Thursday, October 14, 2010

What do you call students' ideas prior to instruction?

Jean Piaget and many constructivist researchers after him showed that students do not enter the classroom as "blank slates" but with a rich set of ideas.

The open question is what to call these ideas that students hold prior to formal instruction. To complicate the matter, education researchers use a wide range of terms, with different connotations.

Some researchers consider students' existing ideas as plain wrong and want to replace them with normative ideas. These researchers use negative terms like "misconceptions" and "naive theories".

Other researchers acknowledge students' ideas and believe that students can hold multiple ideas of varying normativity at the same time. Instruction aims to help students distinguish normative from non-normative ideas so that students can use normative ideas more often and in multiple contexts. These researchers use neutral terms like "alternative idea", "alternative conceptions" or "prior knowledge".

Here is a list of alternative terms from various research papers (and the list is still growing):

-Misconception (Fisher, 1983), 
-Prior knowledge
-False beliefs
-Alternative conceptions
-Alternative frameworks (Driver & Easley, 1978), 
-Alternative ideas (Linn, 2008)
-Alternative views
-Intuitive belief (McKloskey, 1983)
-Intuitive theories
-Erroneous concepts
-Naive theories
-Naive beliefs (Caramazza, McCloskey, & Green, 1981)
-Non-normative ideas
-Preconception (Anderson & Smith, 1983)

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