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Asia-Pacific Journal of TeacherEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/capj20
Teachers' beliefs and practices: adynamic and complex relationshipHongying Zheng aa Sichuan Normal University , Sichuan , People's Republic of ChinaPublished online: 06 Aug 2013.
To cite this article: Hongying Zheng (2013) Teachers' beliefs and practices: a dynamicand complex relationship, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 41:3, 331-343, DOI:10.1080/1359866X.2013.809051
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2013.809051
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Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 2013Vol. 41, No. 3, 331343, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2013.809051
Teachers beliefs and practices: a dynamic and complex relationship
Sichuan Normal University, Sichuan, Peoples Republic of China
(Received 13 November 2012; final version received 2 March 2013)
Research on teachers beliefs has provided useful insights into understanding processesof teaching. However, no research has explored teachers beliefs as a system nor haveresearchers investigated the substance of interactions between teachers beliefs, prac-tices and context. Therefore, the author adopts complexity theory to explore the featuresof the teachers belief system and how interactions between different components ofthe teachers belief system contribute to complex features of their beliefs. The authorillustrates this application by using a case study example of a language teacher in aChinese secondary school. The study used the methods of semi-structured interviews,observations and stimulated recall interviews. It revealed the co-existence of differenttypes of beliefs. The interaction of these beliefs determined the relationship between theteachers beliefs and practice. Moreover, the practices of token adoption and eclecticapproach were noted as the non-linear features of the teachers belief system at the timeof curriculum reform.
Keywords: complexity theory; dialectic relationship; dynamic interaction; teachersbeliefs
Research of teachers beliefs
Exploring what teachers think, know and believe has been the focus of many educa-tional research endeavours with the development of cognitivism since the 1970s. In thelast 20 years, substantial evidence has indicated that teachers beliefs are complex,dynamic, contextualised and systematic (Borg, 2006, p. 272). Studies revealingteachers beliefs to be complex focus on the exploration of teachers beliefs in a range ofareas, such as pedagogical content (Andrews, 2001, 2003; Breen, Hird, Milton, Oliver, &Thwaite, 2001; Gatbonton, 1999; Johnston & Goettsch, 2000), prior learning experience(Farrell, 1999; Golombek, 1998; Hayes, 2005), teaching practices (Basturkmen, Loewen, &Ellis, 2004; Borg, 1999; Burns, 1992; Johnson, 1992; Richards & Lockhart, 1996; Woods,1996), learning process (MacDonald, Badger, & White, 2001; Peacock, 2001; Schulz,2001) and so on. Referring to the dynamic nature of teachers beliefs, some studies havefocused on cognitive development by comparing inexperienced and experienced teach-ers (Mok, 1994; Nunan, 1992; Tsui, 2003). Some have investigated how pre-service andin-service teacher training programmes contribute to the dynamics of teachers beliefs(Freeman, 1993). Others have examined teachers beliefs from an ecological perspective,claiming that the dynamic interactions between teachers and other participants contributeto the holistic exploration of pedagogical reality (Tudor, 2001, p. 9). Such reality mayoften seem confusing, contradictory, and, at times, rather trivial (p. 10).
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As far as belief systems are concerned, there is considerable agreement that a beliefsystem consists of substructures of beliefs, which are not necessarily logically struc-tured (Richardson, 2003). The existence of conflicting, even contrasting beliefs makesit even more complex (Bryan, 2003). Some researchers have argued that the belief sys-tems consist of primary and derivative beliefs, central and peripheral beliefs (Brownlee,Boulton-Lewis, & Purdie, 2002; Green, 1971). Thompson (1992) highlighted two key fea-tures of beliefs: that they can be held with varying degrees of conviction and that they arenon-consensual. These statements indicate that teachers beliefs may demonstrate quali-tative differences, the interaction of which may lead to the emergence of new aspects ofthe relationship between beliefs and practice. The beliefs in a system never appear fullyindependent, which, consequently, argues for research to focus on teachers beliefs as aninterrelated system.
However, hardly any research has explored the qualitative differences between dif-ferent elements of teachers beliefs. Moreover, research so far has not investigated thesubstance of the interaction between different elements of teachers beliefs in relation totheir practice and contexts. As revealed by Borg (2006), of all the characteristics of beliefs,the least understood is the manner in which teachers beliefs function as a system. Hethus suggested that further research needs to be carried out on how the different ele-ments in teachers cognitive systems interact and which of these elements, for example,are core and which are peripheral (p. 272). In this research context, my study is designedto approach the relationship between teachers beliefs, practice and contexts through com-plexity theory that directly addresses the complex, dynamic, systematic and contextualisedfeatures.
Complexity theory in understanding teachers belief systems
Complexity theory, which relates to chaos theory, originated in different disciplines, includ-ing biology, physics and mathematics, in the mid-twentieth century (Feryok, 2010). Theword complexity does not mean the same in relation to the theory as it does in everydaylanguage. It means edge of chaos (Lewin, 1999), which refers to the point between mech-anistic predictability and complete unpredictability (Bak, 1996). In other words, althoughsystems are filled with turmoil and confusion, they still have the maximum potential toadapt, learn and develop. The word system refers to a set of things so related as toform a unity or organic whole. Complex systems consist of different types of element oragent, which connect and interact in different and changing ways. These elements or agentsmay themselves be complex systems, which are coupled and tend to be non-linear. It thusemphasises the dynamic interaction between different components of systems, which aimsto explain how the interacting parts of a complex system give rise to the systems col-lective behaviour and how such a system simultaneously interacts with its environment(Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008, p. 1). Moreover, it looks at the world in ways whichbreak with simple cause-and-effect models, linear predictability and a dissection approachto understanding phenomena. Instead, it emphasises non-linearity, unpredictability, mutual-adaptation, co-evolution, dynamic interaction and self-organisation for organisational life.It has been applied to examine cognitive development (Smith & Thelen, 1993; Thelen &Smith, 1994), second language development (de Bot, Lowie, & Verspoor, 2007; Larsen-Freeman, 1997, 2002; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008; van Lier, 1998, 2004) and so on.Central to these applications is the idea that complexity theory studies systems producedby a set of components that interact in particular ways to produce some overall state or format a particular point in time (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008, p. 26).