Planning for misconceptions

As experts in our own subjects we are all aware of the common misconceptions and misunderstandings that students make. In history for example, when working with dates, some students might mistakenly think for that 400 BC is more recent that 300 BC – the misconception being that the larger the number, the more recent it is.

Using our knowledge of these common misconceptions, we can anticipate where they will hold students back in our curriculum and plan for them accordingly.

Daisy Christodoulou in this blog post compares it to the planning for injury in high performance sport. She points out that a sport will have injuries that are more common than others. Coaches then establish training plans that mitigate the effects of that sport and reduce the frequency of that type of injury. Effective teaching, she argues, is the same principle.

It is perfectly possible to spend time identifying the common misconceptions that occur in a subject then planning activities that directly address these misconceptions just as these maths examples show.

The video below (although it is essentially a criticism of the Khan Academy science videos) suggests that addressing misconceptions at the start of the topic has a much greater positive impact on student understanding.

if you only present the correct information to students, five things happen:

  1. Students think they already know it
  2. They don’t pay full attention
  3. They don’t recognise that what was presented differs to what they were already thinking
  4. They don’t learn a thing
  5. They get more confident in the (incorrect ideas) that they already held

Don’t be put off by the fact that this is about explanations in science – the principle can be applied to any information we expect students to learn.

If you want to take your reading on misconceptions further and see how it links with formative assessment, this research paper by Dylan Wiliam gives a particularly good example of misconceptions in algebra on page 6.

iPads as Visualisers

Visualisers can be hugely important in displaying work to students. The iPad can operate exactly as a visualiser can but with added functions that enhance the process further.

Displaying exemplar work to students is a very effective way of getting students to understand what is expected of them. It is far more effective than a simple rubric or set of level descriptors. Students need to see what excellent work looks like and can also learn from mistakes in sample pieces of work.

Using the Apple TV and Airplay (see this guide if you aren’t sure how), students can easily show their work to the rest of the class – this is great for the situation where you want to instantly show someone’s work to the rest of the class – this use has its time and place. However, with a little more planning (seconds really) and teacher control, the iPad can really enhance the sharing of work in a number of ways:

  1. Take a photograph of a student’s written work and project on to the board for class discussion/explanation
  2. Take a photograph of a student’s written work and annotate it (using Skitch or Keynote for example) to help students understand key points as part of class discussion/explanation
  3. Send annotated picture of work to specific students (via Showbie or email) who are struggling with understanding the success criteria of a task
  4. Send students the photograph of work and ask them to annotate it (using Skitch or Keynote). They could annotate it in any number of ways to demonstrate an understanding about what is good or weak about an answer. The best example of annotation can then be shared with the rest of the class.
  5. Take two photographs of work and drop into a Keynote slide so that they are side-by-side. Project on to the board for students to compare as part of a class explanation/discussion
  6. Send the side-by-side pictures to the class (as a Keynote slide sent via Showbie) and get them to annotate the similarities and differences / relative strengths and weaknesses

All of these methods take seconds to do. As with anything, it will take longer the first few times you use them. However, they could easily (and should) become part of your classroom workflow for 1:1 classes where all students have an iPad.

See this article for further reading and examples.


Using iPads for AFL – multiple choice questions

If we consider two of Dylan William’s five main AFL strategies from our work with the SSAT EFA project:

  • Engineering effective classroom discussion, questions and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning
  • Providing feedback that moves learning forward

There are a range of opportunities that the iPads offer to support this. I have found Socrative to be a very useful app in this respect. I have used it very successfully with my Year 7s over the last week. My starting point was to think about the key terms and key knowledge that I wanted the students to gain while studying the topic (elections and democracy). I then constructed multiple choice tests on Socrative. Each test was designed to test recall and understanding of the key information that we covered in a previous activity or previous lesson. Within the tests I built in wrong answers that students might commonly select (subject/topic specific misconceptions). Without iPads, I would have two options open to me. I could either take the tests in, mark them and then plan my lesson around the results (picking up on mistakes and misconceptions in the process). Alternatively, I could get students to mark or peer-mark and attempt to pick out class misconceptions. The latter option is better in that I could deal with misconceptions in the same lesson; it is inferior though in other ways as I lose valuable lesson time and I won’t pick up ‘trends’ across the class unless I survey the class on every question (another huge waste of time).

What Socrative has allowed me to do is get a live feed on student answers, then break down each question in front of the class and ask questions about why they think certain answers were or were not selected. I can target individual students to explain their answers. I can also adapt my teaching then and there to re-explain a key concept.

For example, I ran a quiz on the key terms we had learnt to do with Parliament. The live chart below shows that some questions were answered really well, others not well at all.

