on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 10, Issue 1, Article 12
Part 2: Research on Teacher Beliefs and Classroom Practice
Many scholars believe that the implementation of any reform movement heavily depends on teachers (Bybee, 1993; Haney, Czerniak, & Lumpe, 1996; Levitt, 2002; Nespor, 1987; Pajares, 1992; Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1994). As Prawat (1992) indicates, teachers are expected to play a crucial role in changing schools and classrooms. Paradoxically, however, they are also viewed as major obstacles to change due to their traditional beliefs. According to Bandura (1986), an individual’s decisions throughout his/her life is strongly influenced by his/her beliefs. Similarly, Pajares asserts that beliefs are, “best indicators of the decisions that individuals make throughout their lives” (p. 307). Teacher beliefs play a major role in teachers’ decision making about curriculum and instructional tasks (Nespor; Pajares). In summary, educational researchers have advocated the need for closer examination and direct study of the relationship between teacher beliefs and educational practices (Pajares; Pomeroy, 1993). Therefore, the relationship between teacher beliefs and practice is well documented in science education literature.
A number of studies investigating the relationship between teacher beliefs and practice have found that teacher beliefs are consistent with classroom practice. Hashweh (1996) conducted a study with 35 Palestinian science teachers in order to identify the relationship between their epistemological beliefs and classroom practices. Data obtained through the use of a three-part questionnaire consisted of critical incidents, direct questions about teacher strategies for conceptual change, and ratings of the use and importance of specific teaching strategies. The author characterized teachers as learning constructivists, learning empiricists, knowledge constructivists and/or knowledge empiricists. He found that differences in epistemological beliefs influenced classroom teaching. According to the findings of his study, teachers holding learning constructivist and knowledge constructivist beliefs are more likely to detect student alternative conceptions, have a richer repertoire of teaching strategies, use potentially more effective teaching strategies for inducing student conceptual change and report more frequent use of effective teaching strategies compared with teachers having empiricist beliefs. Although Hashweh investigated the relationship between teacher beliefs and practice, he collected self-reported data from teachers about their classroom practice without observation. This should be considered as one of the biggest weakness of this study.
Haney and McArthur (2002) constructed case studies for four prospective science teachers in order to identify teachers’ constructivist beliefs and classroom practices. Participants were purposively selected as a result of their scores on the Classroom Learning Environment Survey ([CLES] Taylor, et al., 1994). The CLES instrument has five subcategories that were viewed as critical to the formation of a constructivist classroom environment: (1) personal relevance, (2) scientific uncertainty, (3) critical voice, (4) shared control, and (5) student negotiation. Other data sources came from classroom assignments, semi-structured interviews conducted after observations and classroom observations. However, each participant was only observed teaching a self-selected constructivist lesson. As a result, the authors may not find much inconsistency between teachers’ beliefs and practice.
In their study, Haney and McArthur (2002) analyzed teacher beliefs as either core beliefs or peripheral beliefs. Core beliefs are defined as those beliefs that are both stated and enacted, while peripheral beliefs are defined as constructivist beliefs that are stated but are not enacted. The study showed that teachers’ core beliefs (constructivist, conflict and emerging) were stable and resistant to change. Teachers’ beliefs regarding personal relevance, scientific uncertainty, and student negotiation were constructivist core beliefs that were consistent with their practices. However, shared control was a peripheral belief for three teachers who stated that they would like to implement it, but they found it both difficult and frustrating to incorporate. The authors suggested that the belief, necessary to cover the existing local science curriculum, was evident as an obstacle for all participants.
Beck et al. (2000) conducted a study consisting of 203 teachers, having different backgrounds, teaching experiences and race, to identify the factors influencing K-12 science teachers’ implementation of constructivism in their classrooms. The authors used an open-ended questionnaire and the Classroom Learning Environment Survey (Taylor et al. 1994) as instruments. In general, the teachers possessed positive attitudes about teaching for personal relevance, but teachers with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees had a more positive attitude toward teaching for personal relevance than teachers with Doctoral degrees. Middle level teachers expressed their intent to teach for personal relevance more than primary teachers. Significant differences were found between teachers’ intent to implement and their gender. Female teachers were more likely to implement the targeted behavior than male teachers for both critical voice and student negotiation. Middle level teachers were the most likely to implement student negotiation, while primary teachers had the most positive attitude about teaching for student negotiation. Generally, the teachers believed that teaching for personal relevance, scientific uncertainty, critical voice, shared control, and student negotiation in the classroom can motivate students, help students understand the limitations and imperfections in science, that science changes over time and involve students in their own learning. On the other hand, they also indicated that they were concerned with the amount of time, student misuse of critical voice, the immaturity and inexperience of students in the use of shared control and classroom management problems.
