John Hattie lists conceptual change programs as having the potential to ‘considerably accelerate student achievement’. Hattie, originally based this claim on a meta-analysis of conceptual change texts. But it also applies to the broader conceptual change process.
It has an average effect size of 0.99, which is quite large.
But what is the conceptual change model, and how can you use it?
Students Are Not Blank Slates – They Often Have Misconceptions
Your students are not blank slates. When you teach them about a concept, they often already have beliefs about that concept. These beliefs can be misconceptions that interfere with what you are trying to teach them.
For example, some common misconceptions students have are that:
The Conceptual Change Process
The idea of helping your students to connect new learnings to their prior knowledge is powerful, but it is hardly new.
However, telling your students that their prior beliefs may be wrong is not as common. Yet, that is the first of 4 steps in the conceptual change process.
- Identify misconceptions
- Create cognitive dissonance
- Explain the correct conception
- Have students engage with what you have told them
Step 1: Identifying Misconceptions
Before you start to teach a new topic, you should take a little time to learn about common misconceptions students hold about it. A quick Google search is a good starting point. For example, see the Top 10 Misconceptions In Biology. However, you then need to check whether some of the students in your class hold these misconceptions.
Step 2: Creating Cognitive Dissonance
If they do, you move to the second step in the cognitive change process – creating cognitive dissonance. Or in other words, you help them realise that their prior beliefs were wrong or inadequate. You can start by telling them so, but you must also explain why they were wrong (or inadequate).
Step 3: Explaining the Correct Conception
Once you have highlighted the problems with students’ prior beliefs, you simply explain the concept correctly. Teachers do this all the time, but the power here comes from completing Steps 1 & 2 first.
Step 4: Student Engagement
Explaining the concept correctly is essential. Yet, students are more likely to take it on board if they actively engage with what you have told them. Again, this is not a new idea, but it is important to help make new beliefs stick.
- Ask them questions – for example, justifying whether a given statement is true or false based on what you have just explained
- Get them to compare their old and new beliefs
- Ask them to write down, what they already knew that was correct, what new information they have learned, and what old beliefs they have had to change/discard
Conceptual Change Process: An Example
For a more detailed example of the conceptual change process in action, see – Using the Conceptual Change Process When Teaching Fractions.
Shaun Killian is an experienced teacher and principal with a passion for helping students to excel. He believes that assisting teachers to adopt evidence-based education is the best way to make this happen. Shaun is committed to bringing you practical advice based on solid research.