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European Journal of Teacher Education

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Stability and Change in Student Teachers Beliefs

H.H. Tillema Version of record first published: 02 Aug 2006

To cite this article: H.H. Tillema (1997): Stability and Change in Student Teachers Beliefs, European Journal of Teacher Education, 20:3, 209-212 To link to this article:

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European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1997


Guest Editorial Stability and Change in Student Teachers' Beliefs


Introduction The literature on learning to teach repeatedly points to the stability and even inertness of student teachers' beliefs. The present issue brings together different studies that elaborate on the problem of student teachers' seemingly unchanged beliefs as the outcome of intervention programmes in teacher education or in-service education, many of which aim specifically at belief change. The studies in this issue show that change does occur, although not always in a unidirectional or intended way, and not in the same manner for each (student) teacher. Common to all contributions is the conviction that belief change is an important aim of teacher education programmes, i.e. that it is important to acknowledge student teachers' beliefs and to offer and discuss alternative conceptions to which student teachers can revert and in which they can find support in building their teaching identities and professional lives. However, as is repeatedly found in several studies, student teachers come to experience diverse, often incoherent, and sometimes even conflicting views on educational theories and teaching methods during their participation in teacher training programmes. It is largely left to the student teacher to build an integrated perspective on teaching and learning that will help them cope with the demands of their working practice. As they enter teacher education as their first learning environment in the profession, student teachers' beliefs are still quite 'stable' or embedded in relatively fixed pattern of beliefs about teaching. It is the challenge of teacher education to make these conceptions and lay theories open to change, which means providing fruitful (instructional) conditions for building a personal as well as professional knowledge base for teaching. The position put forward in this issue is that courses in teacher education should recognize this tacit knowledge and exploit these beliefs to the full, rather than simply conveying new information to student teachers. This implies engaging student teachers in a deliberate exchange and debate on educational knowledge and beliefs or eliciting implicit conceptions about teaching, thus involving them in a meaningful, constructive learning process and reflective inquiry that will expand their knowledge and action potential. As a consequence, there is a real possibility that the knowledge and ideas offered to student teachers will better prepare them for teaching, and will lead to or stimulate their pedagogic reasoning as professionals. It is our belief that prior conceptions and beliefs, as well as an active involvement in knowledge construction, ought to have a considerable impact on programme design and course delivery in teacher education. There is now a growing body of research on the nature of orientations and perspectives held by student teachers and their subjective or lay 'theories' and beliefs 0261-9768/97/030209-04 1997 Association for Teacher Education in Europe Downloaded by [CERIST] at 10:54 24 July 2012

210 H. H. Tillema
about teaching. What seems to be missing are validated ways of dealing with students' existing beliefs, and although we have come to learn much about belief formation, belief change as a process for intervention is less well understood. Belief change arises from a need to change one's conceptions and knowledge, and it involves constructive as well as confrontational processes which makes it of direct interest to teacher training programmes. Teacher education can be regarded as a vehicle for belief change while orienting student teachers towards the profession. This issue, therefore, has a special interest in the process of belief change in the context of teacher education. Restructuring student teachers' pre-existing beliefs and ideas could be a more important to goal in programmes of teacher education than the presentation of new information itself. Given what is already known about belief formation, it is at any rate important to clarify how existing conceptions and knowledge can be effectively challenged and changed. This thematic issue intends to form a collection of conceptual and empirical studies that underscore relevant approaches to changing (student) teachers' beliefs while at the same time providing information about the processes involved in belief change. The studies selected deal on the one hand with clarifying (the content and structure of) student teacher beliefs as this is of interest to the construction of programmes, while on the other hand including studies that try to directly influence belief change by using intervention models. Together these studies portray an effective approach to belief change that is founded on exchange and discourse while at the same time stimulating the self-regulative learning and self-directed reasoning of young professionals. Sugrue's contribution, entitled "Student teachers' lay theories and teaching identities: their implications for professional development", can be regarded as a foundational study in this issue dealing with the construction of (student) teacher beliefs. It explores the origins and nature of student teachers' ways of thinking about their professional lives and how this affects their actual learning and performance. He discusses the formation of professional identities from a post-modernist perspective, i.e. stressing the nature of ambiguity and uncertainty as a companion process to learning and development. This study opens the thematic issue to point out that beliefs have a profound and long-lasting effect on professional development. Sugrue makes it evident that belief formation is not confined to the period of teacher education or even that teacher education programmes have a strong influence on the formation or change of initial professional beliefs. Teacher education's main concern lies in being aware of not reinforcing or implicitly reproducing 'false' images in relation to teacher identities, i.e. by promoting a kind of essentialism on teaching. Teacher education programmes do, however, have strong opportunities to endorse the exchange of beliefs and their continuous redefinition through discourse. This may be regarded as the theme which permeates this issue and which is worked out in the respective papers. In her contribution "Why do we want to change teachers' beliefs and how can we support these changes?", Bernadette Hauglustaine-Charlier addresses the question of stability and changes in student teachers' beliefs from the perspective of two research objectives: to foster a process by which student teachers change their own beliefs and to understand the process of this change. As a researcher, she employs a constructivist standpoint by explicitly clarifying her objectives as a teachers' educator and the implications of these objectives for the research design. Clarifying one's position is found to be necessary to support the dialogue between teacher educators and researchers, and to favour the use of the research results in teacher education. A case study is presented in which she analyzes changes in the teaching beliefs of