Screenshot 2015-11-23 10.38.52

By tapping on the question number or the ‘percentage correct’, you can then access information about a question. I do this ‘live’ on the board. By opening the first question and tapping the ‘How’d we do?’ tab, you can see where the incorrect answers were. Clearly the class understood the name of the second chamber but I was able to quickly clarify why the incorrect answers were incorrect (not just that they were incorrect.)


The second question already showed me that the majority of the class did now know this (36% got it correct). I showed the breakdown to the class (see below) and was therefore able to spend more time questioning and explaining why the incorrect answers were wrong. The incorrect answers were obviously all wrong – but crucially, they were all key terms linked to the overall topic in some way, rather than random incorrect words. This allowed me to explore the confusion and address the misconceptions at the point of the mistake (rather than the following lesson). Rather than just address the fact that Lords are also known as Peers, it was more important for the students to understand why Lords cannot be MPs. The other two misconceptions brought interesting discussion – Lords can be ministers and judges can be Lords; however, all Lords are not otherwise known as judges or ministers. It was important for students to understand this.


Robert Bjork’s research on multiple choice questions concluded:

“..properly constructed multiple-choice practice tests can be important learning events for students. Achieving “proper construction” of such tests—which requires that incorrect alternatives be plausible, but not so plausible that they are unfair—is, however, a challenge. As any teacher who has used multiple-choice tests can testify,writing good multiple-choice items is very hard work, whereas writing poor ones is relatively easy. Thus, when people accuse multiple-choice tests of being bad tests, that accusation, statistically, has some truth to it.”
To conclude, Socrative multiple choice questions are an excellent AFL strategy if the questions are structured to address student misconceptions and if answers are analysed immediately at the conclusion of the test. The test can then be given again as a starter (maybe in the following lesson) to check that the misconceptions have been removed.
Further reading:
This article explains Hinge Questions really well – the idea of constructing a single multiple choice question at a key point in the lesson to assess misconceptions.
This article argues that multiple choice questions can provide real depth and rigour if constructed properly

Staff Inset and Showbie

Following a hugely successful inset last week where we had the whole day to use iPads, I wanted to recap on a couple of areas. One student asked a teacher this week if we have had a staff training on Showbie as now everyone is using it. (Nothing like students helping me evaluate the impact of CPD!)

Showbie formed a central part of the day. We looked at the following digram to think about how our traditional workflow can be improved by using the iPads. Staff then saw in the workshops how that workflow is used with a class of students. We ran a series of 60 minutes workshops (staff attended two and were grouped according to experience and confidence with iPads). The workshops were run with staff taking the role of students to ‘experience’ the workflow. At the start of the day I took all staff through the process of signing in to Showbie as a student and joining an ‘all staff’ showbie class. I then used this to disseminate resources and information throughout the day. It was a completely paperless inset day (a first?)


workflow diagram.001

Some staff had asked me  to share the screenshots where I showed how to sign up to Showbie (as students), how to join a class and how to upload work. These are below:

I know that we threw a lot of ideas and information at staff during the inset day but the following has been written by Daniel Edwards and I wish I had read it before the training day so that I could have shared it with staff at the end of the day:


Digitisation and digital pedagogy in teaching design

What we must try, as schools, as educators, as learners, is not simply using tools, nor rolling out the whizz-bang jazz hands apps to impress students or observers.

If that means using a pen and paper because your students are revising something and you believe that memory and cognitive gains are promoted by written tasks, then you’re on the right lines for a digital pedagogy approach, just as much as if you choose to use some app in an innovative way to explore and extend learning. If, however, you are using pen and paper because you couldn’t be bothered with collecting in an Explain Everything task, or because you’ve always done this task with pen and paper, that is clearly not pedagogically sound. Equally, if you are using an iPad app just because they’re there, or in hopes of impressing an observer, without considering the aims, processes or consequences of using the app, that too is failing in digital pedagogy.

We need to systematically examine both tools and teaching for their learning value. In this way, teaching and learning drives the use of technology, rather than the converse. (Daniel Edwards) – original article here

Metacognition and exam practice

We know that metacognition has a huge impact on student learning. Getting students to think about how they pull apart an exam paper is something we are all reminding them of at the moment. This blog post is essential reading if you currently teach any classes with an exam this summer. When reading the article, scroll down to see how the music teacher has annotated the script (if you do one new thing this week then try this) – the videos really help contextualise the explanation in the article.

It is so obviously a useful thing to do for students, I cannot believe it hasn’t occurred to me before. I’ve been inspired to do this for my Year 11 GCSE History group. Results can be seen below:

I will be using this with my Year 11s tomorrow. I’m going to use an iPad as a visualiser and will model though my thinking on a second example.


