547: Misconceptions

What misconception do you find yourself most often correcting?


Full episode script

Misconceptions can be rough. Really rough, especially when they are something that you’re facing on a regular basis — about yourself or about something else. On first blush, it’s really easy to think that a misconception is something that just needs a single piece of information…but maybe it’s not quite that simple. As Robert Talbert wrote in his blog Casting Out Nines:

[…] a misunderstanding is something like an incorrect interpretation of an idea that otherwise is correctly understood. On the other hand, a misconception is an incorrect formation of a concept at the foundational level. The student has literally conceived the concept incorrectly. A misunderstanding can be cleared up in a single clarifying question or targeted piece of feedback. Clearing up a misconception requires undoing potentially years of layer upon layer of misconceived ideas.

Most of the literature and research I’ve found on how to correct (or at least work on correcting) misconceptions is focused mostly on working with students in classroom settings, where actively correcting misconceptions is not only accepted, but an expected part of the job. The suggestions and research around that, however, seems to fit pretty darn well into any stage of life, not just students and teachers.

The guide from the American Psychological Association outlines, very empathetically and carefully, what can be done. Quote:

[…] knowledge, however, can be erroneous, illogical or misinformed. These erroneous understandings are termed alternative conceptions or misconceptions (or intuitive theories). Alternative conceptions (misconceptions) are not unusual. In fact, they are a normal part of the learning process. Generally, ordinary forms of instruction, such as lectures, labs, discovery learning, or simply reading texts, are not very successful at overcoming student misconceptions.

A few of their suggestions about how to overcome misconceptions include, quote:

Use diverse instruction, wherein you present a few examples that challenge multiple assumptions, rather than a larger number of examples that challenge just one assumption.

Help students “self-repair” their misconceptions. If students engage in a process called “self-explanation,” then conceptual change is more likely. Self-explanation entails prompting students to explain text aloud as they read.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.