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Stability of pre-service science teacher attitudes on science teachers, courses, and classroom methods. (The scholarship of teaching and learning).


Attitudes of pre-service teachers about practicing teachers, instructional techniques and science courses given at various grade levels are examined. Although pre-service teachers prepare lessons using techniques advocated by reform efforts to meet course objectives while in a methods course, choices seem to revert back to more traditional strategies. Constructivism proposes that the reason for temporary learning in precollegiate classrooms is because the "new" knowledge has not been successfully locked onto an existing framework. The same reasoning can be used for learning about but not using reform-based teaching techniques by pre-service teachers. Osgood's semantic differential is used to measure attitudes.


Studies in the literature on attitudes of potential science teachers concerning how students learn or how classrooms operate indicate that neither completion of a methods course nor student teaching experiences have any great effect on pre-existing beliefs (Cronin-Jones and Shaw 1992). These authors state that potential teachers "have an organized belief structure regarding teaching when they enter methods instruction" (p.22). Conceptualization of what teaching is and how teachers act forms in elementary school and solidifies in secondary school and college. This conceptualization seems to change little after the decision to become a teacher is made (Mellado 1998). Stigler and Hiebert (1998) make the case for teaching as a cultural activity--something guided by a "cultural script" learned by participating in schooling and play-acting about it. The script is guided by observation of classrooms, by family conversations and viewing TV and movies. In many of the aforementioned situations the teacher is the central figure--a sage, a cajoler, a mother-figure, a drill sergeant or even a clown. Work by Roos, Kocel, and Islam (1995) show that early observation assignments in schools reaffims the pre-service student's commitment to teaching.

Reform efforts advocate the use of group learning strategies and group or individual inquiry-guided methods (Weaver 1998). However, these procedures are still not widely used in classrooms. Stigler and Hiebert (1998) suggest that U. S. teachers take their responsibilities seriously and provide detailed guidance and plenty of practice to their students. This feeling of responsibility is reinforced by the contemporary trend of legislated teacher accountability. Teachers plan tightly sequenced lessons so that each step along the way is clearly illustrated. Lecture is the most frequently chosen teaching strategy. Some propensity for traditional lectures and verification labs may be due to anticipated class management problems. Preferred methods are those that keep the class under the teacher's control (Tobin, Tippins, Gallard1994) and conform to what both teacher and student expect in the classroom. Lecture allows teachers to focus interest and limit active interaction between both students and teacher and students and other students. Lecture and note taking also relieve the student of personal responsibility for working instantaneously with new ideas/concepts. These methods take the pressure off young, frail egos and are therefore preferred not only by teachers but also by students. Hildebrand (1999) notes that when teachers attempt to change the "pedagogic contract" -- what students expect to happen in class -- students are uneasy. This uneasiness stems from feelings that the balance of trust between teachers and students is disrupted. Students are not certain how a teacher will judge work done under unfamiliar methods.


Data Gathering Instrument

The semantic differential strives to clarify links between attitudes and behavior. The method is an elaboration of the Likert scale and is a multi variate differentiation of concept meanings in terms of a limited number of semantic scales of known factor compositions (Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum 1957, p 42). Besides an intensity reaction to paired terms representing opposite ends of a bipolar concept spectrum, e.g., good-bad, the term sets themselves represent three major factors or dimensions of judgment: an evaluative factor (how one feels about something being fair-unfair), a potency or measure of power factor (strong - weak), and an activity factor which implies necessity or non necessity of making movements in adjusting to stimuli (active-passive) (Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum 1957). These factors with their typical term sets have been identified through factor analysis. Figure 1 illustrates a portion of a semantic differential response sheet. There are usually seven points between the polar concepts.
 College Professors: Good - Bad, Strong - Weak, Fast - Slow (Dwyer 1993,
 p.20 The set of paired terms found in Kapel (1973) are used in this study.
 Like the present investigation, the stimuli in Kapel's study include a
 variety of entities: personnel roles (students, professors), college
 courses, and institutions of higher learning. The evaluative factor is
 examined by the pairs: fair-unfair, kind-cruel, sweet-bitter,
 profane-sacred. Potency factor is examined by the pairs: large-small,
 hard-soft, heavy-light, rugged-delicate. The activity factor is explored by
 the pairs: dull-sharp, angular-rounded, green-red, hot-cold. The semantic
 differential survey in this study asked about student attitudes 1) toward
 science courses at college, senior high, and junior high/middle school
 levels; 2) toward science instructors at college, senior high, junior
 high/middle school levels and the student him/herself; and 3) toward a
 variety of teaching techniques (lecture, cooperative learning, student-
 performed labs, and teacher demonstrations).


The participants in this study are students enrolled in the secondary science methods course in either 1999 or 2000 at an eastern university. The course involves both college classroom activities/instruction and at least 32 hours of observations and activities in a local secondary school. Teaching/learning techniques advocated by reform methods are an integral part of the methods course. The survey measuring attitudes was administered as a pre-test during the first session and post-test during the last session of the course in both years. T-tests for individual factors are calculated for the pre-tests versus the post-tests. There is no significant difference between the pre-test and post-test given to students in year one nor between the pre-test and post-test given to students in year two. A t-test is used to determine difference between the beginning surveys for both years. Again, there is no significant difference between samples. Therefore, the data for the two years is combined to make a total sample size of 25.


