Beginning Teacher Beliefs

Mary McCaslin is heading the research activities for Beginning Teachers’ Beliefs about Student Motivation


Students differ in their motivation (e.g., disposition toward school, reasons for engaging classroom tasks and expectations), self-regulation tendency (e.g., intentions and ways to keep on track, to follow tasks through to completion), and activity (e.g., behavior and skills to realize their motivation and regulation goals).  Differences in how students go about the business of being a student—their motivation, regulation tendency, and activity—are particularly important in the elementary years when students are beginners with schoolwork and just learning to negotiate its demands.  It is reasonable to expect that “beginner students” can learn how their approaches to schoolwork are more and less productive and conducive to their emotional well-being and learning success.  Armed with this self-knowledge, beginner students can become more willing and better able to adjust their approaches to schoolwork as they continue in school and encounter new classroom situations.  That is, students who understand that their motivation, regulation tendencies, and behavior are malleable will be more adaptive to classroom demands (Corno, 2011; Rohrkemper & Corno, 1989).   

We are interested in how teachers can optimize these dynamics, what we term students’ “adaptive learning”, in the classroom.  Our first step on this path is consideration of pre-service teachers’ (a) beliefs about the likely motivation, regulation tendency, and activity of their future students as they engage in teacher education coursework and (b) how these understandings change or solidify with actual student teaching experience.  Teacher expectations have long been known to impact student aspiration and achievement. It is reasonable to assert, however, that not all teacher beliefs and expectations about students are self-evident.  Our approach to identifying teacher expectations assumes that much of what teachers, especially pre-service teachers, believe about the students they will, or do, teach is implicit or emergent knowledge that is not yet formalized into a coherent belief system that can be articulated, justified, modified, or discarded.        

One goal of our work is to identify preservice teachers’ emergent belief systems that can influence students’ adaptive learning dynamics.  If we are to optimize student adaptive learning, we first must address the role of the teacher.  That role includes the emergent as well as the explicit beliefs that teachers hold about students.  These beliefs can inform teachers’ behavior and relationships with students that promote, ignore, and deter students’ adaptive learning.  In this phase of our work, we focus on preservice teachers’ emergent beliefs about the students they expect to teach both before and after student teaching.  It is reasonable to expect that preservice teacher beliefs about their future students will be organized by student characteristics (e.g., grade level, special needs status) and, possibly, the economic status of the families their school serves.  

Affiliated Researchers

Dr. Heidi Burross and Dr. Elizabeth Pope work with Dr. McCaslin on the Beginning Teacher Beliefs about Student Motivation project.  Also contributing to the project is Bernadette Mora, a graduate student researcher.