This paper describes an investigation into the viability of mental models used by novice programmers at the end of a first year Java programming course. The qualitative findings identify the range of mental models of value and reference assignment held by the participants. The quantitative analysis reveals that approximately one third of students held non-viable mental models of value assignment and only 17% of students held a viable mental model of reference assignment. Further, in terms of a comparison between the participants' mental models and their performance in in-course assessments and final examination, it was found that students with viable mental models performed significantly better than those with non-viable models. These findings are used to propose a more "constructivist" approach to teaching programming based on the integration of "cognitive conflict" and program visualisation.
Além disso, veja pesquisas posteriores dos mesmos autores do estudo Sheep vs Goats ( que nunca foi publicado, para ser claro). Seu último e mais recente estudo sobre este tema de 2009 é Meta-análise do efeito da consistência sobre o sucesso na aprendizagem precoce da programação (pdf).
A test was designed that apparently examined a student's knowledge of assignment and sequence before a first course in programming but in fact was designed to capture their reasoning strategies. An experiment found two distinct populations of students: one could build and consistently apply a mental model of program execution; the other appeared either unable to build a model or to apply one consistently. The first group performed very much better in their end-of-course examination than the second in terms of success or failure. The test does not very accurately predict levels of performance, but by combining the result of six replications of the experiment, five in UK and one in Australia, we show that consistency does have a strong effect on success in early learning to program -- but background programming experience, on the other hand, has little or no effect.