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Walney School

Misconceptions and common errors

Rosenshine – continually check student understanding, addressing misconceptions.

Teachers need to identify how far each aspect of the curriculum has been mastered and where misconceptions must be addressed before moving on to the next stage. (Howard & Hill: Symbiosis)

The weaker prior knowledge is, the more likely pupils are to develop misconceptions, particularly if new ideas are introduced too quickly… Misconceptions can be ingrained in pupils’ long-term memory, meaning mental models may include, or even be built upon, falsehoods. (EEF: Metacognition &  Self-regulation)

We need to anticipate and plan for misconceptions.  We need to identify when students have incorrectly learnt something and make sure that we can correct it.

Examples of common misconceptions:

  • Maths – the belief that 7 x 0 = 7
  • Maths – the belief that 4% is 0.4 as a decimal
  • History – the belief that Vikings wore horns on their helmets
  • History – the belief that Marie Antoinette said ‘let them eat cake’.
  • Geography – the belief that Sydney is the capital of Australia
  • French – the belief that ‘hôtel de ville’ is a hotel in town

Some misconceptions come from parents, grandparents, films, etc. from children’s full range of life experiences. 

We need to actively seek out the misconceptions by for example, deliberately putting them into multiple choice quizzes, addressing them in our class feedback, etc.  We need to do so sensitively – if your grandparent told you there is a dinosaur called a brontosaurus, it is quite difficult to hear that there is not!  I was taught at school to call a rectangle an oblong. Chinese children were taught that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space…

Anticipating misconceptions.

Think about what misconceptions may come up in the unit, explicitly draw students’ attention to these misconceptions or pitfalls, and through hypercorrection, detailed explanation and careful modelling, reduce the likelihood of them being repeated by our students (Howard & Hill: Symbiosis).