TEACHER BELIEFS AND BELIEF REPORTS: WHY THE DIFFERENCE REALLY MATTERS
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (CHILE)
The concept of belief has become one of the most important concepts in contemporary education (see Alexander & Dochy, 1995; Borg, 2001; Hofer & Pintrich, 2002; Murphy & Alexander, 2008; Nespor, 1997; Pajares, 1992). It is central not only to the theory and research on teaching and learning in general, but also to teacher education in particular – to such an extent that some even take it to be the most valuable psychological construct to teacher education (see Pintrich, 1990). No wonder, since teachers' beliefs are normally assumed to be highly influential upon their teaching practices and, consequently, the last two or three decades have witnessed a wealth of studies concerned with identifying what teachers, student teachers, and teacher educators believe about a wide variety of issues (e.g., Beswick, 2012; Brousseau, Book, & Byers, 1988; Eisenhart, Shrum, Harding, and Cuthbert, 1988; Everston & Weade, 1989; Fives & Buhel, 2008; Hart, 2002; Hermann & Duffy, 1989; Joram & Gabriele, 1997; Martin, 1989; Rico Romero & Gil Cuadra, 2003; Rojas & Sequeira, 2012; Schommer-Aikins, Duell, & Hutter, 2005; Zhu, Valcke, & Schellens, 2008).
Most of these studies assume, although often implicitly, that it is relatively unproblematic to determine what subjects believe in virtue of what they say they believe. This assumption is made explicit by Alexander & Docky (1995): “[W]e assumed that the responses that participants shared would be accurate reflections of their thoughts and views” (p. 416). It is partly because of this that the procedures and instruments used to identify beliefs in the great majority of the studies ultimately resort to (different sorts of) belief reports: interviews, Likert-type scales, questionnaires, etc.
In this work I argue that the assumption in question is mistaken and, consequently, we better re-interpret recent educational research on beliefs as revealing information not about the beliefs of teachers and other educational agents but about their belief reports. I also suggest some alternative procedures for identifying beliefs that are not based upon such reports. My point is that if we are interested in what educational agents really believe (rather than in what they claim to believe) these alternative procedures seem far more appropriate or, in fact, valid.