of Wisconsin, Madison


Publication: Cognition and Instruction
Volume: 17
Number: 4
Page(s): 343

Related URLs


Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Parents | Caregivers
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM | Nature of science
Resource Type: Peer-reviewed article | Research Products
Environment Type: Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs