Teachers' beliefs and practices
Despite researchers' efforts to distinguish 'belief' from other concepts, 'belief' is still 'a messy construct' (Pajares, 1992, p. 308). Instead of attempting to give a comprehensive definition of 'beliefs' as a starting point, teaching beliefs in this study are conceptualised as a connected system of attitudes, knowledge, personal theories and principles, either implicit or explicit, as well as values and judgments about effective teaching of Chinese as a foreign language.
There is extensive literature on teachers' beliefs in teaching and learning in general (see Kagan, 1992; Pajares, 1992; Richardson, 1996; Richards, Gallo, & Renandya, 2001) and specifically in relation to language teaching (see Borg, 2003, 2006; Freeman, 2002). After conducting a thorough review of the research in the field of teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning, Phipps and Borg (2009, p. 381) provide a list of findings about teachers' beliefs from which at least three issues deserve further exploration:
- (1) The controversy over consistency or inconsistency in the relationship between teaching beliefs and teaching practices is recurrent. Teaching beliefs have a powerful effect on teachers' pedagogical decisions (Johnson, 1994) and can also exert a persistent, longterm influence on teachers' instruction practices (Crawley & Salyer, 1995) even if they are not always reflected in what teachers do in the classroom (Pearson, 1985; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1986).
- (2) Teachers' beliefs are susceptible to change, yet on the other hand, they are deeply entrenched and resistant to change (Almarza, 1996; Joram & Gabriele, 1998; Pickering, 2005).
- (3) There are no conclusive findings about teachers' receptiveness to teacher professional development programs, for teacher's beliefs may still far outweigh the effects of teacher education (Kagan, 1992;
Recent studies have attempted to identify both the external and the internal factors that contribute to changes in beliefs, including teachers' own learning experiences, training, teaching experiences, school policies and the exposure to the views and beliefs of other colleagues and superiors (Chiang, 2010; Wong, 2010). Nevertheless, most teacher education can generally be only a weak intervention to alter teachers' particular views regarding the teaching and management of diverse learners (Peacock, 2001).
Although there have been some studies on language teachers' beliefs in the field of teaching English as a second or foreign language, most of such research explores the challenges of exporting Western educational methods abroad, specifically the non-native English teachers' response to the import of the communicative language teaching (CLT) approach into their English classroom (most of them in Asian countries). There has been little research that examines the experiences of international teachers transitioning to be teachers in the United States (Haley & Ferro, 2011), and there has been even less attention paid to the role of teachers' beliefs in Chinese language education outside China (Gu & Schweisfurth, 2006).