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European Journal of Teacher Education


experienced teachers as they relate to the training conditions in which they have taken part. These changes are discussed with respect to the stability of teachers' beliefs and interpreted within the central questions of the study, i.e. Why are we interested in the question of stability and changes in teachers' beliefs? What are the underlying assumptions supporting this interest? And how can teachers' educators support these changes?" These questions closely correspond to the issues addressed in the contribution by Douwe Beijaard & Yvonne de Vries. Having studied different beliefs on 'good' teaching, they report on the core beliefs of nine experienced secondary school teachers as constituents of their practical knowledge. In addition to the study of these conceptions of teaching, they explored how teachers had developed their core beliefs on student learning and to what extent they had changed these beliefs. It was found that to some extent change of beliefs can be predicted by the different ways in which teachers developed their actual beliefs, e.g. through (enhanced) reflection, through progressive problem-solving (taking on new challenges), through the reduction of problems (concentration of knowledge and experience), and through a stimulating working environment. In this contribution, particular attention is placed upon the extent to which the teachers' development of their beliefs has been reflective, the ways teachers deal with conflicting theories and self regulation, and their sources of learning. These are supposed to be relevant indicators that promote change in teachers' beliefs. The studies by Hauglustaine-Charlier and Beijaard & De Vries both deal with the beliefs of experienced teachers who can resort to substantial practical knowledge. Taking this as a point of reference, it becomes interesting to explore and locate the beliefs of student teachers entering teacher training programmes to see whether these beliefs differ from the backgrounds of experienced teachers and discover if they grow or are changed in the direction of the conceptions of practitioners through interventions in teacher education programmes. This is carried out in the study by Moira von Wright. She discusses teaching beliefs of the teacher role, and the teaching practice of student teachers. Her contribution, entitled "Student teacher beliefs and a changing teacher role", is based on two empirical studies of Swedish compulsory school student teachers. The results show that when entering their teacher education, student teachers seldom have coherent beliefs and expectations. Student teachers express implicit beliefs and underlying conceptions of human development which in many cases are contradictory. During teacher education, their pedagogical beliefs might become replaced by 'correct' ones, but implicit beliefs, such as affinity with certain pedagogical discourses, are not changed or brought to awareness unless they are seriously challenged and problemized. Yet it is found that these beliefs do direct students' attention. Changing demands on the teacher role bring about a shift in thinking about teaching and learning and are therefore connected to beliefs about the pupils' socialization process and the teacher's influence. Teacher education and educators play a role mainly as fortifying beliefs and the traditional teacher role. The descriptive studies in this issue all seem to align with the position outlined, namely that beliefs grow and change over time, depending upon external input and influences that can alter them, and are certainly not fixed or stable. However, this does not mean to say that these beliefs are easy to change, rather that teachers hold on to certain beliefs as being central to their thinking, reasoning and action. It is through dialogue and discourse, or even by discussing beliefs in the context of a research study (e.g. Hauglustaine-Charlier; Von Wright; see also Lauriala) that these beliefs can be opened to scrutiny. This may shed some new light upon the role of beliefs in teacher

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training programmes. Beliefs need to be addressed and can be made amenable to debate and learning. The other contributions in this issue deal more directly with this interventional side of belief change, by offering some solutions for the design of teacher training programmes. Anneli Lauriala's article discusses two case studies carried out at the Oulu University in Finland. The studies involved both development and research, that is, designing 'new' types of student teacher programmes as well as researching into their delivery. Programmes were constructed on the basis of collaboration between a teacher educator/ researcher (the author of the article), supervising teachers from the teaching practice school (closely attached to university), and student teachers. The main starting points for the development of new kind of programme are to be found in the design principles to overcome the theory/practice gap, use of strategies likely to overcome the status quo or the subordinate role of student teachers, and an awareness of the progressive/ traditional shift. Teaching in so-called 'practicums' took place in innovative classroom environments where the participants had an opportunity to observe, act and discuss teaching, while being mentored by classroom teachers who had experimented with innovative pedagogies for years. An interpretivist research approach was used to study the belief changes focused on meanings ascribed to events by actors in a social situation, trying to understand how teachers view themselves and how they experience and interpret events, interactions and situations within their practicum contexts. The results demonstrated that the programme, i.e. the practicum context, made student teachers more critically examine their (frequently) tacit beliefs, as well as restructure and reflect on their professional beliefs. This article discusses belief change processes from the point of view of teacher socialisation, and on more elemental level from the point of view of (professional) learning, applying the principles of situated cognition and action theory to teacher learning. In his study "Reflective discourse in teams; a vehicle to support belief change in student teachers", Harm H. Tillema discusses the results of an intervention approach that deals with belief change in teacher education programmes from the perspective of self-regulation and metacognitive awareness. Evaluations were collected regarding teaching and learning in so-called 'study teams' of student teachers; these student teachers worked in a self-regulated manner on problems they themselves selected for learning. It showed that when actively involved in inquiry-oriented and reflective learning, and when provided with full opportunities for discourse and exchange, student teachers become increasingly engaged in processes of belief change, opening up their teaching identities for debate. It is therefore advocated that self-regulated learning in teacher training programmes can be an important vehicle for professional learning and development, since it promotes independent thinking and metacognitive as well as meta-affective awareness of one's learning, which in itself provides the condition for focusing on one's beliefs and fostering change or growth of beliefs. Correspondence: H. H. Tillema, Centre for the Study of Education and Instruction, P.O. Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands (Fax: + 31-71-527 3619).

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