It seems obvious that teachers need to understand the content they’re trying to convey to students. But a study finds that what’s especially critical to improved science learning is that teachers also know the common misconceptions their students have.
Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics enlisted 181 middle school teachers of physical science to give students a multiple-choice test of science concepts. Twelve of the 20 items were designed to have a “particularly wrong answer corresponding to a commonly held misconception,” said the lead author, Philip Sadler.
Teachers also took the test and were asked to identify both the correct answer and the one students were most often likely to get wrong.
As might be expected, teachers’ knowledge of the subject predicted higher student gains. “However, for more difficult concepts where many students had a misconception, only teachers who knew the science and the common misconceptions have large student gains,” writes Mr. Sadler.
The study was published online in March in the American Educational Research Journal.
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2013 edition of Education Week as Students’ Misconceptions