Teachers’ beliefs are not wrong per se, but they are what shape everyday lives of teachers, students and the learning process. Sometimes, they can be called common myths, but as a whole, teachers’ beliefs are important and play a significant role in learning.
Teachers’ beliefs play a significant role in forming teaching behavior, the way teachers conduct the learning process and the way they express themselves. Teachers’ beliefs should be investigated in order to understand how they develop, including the similarities between beliefs and practices, and how they can be changed.
We deal with teachers’ beliefs along with student learning and motivation through answering these questions:
- What are the definitions and concepts of beliefs?
- What are the common beliefs that teachers have on student learning and motivation?
- What changes do we recommend for teachers’ beliefs and instructions?
This essay forms part of a literature review on several underlying topics of what constitutes the learning process.
Scientists and theorists have formulated ideas and theories on the role of environments on human behavior. Training programs have to follow this thrust but, unfortunately, many do not do so or do not want to follow it.
According to Morrison and Black (as cited in Goldstein, 1999, p. 180), there a number of factors that lead to what is called social misperception and some of these are: wrong conclusion or perception of the environment by failing to listen to peers or partners, failing to integrate himself/herself to the group, or failing to know the meaning of what he/she has heard.
Those involved in the learning process in the formal classroom setting have many rules, theories, beliefs, and phenomena to know and make it a basis in their activities in the classroom. (Goldstein & McGinnis, 1997, p. 13)
In a study, Turner, Christensen, and Meyer (2009, p. 361) focused on practicing mathematics teachers in addressing teachers’ beliefs and motivation and learning. Furinghetti and Pehkonen (2002 as cited in Turner et al. 2009, p. 361) indicated that there are two kinds of knowledge, one objective and the other subjective. Beliefs are subjective and are assumptions or suppositions, whereas knowledge refers to facts subject to what we know as truth. Knowledge and beliefs are contrast. There are many who do disagree with believers, but they meet at a certain point when it comes to knowledge. (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002)
Teachers lack insights about learning processes which are inside the students’ minds, they depend on several ways to determine whether the students learned and their instructional techniques are effective. They try to rely on common sense and beliefs they have accumulated over the years of teaching. They also monitor student reactions and behavior, activities in school and their responsiveness to the lessons, or what is termed as ‘lesson flow and completion’. (Turner, Christensen, & Meyer, 2009, p. 361)
One teacher’s belief states that if a lesson is taught or explained, it should be in the mind of the student as a learned lesson. If the student does not absorb the lesson, then there is something wrong with the student’s motivation or ability and not because of the teacher’s instructional method (Floden, 1996 as cited in Turner et al. 2009, p. 362). But there are also beliefs that teachers want to practice interactive approaches in which teachers observe students’ learning processes. Gallimore and Tharp (1990 as cited in Turner et al., 2009) indicated that there are teachers who do not have knowledge of conversation with their students. Teachers also believe that instructional conversation is not possible among different groups of students. (Turner et al., 2009)
Middleton (1995 as cited in Brophy, 2010) conducted research on teachers’ beliefs and found that teachers and students (from middle-school mathematics class) refer to expectancy and value aspects when asked on motivation issues. It was found that high-achieving students preferred interesting activities while low-achieving ones preferred activities which they perceived easy.
Further, an interesting revelation by Brophy (2010) indicated that teachers’ beliefs influenced students’ ideas. An example of this is that mathematics lessons should be applied to real life situations, leading the students to report that application activities were more enjoyable than other activities in mathematics lessons.
Mitchell (1993 as cited in Brophy, 2010, p. 201) in following up a thesis suggested by John Dewey about ‘catching and holding students’ interest’, indicated that motivational techniques in mathematics classes such as brain teasers, working on computers and allowing them to perform group works were effective in catching their attention in math subject but not in holding their interest that will enable them to achieve significant learning.
It is not enough for students to be motivated by allowing them to study along with enjoyable activities. They should know how to work hard and concentrate on the subject matter. Another thing, according to Brophy (2010), although motivational strategies allow students to enjoy in their classroom activities, it is not an assurance that it can lead to or fulfill the teachers’ learning goals.
On many occasions, students’ disruptive behavior disturbs the normal flow of classroom activities. Teachers usually react to the students’ behaviors. The teacher can react to this by telling the disruptive student to sit at the rear part of the classroom as a form of punishment. (Queen & Algozzine, 2010, p. 64)
By reacting to students’ behavior, or by interacting with the students, the teacher influences their behavior. The students’ words and actions show the kind of influence the teacher has created upon the students.
