factors contributing to attitude exchange amongst preservice elementary teachers

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  • SCIENCE TEACHEREDUCATION

    Deborah Trumbull, Section Editor

    Factors Contributing to AttitudeExchange Amongst PreserviceElementary Teachers

    DAVID H. PALMERFaculty of Education, The University of Newcastle, New South Wales 2308, Australia

    Received 5 January 2000; revised 4 March 2001; accepted 15 March 2001

    ABSTRACT: Previous research has shown that elementary education majors often dislikescience and lack confidence in their ability to teach it. This is an important problem becausestudents who hold these attitudes are likely to avoid teaching science, or teach it poorly,when they become teachers. It is therefore necessary to identify preservice elementaryteachers who hold negative attitudes towards science, and attempt to convert these attitudesto positive before they become teachers. This study was designed to identify students whoseattitudes had changed from negative to positive (i.e., attitude exchange had occurred) afterparticipating in a one-semester elementary science education course, and to identify thecourse factors that were responsible. Four participants were individually interviewed. Thetranscripts indicated that attitude exchange had occurred for each of the four students. Eachstudent described several features of the course that had a positive influence. These were ofthree main types: personal attributes of the tutor, specific teaching strategies, and externalvalidation. It was proposed that many of the individual factors were effective because theyrepresented either performance accomplishments or vicarious experience as defined byBandura (Psychological Review, 84, 1977, 191215). C 2001John Wiley & Sons, Inc. SciEd 86:122138, 2001.

    INTRODUCTIONOver the last two decades, a considerable amount of research attention has focussed on

    the science attitudes of preservice elementary teachers. It has been found that many of themhold negative attitudes which appear to have arisen from their past experiences in science,particularly at secondary level (Abell & Smith, 1994; Mulholland & Wallace, 1996; Skamp,

    Correspondence to: D. H. Palmer; e-mail: eddhp@cc.newcastle.edu.au

    C 2001John Wiley & Sons, Inc.DOI 10.1002/sce.10007

  • FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO ATTITUDE EXCHANGE 123

    1991; Westerback, 1982). They also typically have a poor science knowledge (Lloyd et al.,1998; Schoon & Boone, 1998; Stevens & Wenner, 1996; Webb, 1992) and lack confidencein their ability to teach the subject (Westerback, 1982; Young & Kellogg, 1993). This isa significant problem because of its impact on classroom practice: lack of confidence inscience results in less time teaching the subject (Harlen & Holroyd, 1997; Skamp, 1991);also, when it is taught, it will be taught poorly, employing didactic approaches rather thaninquiry based activities (Abell & Smith, 1994; Appleton & Kindt, 1999; Bencze & Hodson,1999; Harlen & Holroyd, 1997) and finally, it is possible that negative attitudes may bepassed on to students (Westerback, 1982).

    This relationship between attitude and behavior fits well with the theory of behavioralchange proposed by Bandura (1977, 1982). He found, for example, that the extent to whichadults were willing to approach, touch, and handle a boa constrictor was strongly corre-lated with their previous personal beliefs about how they would perform at these tasks.He proposed that each individual has a sense of self-efficacy, which is concerned withjudgements about how well one can organize and execute courses of action required todeal with prospective situations that contain many ambiguous, unpredictable, and oftenstressful, elements (Bandura, 1981, pp. 200201). Self-efficacy is an accurate predictorof performancepeople with low self-efficacy about an activity will tend to avoid thatactivity, whereas people with high self-efficacy will make vigorous and persistent effortsand will therefore be more likely to complete the task successfully. Bandura (1977) alsoidentified two critical components of self-efficacy: efficacy expectations are beliefs inones ability to successfully execute the behavior whereas response-outcome expectan-cies are beliefs that their actions will produce the desired outcome. Self-efficacy is aconstruct of both of these beliefs that work together to determine behavior. Bandura (1981)also emphasized that self-efficacy is highly context-dependent, so a person may have ahigh self-efficacy with respect to one task but a low self-efficacy with respect to anothertask.

