The power of confronting questions

When kids have persistent misconceptions it can be really hard to help them change their minds.  Try thinking of teaching like doing a science experiment, where they have to disprove their own hypothesis before they will listen to yours.

Here are a few steps to help:

Ask slightly unusual questions to diagnose a problem, rather than routine questions.  Routine questions are about fluency.  Questions that look at something a little differently are about understanding.
For free diagnostic testing in key number concepts, click here.


Confront a misconception by trying out a student’s own ideas.  Draw their attention to the discrepancy between what they believe and the reality of the situation.  We call these “confronting questions”.  They are narrow, sharp questions that encourage students to look at the evidence and make a choice between sticking with their own ideas or changing their minds.


Once a student has realised that their idea isn’t logical, lead them to see the connections.  Watch out though to make sure that they have really changed their own mind, otherwise it will come back to bite you later.


If you’d like to find out about our highly-commended series for fixing misconceptions in key number concepts, Interventions in Mathematics, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about the theory behind why this works, click here to read a peer-reviewed article by Tierney Kennedy, published as part of the 2015 AAMT conference.

If you’d like to read more about this process in teacher-friendly language, click here to read about finding and fixing misconceptions.

(c) Kennedy Press.  Our thanks to students and staff from Bethania Lutheran Primary and Assisi Catholic College who gave permission for these videos.

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