The most common way of addressing problem behavior in the classroom might be conducting some particular activities such as discussion, narrating or telling what was done before, and removal from the classroom. Teacher-student conversation alone may be one way of treatment, although this may not be an effective way of behavior change.
In a recent study, 75% of children who displayed anti-social behavior were brought to highly-restrictive and other placement homes. Children exhibiting disruptive behaviors are considered having school problems (Witt, VanDerHeyden, & Gilbertson, 2004, p. 438). Further, there are more disciplinary problems in higher grade levels than in the lower grade levels (McFadden, Marsch, Price, & Hwang, 1992 as cited in Marzano, 2003, p. 33).
Although teachers have a responsibility for the so-called disruptive behaviors of students, they are in no way answerable to it. They are asked however to do something about it.
The role of diverse environmental conditions
Learning theories emphasize that students and children respond to diverse environments. Behavior of individuals responds to changes in the environment. According to theorists, human beings respond so easily to change and human behavior is flexible. Response patterns of individuals change and go with the way environmental conditions change. When individuals are noted as similar in behavior, that’s because they are exposed to the same environmental conditions, or what is termed as patterns of reinforcement. (Newman & Newman, 2009, p. 79)
Behavior is acquired with much influence by the environment. This influence is known as “environmental steering of development” which culminates in the maturity of the individual. The organism and the environment develop together and become compatible. (Ingold, 1999, p. 193)
People can change their behavior by observing others
People change, and they do change a lot. There are many factors that force people to change, particularly in their behavior, and one of this is through social interaction and by observing others. As they observe others and realize they are different, they tend to or slowly change. (Grosman, 2004, p. 159)
The terms peer pressure” or “peer influence” occur because of people’s observation when faced with situations that need their personal judgment. This is the subject of an increasing number of empirical research on friendships and peer relations in children (Asher, Singleton, Tinsley, & Hymel, 1979; Chen, Rubin, & Li, 1997; Coie, Dodge, & Copotelli, 1982; Chan, Ramey, Ramey, & Schmitt, 2000).
The psychologist Salomon Asch (as cited in Hirshleifer, 2004) conducted an experiment where people were asked to compare lines, and the respondents followed the comparison made by their co-respondents in the experiment. The experimenter considered it as pressure by others to confirm their comparison, but Asch concluded that it was also possible that the respondents changed their beliefs after having known and observed other’s choices. (Hirshleifer, 2004, p. 207)
How attention affects on the learning process
Bandura’s (2001 as cited in Schunk & Zimmerman, 2007) social cognitive theory states that ‘human functioning is a series of reciprocal interactions between personal influences (e.g. thoughts, beliefs), environmental features, and behaviors.’
For example, one’s beliefs (known as self-efficacy beliefs) can affect the environment; this means that efficacious students who try to write an essay or literary work in a noisy environment will try to redouble their efforts by deep concentration to avoid distractions (Zimmerman, 1998; Shell, Murphy, & Bruning,1989)
Conversely, the environment can also affect an individual’s behavior. Students who receive positive feedback and encouraging words from teachers will feel efficacious and try to work harder to get higher grades (Stewart, Myers, & Culley, 2010, 46).
Teachers can create an inspiring environment for students to write or study well, allowing students fruitful time to write and revise their work. (Schunk and Zimmerman, 2007, p. 10; Zimmerman, 2000, 2001; Wehmeyer, 2007, p. 4; Sexton, Harris, & Graham, 1998)
The effectiveness of retention on the learning process
People can retain better, or put into memory, what they learn depending on the way the learning style is conducted. A study by Monambeau and Finch (2000 as cited in Agosti, 2006, p. 201) found that retention is associated with learning styles. Social or collaborative style of learning allow people to retain at least 50% or higher. Collaborative learning is an effective style of learning (Hiltz, 1997 as cited in Agosti, 2006, p. 202). Working in groups also increases motivation, rather than working alone. In skill development, working in groups is also very effective.
