What is it about?

“Teaching to students’ learning styles enhances their learning.” “Increasing self-esteem increases students’ academic achievement.” “It is better to express your anger to others than to hold it in.” These claims are widely believed but are not supported by empirical evidence. Psychology instructors report, and research studies indicate that just telling students that claims are misconceptions, or just providing evidence for scientific claims does little to reduce false beliefs. Students enter and exit the introductory psychology course with their misconceptions intact. One strategy that has shown some success in reducing student misconceptions is reading refutational text. A proper refutational text actively addresses the student’s belief by calling the student’s attention to their misconception, clearly states that it is a misconception, and shows why the misconception is flawed and the scientific claim supported. However, research findings are mixed. Some variability may result from different types of refutational text or from averaging across misconceptions. Our laboratory-based study addressed the effect of a refutational text on introductory psychology students’ beliefs in three separate but prevalent misconceptions in psychology. Students with misconceptions read either a refutational text, a science-only text, or no text for the three misconceptions. We assessed student beliefs before and immediately after reading, as well as at the end of the semester. We found an overall effect for reading but somewhat different effects across claims. For one claim, reading either text reduced belief in the misconception. For another claim, only the refutational reading reduced student misconceptions. And for the third claim, the immediate assessment appeared to boost the effect of reading the refutational text.

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Why is it important?

Although some misconceptions in psychology may be harmless, others could be problematic. For example, students’ belief that they only learn when taught in their “preferred style” could negatively impact their motivation when they feel the teacher does not use their preferred style. A teacher’s belief that increasing self-esteem increases achievement could result in choosing less effective instruction and a failure to develop student confidence and control. Teachers should be aware of student misconceptions and whether there are teaching strategies that can help. Reflecting on the body of refutational research, this study helps instructors see the layered nature of misconceptions teaching. We recommend a sequenced approach. First, verify that most misconceptions are properly refuted in the text or reading. Next, address and do not perpetuate important misconceptions in class. Assess misconceptions on exams to both boost student recall and provide feedback on the stickiest misconceptions. And finally, engage students in activities to directly target consequential misconceptions. The most important lesson is to realize that teaching and learning are not simple! One size does not fit all.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Refuting misconceptions: One size does not fit all., Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, November 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/stl0000384.
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