I have been thinking a lot lately about the best way to address student misconceptions on the unit of work that they are currently studying. Ideally I hoped these misconceptions wouldn't develop in the first place, we spend a lot of time discussing and developing the understanding of the ideas before introducing any more formal procedure, and when we do introduce a procedure, I try to make sure it is theirs, not mine. The aim of doing this is to ensure that we have thrashed out all of the ideas and tested their veracity so that the misconceptions can be brought to the surface and addressed as the new content is introduced .
However in looking at the work I receive from students from time to time it is clear that misconceptions creep in, despite my best efforts, I may not have covered all the bases. The other day I tried to address misconceptions in a different way to had previously. The misconceptions became clear to me as I was looking through their books I picked up some misconceptions that were common across multiple student's work, but instead of talking about these in class and trying to correct it myself, I wanted them to notice and to correct the errors. The hope in doing this was to get them to think more deeply about the errors.
To do this I wrote up some solutions to questions like they were legitimate solutions to the problem, but in reality these solutions incorporated the errors that I saw in their books, these samples are shown in the images below. Each table was given a different proposed solution, these were put in the centre of the table and students were encouraged to discuss the solutions in their table groups.
It was interesting for me to see that when we had the discussion about the questions every group was happy that their solution was correct, none of the groups believed there was an error in the solution. To me this was very interesting, these errors were prevalent in a number of students work, but they definitely were not there in all of them. Even those students who had answered questions similar to this correctly in their books were not able to identify the error in these solutions. So this was quite a surprise to me.
I was caught a little off guard by this, but I also had to think carefully about the way forward. At this point rather than telling them what the errors were for each problem, instead I just said "what if I was to tell you that every question on the table is incorrect. Knowing this, what is the error in the problem that you have in front of you". This seemed to surprise them quite a bit, being utterly convinced the solution was correct and raising the possibility that it is incorrect created that conflict in their mind, and stimulated a lot of discussion as they tried to find the error. They did not find this easy but eventually were able to notice the mistake. What I hoped they would get of this process is exactly what was achieved, they were then able to successfully examine their own work, and their own thinking, and correct any of the mistakes that had been previously made. They were able to look at their own work, which they thought was correct, and find the changes that they needed to make. I feel that it was a much more powerful way of looking at the errors they made, as the fix was not handed to them, they still had to work for it, they still had to own the learning.
Mathematics Coach and Coordinator in Regional South Australia. Current driving the Empowering Local Learners project as a numeracy strategy from pre-school to senior secondary.
Opinions in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.