The video documentary, A Private Universe sheds light upon an important issue many educators face on a day-to-day basis, the question of a student’s metacognition. A question highlighted and discussed in this video centres around the notion of what exactly is a student thinking about regarding their own learning and understanding, before, during, and after a lesson. While watching the video it is intriguing to note that Heather, considered a more competent, intelligent, and insightful student from the perspective of the teacher, is unable to accurately and thoroughly explain how seasons work and the rotation of the earth and moon. It is clear from the video that as Heather is being interviewed, she is looking for validation from the interviewer to support her thinking, and continue the dialogue. When she begins to draw her ideas she is better able to have confidence in her thinking strategies.

According to Sacit Kose (2008) research into diagnosing student misconceptions can be better explored when coupled with allowing students to draw their ideas alongside interviews. Kose (2008) states, “That’s why; the results obtained indicate that drawing method is effective in determining the student’s’ misconceptions. One of the probable reasons of the determined misconceptions may be the difference between the scientific and daily language.” As students learn to use the vocabulary associated with new topics, they are then able to better communicate their understanding of these ideas with confidence and accuracy.

For myself, I have realized that importance of the simple KWL activity, and how within science classes, this tool is often misused. When students begin a new unit of study, accessing prior knowledge is critical. It is an opportunity for students to reflect upon their learning, understanding, and knowledge, but also to spend time thinking about what they wonder about. The challenge lies in finding the time to sort these reflections and ideas into meaningful lessons that will lead to clarity in future lessons. As Galen Erickson, (1979) mentions, “with knowledge of what the learner brings to an instructional setting recognized as such a vital component in planning educational programs, it should have become an important stimulus in educational research.” Therefore, what the children are thinking is the epicenter of true inquiry. Learning to be flexible in planning to avoid continued misconceptions of understanding being perpetuated means the teacher must put the student first.

What was clear from both the video and the research by Erickson (1979), Kose (2008), and Driver (1983), is that students need to be able to describe their thinking with the use of hands-on manipulatives, whether it be drawing ideas on paper or using models. When students are given opportunities to describe their thinking, while working one to one with a teacher, the teacher is then capable of targeting misconceptions and reteaching on the spot. This is where technology can come into play. Students can then use apps on the iPad, such as Explain Everything to record their understanding of the topic being studied, and teachers can provide better feedback to ensure that any misunderstandings are caught, and retaught. Yes, the issue of time will always be a concern, however, in British Columbia with the introduction of a new inquiry-based curriculum is being rolled out, less emphasis is placed on content, but rather on the big ideas within a grade. When educators spent time exploring concepts with the goal of quality understanding rather than quantity of content being covered, students will have a stronger foundation of knowledge, ultimately leading to more curious, inquisitive students, wanting to explore further.


Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien, A. (1985). Children’s ideas and the learning of science. Children’s ideas in science, 1-9.

Erickson, G. L. Children’s conceptions of heat and temperature. Science Education 63, no. 2 (1979): 221-230

Kose, Sacit. Diagnosing Student Misconceptions: Using Drawings as a Research Method. World Applied Sciences Journal 3 (2): 283-293, 2008

One comment

  1. I agree Cristina, the KWL activity can often be misused. I have been known to do this too on a few occasions until I realize that after a unit or lesson we have not filled out what they have learned part. Sometimes educators get so caught up in the lesson trying to access student’s prior knowledge that we neglect to reflect on what it is they learned. Allowing more time at the end or already having a reflection sheet handy would definitely help this.

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