Haney et al. (1996) identified teacher beliefs and intentions regarding the implementation of science education reform strands. Data was obtained through structured interviews and questionnaires. Four questionnaires related to the reform strands of inquiry, knowledge, conditions and applications were developed by the authors from the structured interviews conducted using a sample of 13 teachers. Findings indicated that women were more likely to intend to implement reforms strands than were men. The primary teachers held more favorable beliefs toward the implementation of science education reform strands than did the middle-level or high school teachers. Teacher familiarity was another component that influenced teacher intentions. Teachers in this study did not believe that they had the ability to bring about educational change. They believed that barriers such as lack of effective staff development opportunities, available resources and administrative support impeded their ability to implement educational reform. Although studies conducted by Beck et al. (2000) and Haney et al. (1996) could provide information of teacher beliefs about constructivism and science education reform strands, they provide little information about their actual classroom practice since the authors did no classroom observation. Levitt (2002) conducted a study in order to identify the beliefs of elementary teachers regarding the teaching and learning of science and the extent to which the teachers’ beliefs were consistent with constructivism, which underlies science education reform. Sixteen teachers from two school districts involved in a local systemic project for science education reform participated in the study. Although data was collected via semi-structured interviews and classroom observations, each teacher was only observed teaching a single lesson from the program.
Levitt (2002) categorized teacher beliefs and classroom practice into three groups: traditional, transitional and transformational. The author concluded that although gaps still exist between the teacher beliefs and the principles of reform, the implication of teacher beliefs is that the teachers are moving in a direction consistent with science education reform. The author described teacher beliefs as incomplete when compared to the philosophy of teaching and learning underlying science education reform. On the other hand, the findings of the study could not give in-depth information regarding teacher-classroom practices due to few classroom observation hours.
A more recent study was done by Roehrig and Kruse (2005) in order to understand the impact of a reform-based chemistry curriculum on teachers’ classroom practices and to identify the effects of teacher beliefs and knowledge on their implementation of the curriculum. Twelve high school chemistry teachers participated in the study. Data was collected through interviews and classroom observations from the field test of the curriculum prior to full implementation. Participant responses were categorized as traditional, instructive, transitional, responsive or reform-based and then given a numerical value from 1 (traditional) to 5 (reform-based). In addition, each teacher was observed teaching non-LBC lessons at least twice prior to the field test of LBC and observed weekly, totaling four-to-seven observations per teacher. The findings of the study revealed that teachers’ classroom practices became more reform-based as a result of the presence of the new curriculum. This study is also consistent with the idea that teaching beliefs have a significant influence on classroom practices. Experienced, out-of-discipline teachers with transitional or student-centered teaching beliefs exhibited the most growth in reform-based teaching practices.
The studies previously discussed found that teacher beliefs are mostly consistent with their practice. However, most of these studies have collected self-reported data by rating their use of teaching strategies without observation (Beck et al., 2000; Haney et al., 1996; Hashweh, 1996); or limited observation (Haney & McArthur, 2002; Levitt, 2002; Roehrig & Kruse, 2005). Therefore, this can be one of the reasons that they have found consistency between their beliefs and practice. On the other hand, studies investigating the relationship between teacher beliefs and practice should consider the context in which teachers work in order to better understand the relationship. There have been some studies that teacher beliefs do not necessarily influence classroom practice because of several factors (Hancock & Gallard, 2004; Mellado, 1998). Teacher education and teacher background, school community including administrator, parent and student perspectives and other factors such as the need to cover curriculum and preparing students on exams are some of the possible factors that may influence teacher classroom practice as well as teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning, and should be taken into account by researchers.
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