In preparing the survey, terms in the pairs of opposites are scrambled so that a clear response pattern is not obvious, i.e., sometimes the high potency term is the first term in the set and sometimes it is the ending term. The individual terms are scored by assigning a score from 1-7 to choices between the terms with seven indicating the most positive. To determine the factor score, scores of the four individual terms are summed and an average and standard deviation calculated (Table 1). Comparison using two-tailed t-tests are made for attitudes about members of the various stimulus classes, e.g., secondary teachers versus college professors (Table 2). T-test significance is verified by using Osgood's rule of significant difference for group data being justified if the mean scores differ by 0.5 (Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum 1957 p.79). The stimulus, me-myself, serves as a reference. A high ranking of this stimulus indicates that the instrument is functioning properly in the context of a semantic differential. Interpreting the reaction to a stimulus is done in context of the sample because the "natural" pole for a stimulus will vary. For example, playing softball would have a high activity factor while going to a movie would have a low activity factor. Some people will give softball a high evaluation factor because they like active activities; other people will give softball a low evaluation factor because they prefer passive activities. Using factors in conjunction with each other gives a more explicit interpretation of attitude toward a particular stimulus.

Analysis and Results

In total score, potency and activity, the pre-service students rank science instructors from high to low according to the specific grade level taught, i.e., the higher the grade level, the higher the rating (Table 1). In the evaluation factor, the order is reversed. Even though position of other instructors may vary in different factors, pre-service teachers always rank themselves at or second from the top. In the individual category comparisons, the pre-service teachers considered themselves most like the junior high teachers in the evaluation qualities. Both senior high teachers and college professors were rated significantly lower with college instructors most distant from the students (Table 2). The students considered themselves significantly lower than college professors and most like the secondary teachers in potency. Pre-service teachers rank themselves above the junior high teachers in potency. It is interesting to note that while the students thought that they matched junior high teachers in positive personal qualities, they saw the junior high school teachers as least powerful/influential. Preservice teachers in the survey seem to want to combine in themselves the softer, more caring qualities of junior high teachers with the expert power and activity perceived of senior high teachers. See <> There are significant differences in the attitudes that science certification students had about science courses at various school levels. Overall, the students ranked college courses both more powerful and more active, with senior high courses second and junior high courses last. Again, the junior high courses are highest in the kind, fair evaluation factor.

In the overall scoring of attitudes about teaching strategies, students are most positive toward student labs. The use of student labs is rated significantly higher in total score and higher in all individual scores than any of the other techniques. The lecture format is rated lowest in total score, lowest in evaluation and activity but significantly higher than cooperative learning and teacher demonstration in potency. Teacher demonstration is rated close to student labs in both evaluation and activity, but most distance from student lab in potency. Cooperative learning was rated significantly lower in potency that the student lab technique and lecture and higher in activity than the lecture. Inquiry learning was not included as a stimulus because there is such a diversity of meaning to the term.

The data indicate that pre-service students view courses in a hierarchy for both instructors and courses: higher is harder (demands a higher level of expertise) and more active but less likely to generate positive feelings or rewards. Conversely, junior high instructors and courses are more likely to generate positive feelings and rewards and are less powerful (perhaps more lenient) and less active. Pre-service teachers view themselves as having preferred characteristics of both high grade level and low grade level instructors: they view themselves as easy to approach and ready to give positive rewards but also have a high level of expert power and activity. The methods course taken by the students involved working through units taken from the BSCS Middle School Science and Technology curriculum. I had hoped that participation the program would cause change in attitude about the activity level in junior high/middle school programs and teachers. No change in attitude is indicated by pre/post survey results.

The lecture strategy is the instructional technique to which most pre-service teachers have adapted. Expectations centered on the lecture method are part of the pedagogic contract. The technique demands that students focus attention on the teacher and this focus is an overt display of teacher expert power. This focus on the teacher may be what makes the method so appealing to secondary teachers and college professors. The focus may also be the reason that senior high teachers and college professors are viewed to have more power than junior high teachers. The high influence by instructor effect is also reflected in the high scores for the student lab strategy. Labs that preservice teachers felt most comfortable with were traditional teacher-led labs, complete with a fill-in worksheet. Although the evaluation factor contains the most variance in past statistical analyses (Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum 1957, p.76) teaching strategies with high evaluative factor are not the natural choices of pre-service teachers. The potency factor seems to be most influential in choices made by students involved in the secondary certification program. Expert power is important to secondary teachers. Lecture and traditional verification labs easily reflect this expertise. During the second year of the study an increase in cooperative learning activities, specifically "jigsaw" activities were written into the syllabus. These inclusions did not statistically influence attitudes as measured by the survey post-test results.

