For more than thirty years, researchers in science education have been interested in studying students’ scientific misconceptions and how teachers can help students overcome these misconceptions. From this research, we have begun to understand that learning is the result of the interaction between what a student is taught and his or her current ideas or concepts (Posner et al., 1982; NRC, 2000; Driver & Easley, 1978). While much research has been done on changing students’ scientific concepts, little emphasis has been placed on changing students views about learning and thinking, or more succinctly, cognition.
Views on cognition incorporate students’ beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning known in the literature as personal epistemological beliefs. Empirical evidence from this line of research can be traced back to Piaget (1950) and Perry (1968) and has revealed numerous links between students’ epistemological beliefs and how well they learn. For example, Chan and Sachs (2001) found elementary school children’s beliefs about learning affected the ability of the student to integrate new information from scientific text.
Similar conclusions found that students with dynamic views of learning (intelligence not fixed) acquired more integrated understanding than those with static views (Songer & Linn, 1991). Not only do epistemolgical beliefs influence knowledge acquisition, they affect students’ ability to monitor their comprehension (Schommer, 1990) and these beliefs affect students’ engagement with cognitively challenging tasks (Kardash & Scholes, 1996) The literature is clear that our ability to learn and self-regulate that learning is influenced by the beliefs we hold about learning.
If epistemological beliefs affect our learning, where do these beliefs orginate? The source of student beliefs about learning are developed from student interaction with his or her world. More specifically, the beliefs are the result of the activity, the culture, and the context in which they were formed (Jehng, et al., 1993). Epistemolgical beliefs may be able to be changed (Hammer & Elby, 2002), affected by the age of the student (Baxter Magolda, 2002), and their educational experience (Jehng et al., 1993; King & Kitchener, 2002). For example, Schoenfeld (1985) compared problem-solving techniques of mathematicians to students in mathematics. He noticed students assumed they could solve problems quickly by remembering the right procedure, which they believe requires little work or thought to accomplish, while mathematicians approached problems with the expectation to have to work through and think about problems. Schoenfeld traced the students’ naive views back to classroom experiences in which students are led to think all problems can be solved in two minutes or less.
While significant work has been done exploring student epistemological beliefs and how personal epistemological beliefs correlate to achievement and learning, little work has been done to investigate to what extent instruction might improve student views. One exception was a study indicating that cognitive strategy instruction affects children’s epistemological beliefs. Students receiving strategy instruction moved from “task-completion” to “problem-centered” views of reading and writing (Anderson et al., 1995). The question of how instruction affects beliefs remains largely open. This series hopes to contribute to understanding how instruction might affect students’ views on cognition. In the coming posts, I will attempt to better articulate how to conceptualize students views on learning as content to be taught and strategies I have used to positively impact student views on learning/cognition.