Reducing Students’ Misconceptions With Refutational Teaching: For Long-Term Retention, Comprehension Matters

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The purpose of this study was to determine whether the use of refutational teaching for reducing student misconceptions produces longer lasting change when compared with standard teaching. Continuing previously reported findings over the short term, we followed students through 2 years of undergraduate education. A sample of primarily first-year students (N = 111) enrolled in introductory psychology completed a pretest and a posttest of misconceptions at the beginning and end of the semester. We taught the introductory psychology course addressing misconceptions using refutational text and lecture (a misconception is activated, then refuted with evidence), standard teaching (provided evidence-based information without activation of the misconception), or did not address the concept (control condition). Students completed the posttest at the end of the semester following the course and again at the end of the third semester following the course. Sixty-eight students completed all measures. On average, students recognized more correct concepts at the end of the course, particularly when taught in a refutational manner. Students retained correct concepts beyond the course, significantly more so when taught refutationally. Students demonstrating higher verbal comprehension (SAT Critical Reading) acquired and retained more correct concepts. When tested at the end of the third semester following completion of the course, however, even items taught in a refutational manner declined significantly. This decline was particularly true for students demonstrating lower verbal comprehension. These results support other studies that find small but significant long-term benefits to refutational teaching for changing prior misconceptions.

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