Tobin, Tippins, Gallard (1994) suggest that classroom management concerns guide choice in classroom instructional methods. Teachers seem to prefer instructional methods which indicate overtly that students are on task. During a lecture, if students are quiet and taking notes, they are doing what is expected. During a lab, if students are overtly following directions, then they are doing what is expected. Cooperative learning may not be chosen as preferred instructional techniques because the method is viewed as allowing too much student choice and not enough teacher control. Increasing the use of cooperative learning may depend on increasing teacher confidence in classroom management skills. Certification students may need more positive experience with peer group experiences in their own college courses. This is difficult to do in a university serving commuter students and students who work full time or have families to care for. The incorporation of chat rooms into courses that have some on-line features may extend the opportunity for student to student interaction both at the collegiate and precollegiate levels.


Results of this study verify those reported in past studies noting the stability of pre-service attitudes about classroom procedures. Although pre-service teachers prepare lessons and participate in course activities that stress techniques advocated by reform efforts while in a methods course, attitudes about appropriate classroom methods do not change significantly for the group as a whole. This research and findings derived from the literature suggest that the stability of attitudes about classrooms and teaching among certification candidates may be due to a combination of four factors. First, pre-service teachers consider themselves most like college professors and secondary school teachers. Second, lecture and instructor-led labs are the most appropriate teaching strategies since these methods are the mainstay of many successful college/upper level high school instructors. Third, there is an underlying cultural acceptance of how present classrooms work. Fourth, novice instructors tend to lean toward methods that maintain classroom control.

Just as constructivism proposes that the reason for temporary learning in pre, collegiate classrooms is because the "new" knowledge has not been successfully locked onto an existing framework, the same reasoning can be used for learning but not using reform-based teaching techniques by pre-service teachers. Change in attitude about how a classroom can function successfully demands an acceptance that student talk and activity are parts of a working classroom and not necessarily an infringement on teacher power. William Glasser (1990), in his work on Quality Schools, suggests that students with some control over their own academic life will be more successful in school. To make teachers comfortable with this exercise of student power, there must be an increased commitment by parents, school administrators and teachers to develop student maturity.

Most importantly, this study reiterates that teacher training is unfinished upon the completion of a certification program. Therefore the consequence of failing to establish effective links between teacher training institutions and precollegiate schools is that a preponderance of teachers, both practicing and pre-service, will continue to use traditional instructional techniques. Precollagiate teaching must be clearly defined as a balanced blend of three different kinds of knowledge. This combination consists of knowledge about adolescents and how they function as individuals and in groups, about the appropriate match between subject matter and student cognitive level, and about effective pedagogical strategies. Beside the work on content standards for the 21st century, a set of achievable professional standards targeting teacher and administrator understanding of conceptual, psychological, and social development of students needs to be developed. The implementation of these standards will help change how people, including teachers, view precollegiate teachers, courses, and instructional methods.


Cronin-Jones, L. and Shaw, E. L. (1992). The influence of methods instruction on the beliefs of pre-service elementary and secondary science teachers: preliminary comparative analyses. School Science and Mathematics, v. 92, n.1, pp14-22.

Dwyer, E. E. (1993). Attitude scale construction: A review of the literature. ED359201.

Glasser, W. (1990). The quality school. Harper-Row, New York.

Hildebrand, G. M. (1999). Breaking the Pedagogic Contract: teachers' and students' voices. Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Boston.

Kapel, D. (1973). Attitudes toward selected stimuli: commonality and differences in two dissimilar high risk black college groups. Urban Education, v.8, n.3, pp.297-310.

Mellado, V. (1998). The classroom practice of pre-service teachers and their conceptions of teaching and learning. Science Education, v.82, n.2, pp.197-214.

Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J., and Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. University of Illinois Press, Chicago.

Roos, M., Kocel, K., and Islam, C. (1995). The influence of early field experience on the attitudes of preservice teachers. Paper presented at the Thirty-ninth Annual Conference of the College Reading Association. ED 388961.

Simmons, P. E. (1999). Beginning teachers: beliefs and classroom actions. Journal of Research on Science Teaching. v.36, n.8. pp. 930-954.

Snider, J. G. and Osgood, C. E. (1969). Semantic differential technique: a sourcebook. Aldine Atherton, Chicago.

Stigler, J. W. and Hiebert, J. (1998). Teaching is a cultural activity. American Educator, v.22, n.4, p4-11.

Tobin, K., Tippins, D. J., and Gallard, A. J. (1994). Research on instructional strategies for teaching science, in Gabel, D. L., ed. Handbook of research on science teaching and learning. MacMillan Publishing Co., NY.

Weaver, G. C. (1998). Strategies in K-12 science instruction to promote conceptual change. Science Education, v.82, n.3, pp.455-472.

Marianne Bobbin Cinaglia, Rowan University, NJ

Dr. Cinaglia, Assistant Professor, teachers both Pedagogy and Educational Policy and has 25 years experience in public secondary schools. Her research interests include attitudes of practicing and pre-service teachers and program evaluation.
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Author:Cinaglia, Marianne Bobbin
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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