The importance of understanding student misconceptions

By Elizabeth Foster
June 2018
Vol. 38 No. 3
Professional learning strategies often rely on the belief that teaching and learning outcomes are best when teachers have a clear understanding of students’ thinking. This may seem like common sense — after all, students are active participants in the learning process, so their thinking impacts the outcome. But does research support the assumption that teachers’ knowledge of students’ thinking matters? Researchers Heather C. Hill and Mark Chin address this issue in a study recently published in the American Educational Research Journal. Hill and Chin consider what they call “incomplete evidence” in the research literature on teachers’ understanding of student thinking, including whether it can be measured reliably and how it stacks up with other areas of teacher knowledge such as subject matter content. They acknowledge

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Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth Foster ( is associate director of standards, research, and strategy at Learning Forward. In each issue of The Learning Professional, Foster explores a recent research study to help practitioners understand the impact of particular professional learning practices on student outcomes.


Hill, H.C., & Chin, M. (2018). Connections between teachers’ knowledge of students, instruction, and achievement outcomes. American Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication.


Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

Image for aesthetic effect only - Elizabeth-foster
Vice President, Standards & Research | + posts

Elizabeth Foster is the vice president of research and standards at Learning Forward. She leads the organization’s research efforts for partnerships, programs, and fundraising. Elizabeth co-wrote the Standards for Professional Learning (2022) with Tracy Crow and now facilitates learning sessions about the standards and develops resources that support their use and implementation.

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