Spotlight on Misconceptions

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Explanation

Dealing with errors and misconceptions ‘head-on’

The ideas that follow draws on concepts from the chapter on ‘Explanation and Modelling’ in the excellent book ‘Teaching Walkthrus: Five Step Guides to Instructional Coaching’ by Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli (also part of the MACS CPD Library).

There are often misconceptions that crop up repeatedly in subjects, if students develop a schema around said misconception (that is an idea or formed plan about something based on what they have been exposed to), then just reteaching the ‘correct’ version can fail to rectify the issue unless deliberate re-thinking takes place.

Five steps or points of advice from ‘Teaching Walkthrus’ suggests:

  1. Identify the common misconceptions: Use your expert knowledge of the curriculum and assessment linked to your subject area to identify the most common errors/misconceptions. Consider why these happen? At what point does the issue arise? Purposely plan to teach learners about these with these key moments in mind.
  2. Introduce the misconception explicitly: Present the misconception to your class but from the outset make clear that it is wrong, or at least not fully correct! some examples; If we write 1/4 + 2/3 = 3/7 what mistake have we made?…Julia says the candle has disappeared because the wax has simply melted, why is this not quite true, what is wrong?…Mike says that if 10% of £100 is £10 then 20% of £200 must be £20, where has he gone wrong?
  3. Reinforce with a correct model: Re-introduce or re-teach the model that explains what is wrong with the statements/errors. We may have to go back to basics, but when we do so we should point out where this proves the misconception to be wrong. So for the above examples; the need to include common denominators when we add fractions, the fact that combustion is a chemical change in the candle and material has not disappeared, the meaning of percentage and ratios and how they work.
  4. Check for understanding of both the error and the correction: Get students to explain back to you what (and why) the errors were again and how they can and should be corrected. Just talking it through as the teacher does not provide the opportunity for them to reinforce it.
  5. Practise the correct method/version: Strengthen the correct approach through practice. Use similar example questions to test the corrected explanations, review and revisit it over time with more questions, particularly if it is one of those really stubborn misconceptions that drives you a little bit to despair – you want to make sure that you have shifted thinking!
ideas from the chapter on Explanation and Modelling, by Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli

Associated further reading and references:

  • Sherrington, T., and Caviglioli, O., 2020. TEACHING WALKTHRUS. [S.l.]: JOHN CATT EDUCATIONAL LTD.

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