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Changing Misconceptions (Unlearning)


Mathematics Science Social Studies ^21st Century Skills All Ages Strategy


Flexible Thinking Verbal Reasoning Abstract Reasoning

Changing Misconceptions (Unlearning)

If your student is misinformed about a topic

Teach It!

  1. Objective: Teachers will use very explicit strategies to address student misconceptions or incorrect learning or they are likely to become further ingrained into memory.
  2. Teacher Takeaways: Students might have misconceptions for a variety of reasons, such as they misunderstood a previous lesson, were told something incorrect, or based their beliefs on observation that might not have been factual. While elementary teachers and science teachers might need to address misconceptions most often, students come with misconceptions in all subjects and all grade levels.
  3. Direct Instruction: a) Begin discussion with the accurate fact you want students to take away. Never start with the misconception because hearing the misconception first just makes it more familiar, strengthening the belief, and students are less likely to pay attention to the factual information. b) After stating the facts, when you later discuss the misconception, provide concrete examples of why it is inaccurate. The more relevant examples, the more likely you will dispel the misconception. c) Explain why belief in the misconception could be detrimental. Provide students with reason to want to give up what they thought was a fact. By tying an emotional response, students are more likely to remember why they no longer want to believe the misconception.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

The more students hear a misconception, even if it's in the context of explaining the inaccuracy, it could be inadvertently embedded deeper into long-term memory. This might be particularly true for students with weaker reasoning or flexible thinking who might be less likely to identify fallacies on their own and benefit from teachers providing explicit and memorable contradiction. Fuzzy-trace theory explains how false thinking can persist but how truth can suppress those misconceptions.