Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D.'s  picture
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D.
Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Professor in the Department of Psychology
Temple University

Sparking Discovery and Exploration

Give a child a new toy without showing how it works—and see what happens

In the study The Double-Edged Sword of Pedagogy: Instruction Limits Spontaneous Exploration and Discovery, published in the journal Cognition, the researchers offer a powerful demonstration about different teaching styles.

In one experimental group, examining the impact of explicit instruction, five- and six-year-olds are taught how to play with a novel toy. Created out of PVC pipes, the toy could do a number of things, only one of which was modeled by the “teacher.” In the non-instruction condition, the adult merely placed the toy on the table with no guidelines and no modeling. The child was invited to play.

How did the children respond? In the first condition, they followed the teacher—if they saw the yellow pipe make a squeak when pulled from the purple tube, they reliably replicated the action. In the play (non-instruction) condition, however, they discovered the squeaky tube, and also learned about the other functions the toy had to offer. These children found more unique actions in the toy and spent less time on any one function than those who followed the teacher’s lead.

Bottom line? Explicit instruction is very efficient and does a good job of guiding particular outcomes. Yet, this kind of teaching comes at the cost of sparking discovery and exploration.

Learn More:

“A New Kind of Playground,” by Anna Housley Juster

Related Reading

“Don’t Show, Don’t Tell? Direct Instruction Can Thwart Independent Exploration,” ScienceDaily