Learning effectiveness and retention is an interesting subject when speaking of distance education. Distance education has some risks, for example social isolation on the part of the learners – he/she is away doing their own job. The student has to be motivated or he/she could lose interest on the subject matter. Distance education keeps the student away from the rest, while it is a fact that we learn through social contact, through sharing and interaction. (Ramachandran & Rahim, 2004, p. 162)
The effectiveness of reproduction on the learning process
We go back to the theory of the learning process formulated by Bandura (2001 as cited in Maslovat, Hayes, Horn, & Hodges, 2010, p. 316; Bandura, 1997). Bandura formulated the social cognitive theory which states that a representation acts as a ‘mediator between observation and action’ (Maslovat et al., p. 316; Zimmerman &Bandura, 1994). The quality of the symbolic representation or reproduction determines the outcome of the learning process. This theory has failed researchers to dig deeper into what kind of information should come out on this subject.
The rise of computers and the Internet has created new paradigm shifts and new meaning in the learning process. We mentioned distance learning. This can now be enhanced with the use of the Internet and teleconferencing.
On the other hand, reproduction is not anymore a problem as computers can store as many data, information, and images and can be downloaded or retrieved anytime the student wishes. Multi-media are an important tool in learning, and the quality and features can provide the same quality outcomes on the part of the learner. The factors that have an impact on learning include the kind of multimedia material applied in the learning process. (Olkinuora, Mikkilä-Erdmann, & Nurmi, 2004, p. 333)
The effectiveness of motivation on the learning process
Motivation is important in many disciplines. At work or school, motivation plays a significant role. Technology has improved and has led to the information revolution. Technological factors have enhanced the style of learning and the way knowledge and information are imparted to students and learners. We can now use computer graphics and information technology in the learning process. This creates motivation on the part of the students who enjoy as they learn. (Eifferman, 1974; Singer, 1973 as cited in Lepper & Malone, 1987, p. 259)
According to Brophy (2010), the key to motivating the minds of students for learning activities is to provide them with powerful ideas which contain ‘content structures, reflect major instructional goals, and provide the basis for authentic applications’. In conducting important learning, students’ cognitive/learning aspects should be motivated to absorb the lesson and not just for the fun and enjoyment of doing it. (Brophy, 2010, p. 201)
A type of motivation is contingency management. This is used in situations where motivations are used to change the behavior of the learner. An example of this is in an elementary school classroom, teachers can know the needs of the students and find ways to satisfy their needs. The teacher may give rewards by giving candies so that the students are motivated to proceed with the learning process. Another kind of motivation is to provide reward points to students who have passed performance tests. The rewards can be exchanged with money, plaques, or field trips, etc. (Berman, 1981, p. 185)
Another kind of motivation is subject motivation. This is provided by teachers that can be related to students’ perceptions of the teacher. Teacher behavior is an influential factor on subject motivation (Baumert and Demmrich, 2001 as cited in Creemers and Kyriakides, 2008, p. 96).
The role of reinforcement on observational learning
Reinforcement can motivate to strengthen behavior. Reinforcement or reinforcers play a key role in changing behaviors of individuals. Reinforcers can be negative or positive. Positive reinforcers are said to be pleasant stimuli because they strengthen a response. When we remove a stimulus after finding out a response, it is termed negative reinforcement. (Goodyear, 1996, p. 140)
Both, however, have the positive effect of strengthening the behavior. Reinforcement may be executed or delivered on a continuous reinforcement process. Punishment is a form of negative reinforce where the behavior is the result of an unpleasant stimulus. (Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart, & Roy, 2008, p. 235)
Additionally, observational learning usually occurs in the ordinary classroom. According to theorists, learning is a result of observing other people. Conditioning is a factor in social learning. Human beings are unique living organisms that have distinct beliefs and attitudes. These unique beliefs and attitudes, including our expectations, influence the way we consume knowledge and information, and reinforcers. A reinforcer is the result of our relationship with the environment. (Nicholas, 2008, p. 132)
The effectiveness of self-as-a-model on learning process
There are different types of expectations that should hold on each student. In a learning process, a student may make progress in class and expectations to himself/herself become higher because of such progress (Campbell, 1985; Karabenick, 2011, p. 267; Schmitz, Klug, & Schmidt, 2011, p. 251). The demands of succeeding lessons may provide different expectations. It is suggested therefore that different types of expectations – which should be realistic ones – be generated for each particular student. (Campbell & Kyriakides, 2000; Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008, p. 97)
Studies have revealed that expectations play a significant role in the student-level factor. Expectations can be known by letting students indicate their belief of doing their best in a particular subject. Another is to ask the students what they believe are expectations of their parents or friends on them. Expectations of these significant others could be a form of pressure on the students. (Kyriakides and Tsangaridou, 2004 as cited in Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008, p. 97)
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