Two useful iPad apps I used today for questioning were Team Shake and Socrative. Both take seconds to use and crucially do not disrupt the flow of the lesson. Firstly, I used team shake to randomly select students. they had been asked to think about what ‘fairness’ means. (Team Shake also has a useful group creation function too.) When someone pointed out (cleverly!) that this wasn’t entirely fair as not everyone’s opinions would be heard, I switched the second question to Socrative (the quick question function) and asked for examples of things in the world that were not fair – using the short answer tab. This enabled everyone to submit an answer. This feature of the app allows me to send all of the answers back to the rest of the class to read and then vote on the best. (You can eliminate unsuitable or duplicate answers before sending back.)

We had a much deeper discussion as a result of everyone participating on two separate levels for the second question.

iPad inset – moving staff to the next stage.

Introducing a new way of working to an organisation is always complex and staff will always move at different speeds in adopting new methods and practices. Introducing mobile technology to the classroom is no exception to this. Our approach (although right for us as a school) has exacerbated this. We have full 1:1 deployment of iPads in Year 7 – this means that those teachers who teach Year 7 have had two terms of teaching and developing their practice in a 1:1 environment. The rest of the staff have had access to bookable devices but this is a completely different dynamic in many ways. Consequently, the inset day was about increasing staff confidence from whichever starting point they were at. Three diagrams I found useful to show staff that they are all at different stages (and that there is no problem with this providing that they are engaging with mobile technology) are the SAMR model, Mark Anderson’s Mandinach and Cline diagram and Rogers’ diffusion of innovation curve.




Rogers diffucion of innovation


Although we have some transformational practice taking place in the classroom using iPads, this hasn’t been (understandably) representative of all staff. Feedback before the inset had raised a number of concerns that I wanted to address with this inset and future CPD. They were summarised into the following:

1. Technical problems

2. Time

3. Confidence

4. Classroom management of devices

5. Workflow

Technical problems were mainly connected to the wireless network. We are a split site school and have a very fast reliable service on the lower school site. We have not yet upgraded the upper school site (although this will be done over the next few months). We have also just installed Apple TVs in every classroom on the lower school site. Technical problems are the first hurdle a teacher lacking in confidence may fall at. A lesson ruined by poor internet connection will deter the teacher from using iPads again. This is why we fully upgraded the lowers school site before our 1:1 launch – it is absolutely essential to do this or your scheme will fail.

Time is an issue of prioritisation. Teachers are incredibly busy so when faced with something else to do will naturally be concerned with the impact on their time. The inset day was about showing staff that is is worth them re-prioritising aspects of their work to take advantage of mobile technology.

Confidence comes with CPD and practice. With mobile technology, you can never have enough of either. The inset day was designed to give staff hands on practice and inspire them to continue to practice and plan after the day (much of the best CPD is self-directed outside of the classroom and structured inset).

The outstanding James Hannan from lrnmkr explained a few strategies that staff could use. In particular, the use of Showbie when using bookable devices to deal with the issue of retaining work between lessons when students may not be working on the same iPad. He also explained the guided access features of the iPad for the ‘difficult’ student in the class!

I showed the following diagram about workflow which all teachers will be familiar with. The workshops that we had planned would be based around this workflow with the aim of demonstrating how iPads can support and improve the traditional classroom workflow.

workflow diagram.001

The staff were divided into four groups according to confidence levels and experience with mobile technology. (Differentiated CPD is vital for iPads and technology in general). They were to be ‘students’ in each of the workshops they visited and would experience a full workflow based around Showbie as the conduit for receiving tasks and resources, submitting their work and receiving feedback. Each workshop covered a different topic but I stressed that the content was not important – it was the process in each workshop that was. Each workshop used one or two apps for the ‘creating’ part – we were conscious not to overload staff with too many apps. One important tip is to get all staff to set up a student Showbie account – if they try joining a class using a teacher account they will not get the same view on the iPad. We guided all staff through this at the very start of the day – they also joined a ‘whole-staff’ Showbie class which we then used to distribute materials throughout the day (the day was entirely paperless – a first for an inset!). The workshops went really well and lots of staff felt inspired to take these ideas and processes further into their own teaching.

The final part of the day was about planning. We gave the afternoon to staff to put what they had learned into their planning. For some, it would be with their Year 7s over the coming weeks; others would be looking at next term when the Year 8s will hopefully move to 1:1. I sent out a keynote slide with an action plan pro-forma to be completed before the end of the day (I got this idea from an Apple ‘What’s Next’ conference I attended) and uploaded to Showbie.

The very last thing staff had to do was complete a Google Forms survey evaluating the day I emailed this out at the end of the day and the responses were really positive. The very large amount of planning that had gone into the day had been worth it (it had taken a lot longer to set up that I had anticipated). What will be vital now is sustaining the momentum and following up with further CPD opportunities over the rest of the term.