Factors contributing to attitude exchange amongst preservice elementary teachers

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<ul><li><p>SCIENCE TEACHEREDUCATION</p><p>Deborah Trumbull, Section Editor</p><p>Factors Contributing to AttitudeExchange Amongst PreserviceElementary Teachers</p><p>DAVID H. PALMERFaculty of Education, The University of Newcastle, New South Wales 2308, Australia</p><p>Received 5 January 2000; revised 4 March 2001; accepted 15 March 2001</p><p>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 &amp; Sons, Inc. SciEd 86:122138, 2001.</p><p>INTRODUCTIONOver the last two decades, a considerable amount of research attention has focussed on</p><p>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 &amp; Smith, 1994; Mulholland &amp; Wallace, 1996; Skamp,</p><p>Correspondence to: D. H. Palmer; e-mail: eddhp@cc.newcastle.edu.au</p><p>C 2001John Wiley &amp; Sons, Inc.DOI 10.1002/sce.10007</p></li><li><p>FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO ATTITUDE EXCHANGE 123</p><p>1991; Westerback, 1982). They also typically have a poor science knowledge (Lloyd et al.,1998; Schoon &amp; Boone, 1998; Stevens &amp; Wenner, 1996; Webb, 1992) and lack confidencein their ability to teach the subject (Westerback, 1982; Young &amp; 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 &amp; Holroyd, 1997; Skamp, 1991);also, when it is taught, it will be taught poorly, employing didactic approaches rather thaninquiry based activities (Abell &amp; Smith, 1994; Appleton &amp; Kindt, 1999; Bencze &amp; Hodson,1999; Harlen &amp; Holroyd, 1997) and finally, it is possible that negative attitudes may bepassed on to students (Westerback, 1982).</p><p>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.</p><p>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, &amp; Riggs, 1995; Ramey-Gassert, Shroyer, &amp; Staver, 1996; Schoon &amp; 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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,</p></li><li><p>124 PALMER</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>The First ProblemThis problem concerns the identification of students who hold negative attitudes (i.e., who</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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 &amp; Hale, 1998; Enochs,Sharmann, &amp; 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 sometimes difficultto tell from the research data whether those students who initially held negative attitudeshave had them converted to positive, or whether their attitudes have improved slightly butare still negative (in which case the original problem still exists), or whether there has beenany change in their attitudes at all (even though a positive change may have been identifiedfor the group as a whole).</p><p>The priority should therefore be to identify those students who initially have negativeattitudes, and attempt to implement procedures that will not only improve their attitudes butwill actually convert them to positive. This qualitative change in attitudes, from negative to</p></li><li><p>FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO ATTITUDE EXCHANGE 125</p><p>positive, will be referred to as attitude exchange, in order to distinguish it from smaller,incremental changes in attitude.</p><p>The Second ProblemThis problem concerns the identification of specific factors that cause attitude exchange.</p><p>A number of authors have taken the important step of identifying specific course factors thatare perceived positively by students. For example, Moore and Watson (1999, p. 46) surveyedelementary education majors and found that they were most comfortable with hands-on ac-tivities and group work, and preferred enthusiastic, helpful, encouraging teachers who canmake science fun and make difficult concepts easy to understand. Similarly, Mulhollandand Wallace (1996) interviewed preservice elementary teachers who had negative attitudestowards science and found that they valued a supportive learning environment, freedom toask questions, a constructivist approach, a slow pace of learning, hands-on activities andreinforcement. Young and Kellogg (1993, p. 287) found that students valued classes thatprovided interesting facts, were relevant to life, and contained content that would be usefulfor teaching . . . [as well as] small classes, laboratories for hands-on activities, use of discov-ery method in which the professor was a guide, field trips, and use of non-scientific languageto explain important principles . . . [as well as professors who] were interesting and enthu-siastic, and were accessible to students with questions. Shrigley (1976) found that thirdyear elementary education students valued instructors who presented practical activities inclass, were experienced in elementary classrooms, who could teach both science content andmethods, and who modelled teaching strategies similar to those proposed for children. Thesestudies have provided an invaluable source of data that can be used to inform the teaching ofall elementary education majors at college level. However, the question still remains, Willfactors such as these actually precipitate attitude exchange and if so, which ones are most im-portant? In order to answer this question it is necessary to identify students whose attitudeshave changed from negative to positive, and then to investigate what caused this change.</p><p>Therefore, the research question for this study is What are the causes of attitude exchangeamongst preservice elementary teachers? The attitudes investigated are interest in science(in this context, interest can be thought of as being an enduring, positive disposition towardsscience itself, as suggested by Jarrett, 1999) and confidence to teach science effectively (i.e.,self-efficacy), but emphasis was placed on the latter.</p><p>METHODThe Participants</p><p>Four preservice elementary teachers were individually interviewed. These students weremembers of a class of about 30 who were enrolled in a one-semester science content /methodscourse (which is described below). This was a compulsory component of a one-year post-graduate Diploma of Education (Primary) program at a university in southeastern Australia.All the students in the class had already completed a bachelors degree in another disci-pline, and were now training to become elementary school teachers. Nearly all of them werefemales in the 2040 years age group.</p><p>The interviews were carried out at the end of the semester, when the science con-tent /methods course had been completed. The participants were selected in the followingway. At the end of one teaching session, just before the end of the semester, the normal tutorleft the room and was replaced by a research associate who had no connection with the classand who was not known to the students. The research associate asked whether any of thestudents felt that their attitudes had changed from negative to positive as a result of doing</p></li><li><p>126 PALMER</p><p>this course, and if so, whether they would be willing to volunteer for this research project.There was no reward for being interviewed, participants would remain anonymous, and thetutor would be unaware of who the participants were. Four female students volunteered andthe interviews were carried out at later times by arrangement.</p><p>The Science Content/Methods CourseScience is a compulsory subject for students in elementary schools in Australia, so this</p><p>science course was a compulsory component of the preservice program. It was specificallydesigned for elementary education students and was the only science-related course in theirprogram. The three main goals of this course were to improve the stu...</p></li></ul>