Beliefs and Instructional Practices among Secondary Teachers within Selected High- and Low- Performing High Schools

By Peabody, Dayle | Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Beliefs and Instructional Practices among Secondary Teachers within Selected High- and Low- Performing High Schools


Peabody, Dayle, Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy


How teachers think about and practice teaching has a profound effect on learning among students (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, & Gamoran, 2003; Fisher, 2001; Greenleaf, Schoenbach, Cziko, & Mueller, 2001). Researchers have noted that the practice of high-stakes testing affects teaching practices (Benson, 2003; Popham, 2001; Stecher, 2002), causing some to "teach to the test." One high-stakes test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), has affected the curriculum but not uniformly. The fact that students from schools with similar demographic backgrounds perform so differently on the FCAT suggests that factors internal to the classroom and/or school are affecting student performance on the 10th grade FCAT Reading test, for example. Teacher learning and practice, school restructuring, and student learning in low resourced schools with high percentages of culturally diverse students occurs in an interconnected and interdependent manner that cannot be explained in linear fashion (Ancess, 2000). Recent research into the effects of teaching on learning, notably in the language arts, finds that use of more student-centered or student empowered teaching models produces more effective learning, and is more likely to contribute to higher test scores (Applebee et al. 2003; Cook-Sather, 2002; McCombs & Whisler, 1997; Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, 2001).

Additionally, the impact of culture on teaching and learning is just beginning to be reconceptualized to account for the increased cultural diversity present in 21st century US, as well as the importance of school cultures on teaching beliefs and efficacy. Culturally responsive teaching uses the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning both more appropriate and effective for them. Culturally responsive teaching teaches to and through the strengths of diverse students (Gay, 2000). Unfortunately, school reform efforts in the 21st century have focused almost exclusively on external forces, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, rather than on the powerful internal forces that determine student success in any school: namely, its culture, norms, values and expectations (Deal & Peterson, 2009).

This study draws from Prosser and Trigwell's (1998) assertion that teaching is based on two strategies: teacher-centered and student-centered. The author postulates that teacher beliefs are either teacher-centered or student-centered. Teacher-centered (TC) beliefs are grounded in transmission theories of teaching whereby knowledge is thought of as information that is transmitted from expert teacher to inexpert learner. Thus, the teacher's task is to "get it across." Transmission is the mechanism of providing students with important concepts that they need to understand the discipline. Thus, the focus resides in what the teacher does. Student-centered (SC) beliefs focus on bringing about conceptual change in students' understanding of the world. Hence, what students are able to achieve through the understandings that they acquire are what is important, not what teachers do. Teacher-centered instruction focuses on what skills are needed to achieve success while the student-centered style focuses on what methods are essential to achieve outcomes. In student-centered instruction, the teacher guides students in constructing their own understandings. SC practices are directed towards enabling students to think about complex issues. These practices promote student ownership for their learning, as well as active learning, and learning how to think. SC instructional practices are multi-dimensional and they empower learners, two of the key characteristics of culturally responsive teaching that Gay (2000) notes. As a result, SC practices are more likely to bridge the apparent gaps in learning and achievement observed among culturally diverse students in many settings, by empowering learners and allowing them to construct meaning on their own terms. …

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