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Monitoring pupils’ work for misconceptions

As mentioned at the end of session 2, ensuring that you have excellent subject knowledge will mean that you are better equipped when considering where misconceptions in pupil thinking and understanding may occur.

Understanding a potential common misconception in a subject will inform your planning, how you deliver your explanations, and the scaffolds you will provide. It will also support the assessment opportunities you include and dictate where they will be most needed in the lesson. You will use those opportunities to check understanding and assess whether a misconception has occurred.

Session 2 explored the structuring of hinge questions to anticipate and identify misconceptions, but a further key opportunity to spot a pupil with a misconception is during independent practice.

Monitoring independent practice

Despite careful planning and sequencing of knowledge, and in spite of checking for understanding at key points in the lesson, pupils can still develop misconceptions. It is often during independent practice that these come to light, and you discover there has been some misunderstanding earlier in the lesson. It is therefore essential that you monitor independent practice and act where appropriate.

A good strategy to help you monitor independent practice is to circulate around the class during the session.

Some teachers move around the classroom checking to make sure pupils are ‘on track’. However, this can often mean they are focusing on completion of work, as opposed to mastery of skills.

When circulating effectively, you will notice two things:

  • Examples of success (these could be showcased to the class)
  • Examples of specific mistakes/errors (these should be considered before the lesson)

The amount of assessment data you could collect by circulating can be overwhelming. You may notice layout issues, poor handwriting, spelling mistakes and more, so it is important to plan to look for specific data and consider a way to track this data that will allow you to refer to it after the lesson.

One straightforward method of tracking data during the independent practice is by printing out the class register and completing the following steps:

  • Prior to the lesson, consider what it is you are wanting to monitor during the practice
  • Create a simple code that can signal pupil understanding.

An example of this tracker might be as follows:

Potential error


  1. Pupil did not invert fraction before beginning calculation
  2. Pupil did not express answer as a mixed number fraction
Pupil name: Code: 1 or 2
Joe Bloggs 1 and 2
Jane Bloggs 1

Monitoring Independent practice in action

To demonstrate how to monitor pupil work effectively for misconceptions by circulating, watch the following clips of teachers in action.

Monitoring independent practice - Early Years - Bethan Hughes at Reach Academy

If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Monitoring independent practice - Early Years - Bethan Hughes at Reach Academy [AD]

Monitoring independent practice - Primary at Reach Academy

In this KS4 Maths lesson, you can see the teacher monitoring pupil work with a focus on anticipating a common misconception around decimals and the interior angles of a quadrilateral.

If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Monitoring independent practice - Primary at Reach Academy [AD]

Monitoring independent practice - Secondary at Reach Academy

If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Monitoring independent practice - Secondary at Reach Academy [AD]

Monitoring independent practice – Specialist setting - Ellen Tinkham School

If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Monitoring independent practice – Specialist setting - Ellen Tinkham School [AD]

Monitoring pupils’ work for misconceptions


Select an upcoming lesson plan to review.

Identify a moment in the lesson where pupils would engage in independent practice.

What might be the two or three potential errors they could make during this time? Make sure that the errors you select will help you monitor their understanding and check for a misconception.

Write the errors in your notepad.

Monitoring work and acting on information will be the focus of your next observation and mentor interaction. You may wish to discuss this activity with your mentor at your next meeting to see whether they agree with your identified potential errors.

When should you give feedback?

When monitoring pupil work across the lesson, you are constantly making decisions around what to feed back to individuals, and what is necessary to address with the whole class. Research indicates that providing feedback is one of the most effective – and cost effective – ways of improving pupil learning. But what should the feedback look like, and when should you give it?

A recent synthesis of information by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) concluded that, on average, the provision of high-quality feedback led to an improvement of eight additional months of progress over the course of a year. However, providing effective feedback can be challenging, and the research also highlighted that when feedback is not given well it can have a negative impact on pupil progress.

When should you give feedback?

Research studies into feedback do make a distinction between a ‘mistake’ and an ‘error’.

Mistake: something a student can do, and does normally do correctly, but has not on this occasion.

Error: which occurs when answering something that a student has not mastered or has misunderstood.

(EEF, ‘A Marked Improvement?’, page 12)

If a pupil makes a mistake, how much feedback is it worth giving in order to correct the mistake? The EEF ‘A Marked Improvement?’ (2016) report concludes that it should be marked as incorrect, but that the correct answer should not be provided. The rationale for this is that, if a pupil is given the correct answer, it means they are no longer required to think about the mistakes they have made, and as a result are likely to repeat the mistake again.

Conversely, if a pupil has made an error and therefore has a potential misconception, the report recommends that it is most effective to remind the pupil of a related rule or offer a hint towards a correct answer. If the error was treated the same as a mistake, by simply marking it incorrect, a pupil would not have the knowledge to work out what they have done wrong.

When should you give feedback?

Knowing when to give feedback, and what type of feedback will be most effective, can be challenging, particularly as research has identified that feedback can sometimes have a negative impact on pupil progress.

Whilst monitoring your pupils you may notice errors occurring. When this happens, there are four different ways that you could correct the error in your pupils’ thinking:

  • Immediate correction of the individual who has made the error
  • Immediate class correction
  • Through detailed marking
  • Addressing the error through planning for the next lesson

As a teacher you will use the information from your assessments to inform the decisions you make. You may notice that there is a common error occurring, and it is therefore appropriate to stop the whole class to ensure that the misconception does not become ingrained. It can sometimes feel daunting to stop the class during independent practice, but by doing so, it will save you time when marking pupil work as you will not need to write the same comment repeatedly. It will also mean you will not need to plan to undo new errors in thinking in subsequent lessons.


Reflect on the last time you stopped the class to address a common error.

What information had you gathered that informed your decision?

The next section of this module will support you by giving further feedback strategies that are both effective and manageable.

When should you give feedback?


Reflect on your answers to the following questions and note down your thoughts:

  • what is the difference between a mistake and an error?
  • what types of mistakes do your pupils often make (e.g. spelling mistakes) and how do you normally correct them?
  • what form does your feedback often taken when a pupil has made an error?
  • how effective do you feel your feedback has been?