By Dr. Carrie Straub
Preconception: A student’s understanding of content before a lesson is taught. These may be misconceptions, incomplete conceptions, or correct and complete conceptions.
In all subjects, student preconceptions are commonly encountered, and veteran teachers, over time, develop a rich reservoir of approaches for dealing with a myriad of preconceptions. Typically, the ability to choose the best method for delivering content is a skill refined after teaching lessons to many students, many times, over many years. This is a slow process, because teachers generally only revisit a lesson annually. Even if teachers present the same lesson for three classes in a row on a particular day, they must quickly move on to tomorrow’s lesson and content. There is little time to reflect on what made the lesson effective and what could be improved. By the time another school year has elapsed, their solutions for handling student preconceptions about different content are no longer fresh in their minds. Teacher candidates are at further disadvantage. They receive information about common content preconceptions along with a long list of critical concepts in methods classes. However, they generally do not have an opportunity to immediately apply their learning about the preconceptions. They usually must wait months or years until they have an opportunity to work with real students in clinical field experiences. However, the existence of the virtual environment TeachLivE, allows time to be compacted and teachers and teacher candidates can experience multiple virtual rehearsals of a lesson with reflection in between each session. They can rehearse dealing with selected student preconceptions at an accelerated pace.
Avatars do not mind learning the same lesson over and over; they start fresh each session. Avatars show up to class to learn the most challenging topics in a discipline, and like their real-life peers, they bring preconceptions.
In a recent research project using TeachLivE, we identified the top 5 mathematics preconceptions about solving simple equations after an analysis of 113 student work samples. One of the five preconceptions was assigned to one of the five avatars in TeachLivE. Most of these were misconceptions. Then middle school mathematics teachers were given a formative assessment probe from the start of a lesson containing descriptions of the preconceptions. Before the TeachLivE session, teachers reviewed the student work samples of the avatars containing their assigned preconceptions of each avatar. Then, during the TeachLivE session, teachers had to “deal with” the same preconceptions as they interacted with the avatars in a class discussion. Each teacher practiced teaching the lesson four times. All of this was accomplished in 50 minutes, rather than over the course of years. The benefit of time acceleration allowed the teachers to virtually rehearse, reflect on their practice, and make changes to their delivery in a compressed amount of time.
If you would like to increase your students’ ability to address preconceptions, there are simple steps you can take.
Steps for using TeachLivE to Allow your Teacher Candidates to Address Student Preconceptions:
- Identify research-based preconceptions for a concept or skill in your chosen content area
- Choose three to five preconceptions that are most common for that content
- Complete a TeachLivE Session Objective Form and explain the preconceptions you would like to see as well as the targeted teacher behaviors you want to see (good questioning, positive feedback, attention to all students, etc.)
- Follow up by accessing firstname.lastname@example.org to see if there are any questions about your session objectives.
Note: Resources are available for preconceptions in your field, and as teacher educators, you may be aware of sources which would be invaluable to us at TeachLivE. Please feel free to email Dr. Carrie Straub at email@example.com with resources for preconceptions subjects that you have found to be helpful in your teacher preparation or research.