    Application of this theory to the profession of teaching would suggest that teachersbehavior with regard to the teaching of science would be determined by their own confidencein their ability to teach science (efficacy expectations) as well as a belief that their teachingstrategies would be effective (response-outcome expectancies). Furthermore, their self-efficacy beliefs about teaching science need not be related to their self-efficacy beliefsabout the teaching of other subjects, such as reading or writing. Both of these predictionsappear to be supported by the current research (Enochs, Scharmann, & Riggs, 1995; Ramey-Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996; Schoon & Boone, 1998). It is therefore important that oneof the main aims of the preservice training of elementary teachers should be to cultivate amore positive self-efficacy by developing their confidence to teach science effectively. Thenext step is to address the question of how to improve their confidence.

    It has been suggested that increasing the science content component of their collegecourses would give the preservice elementary teachers more confidence. However, this hasnot always proved to be the case. For example, Moore and Watson (1999) found that themajority of elementary education majors were not positively influenced by their collegescience experiences. Schoon and Boone (1998) reviewed a number of other studies thatinvestigated the effects of science content courses on the attitudes of these students andconcluded that completion of a science content course does not necessarily improve self-confidence, but those courses that were specifically designed for elementary educationmajors were more likely to be of value. It therefore appears that increased science knowledgeby itself will not consistently result in improved self-confidence.

    On the other hand, a number of studies have indicated that science method subjectscan be very successful in developing confidence and positive self-efficacy. For example,

  • 124 PALMER

    Jarrett (1999) found that an inquiry-based science methods course increased both interestand confidence. Similarly, Bohning and Hale (1998) found that an inquiry based methodscourse resulted in an improvement in self-confidence. Butts, Koballa Jr, and Elliot (1997)found that a methods course involving hands-on experiences, peer teaching, and tutoringdeveloped their students confidence. Appleton (1995) found that a methods class using aconstructivist approach emphasizing gender equity resulted in improved self-confidence.Morrisey (1981) reviewed a number of earlier studies and concluded that courses withcomponents of practice teaching, student-centered approaches, and process approachescould positively influence students attitudes.

    The studies above show that it is possible for college courses to improve preserviceelementary teachers confidence to teach science. Furthermore, the research suggests thatthis is most likely to occur when the science content courses are tailored specifically to theneeds of these students, and when the science method courses emphasize inquiry or otherstudent-centered approaches. However, there are two important problems that remain to beaddressed.

    The First ProblemThis problem concerns the identification of students who hold negative attitudes (i.e., who

    dislike science and who do not feel confident to teach it). By definition, you cannot obtain ameasurement of self-efficacy unless you use a quantitative approach, so the accepted proce-dure is to select a high quality instrument (such as the Elementary Science Teaching EfficacyBelief Instrument developed by Enochs and Riggs, 1990) and administer it to the whole classof preservice elementary teachers at the beginning of their (say) methods course, and againat its end. This approach can provide irrefutable evidence of improvements in self-efficacy.

    However, this technique assumes that the class is a homogeneous group of students, andthere is some evidence that this is not always the case. A number of studies have found thatelementary education students who initially have negative attitudes about science teachingare in fact a minority. For example, Young and Kellogg (1993) found that only 21% ofthe class had negative attitudes at the beginning of the course, and Jarrett (1999) foundthat attitudes about science were typically neutral and that only one third of the studentshad negative experiences of science in high school. Similarly, Appleton (1995) found thatstudents initially had a moderate interest in teaching science, on average. It therefore appearsthat in many classes of elementary education majors the majority of students are eitherneutral or positive about science teaching.

    The important point is that the problem does not lie with those students who hold pos-itive attitudes. These students can normally be expected to teach an adequate amount ofscience and to use hands-on, student-centered approaches (Bohning & Hale, 1998; Enochs,Sharmann, & Riggs, 1995) and so they are significantly different from those students whohave negative attitudes and who are consequently of most concern to us. The quantitativetechnique does not specifically identify those students who initially held negative attitudes,nor does it attempt to track them from pretest to posttest. As a result, it is sometim

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