Self-explanation and planning: a microgenetic study of preschoolers' strategy use on the Tower of Hanoi.




Miller, Michael Robert

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In early childhood, planning provides a basis for organizational skills that are useful for future school performance (Perez & Gauvain, 2009). However, research shows that preschoolers’ planning abilities are limited because they often fail to consider task demands, are inefficient at self-monitoring, and are unlikely to use strategies to their advantage (Gardner & Rogoff, 1990). The present study examined whether preschoolers could improve their planning skills by consciously drawing connections between objects and events through the use of verbal self-explanations. A microgenetic design was used in order to repeatedly measure preschoolers’ performance on the Tower of Hanoi (ToH) task over a period of 6 to 8 weeks. Forty-five children between the ages of 4 and 6 years were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 conditions: self-explanation, no self-explanation, and control. Each child was administered a pretest, 3 micro sessions based on condition, and a posttest. In addition to ToH performance, children also were measured on inhibitory control, working memory, short-term memory, and verbal ability at pretest, and on a novel planning task, the Box-ToH, at posttest. Multilevel models were used to analyze the data at the between- and within-person levels. Although no differences were found in ToH performance over time between conditions, preschoolers’ use of self-explanations and strategies were independently related to individual improvements in ToH performance over time. Moreover, preschoolers’ improvements in ToH performance were not reducible to age-related increases, inhibitory control demands, working memory, short-term memory, or verbal ability. Lastly, findings did not support preschoolers’ ability to transfer their knowledge of strategies on the ToH to the Box-ToH. Overall, the present study demonstrated that self-explanations and strategy use are both important predictors of understanding individual changes in planning performance during the preschool years. These findings have important implications in terms of improving preschoolers’ executive function skills and preparing children for early academic success.



Planning, Self-explanation, Preschool children, Tower of Hanoi, Strategy, Executive function