Implicit theories are defined as personal constructions about ...

By Johnny Ross,2014-01-07 06:39
9 views 0
Implicit theories are defined as personal constructions about ...

     Implicit Theories 1

    RUNNING HEAD: Implicit Theories

    Impact of Coursework and Field Experience on Pre-service and In-service Teachers’

    Implicit Theories of Development and Learning

    Nancy DeFrates-Densch

    Northern Illinois University

    M Cecil Smith

    Northern Illinois University

    Thomas O. Schrader

    College of DuPage

    Júlio Ríque

    Northern Illinois University

    April 13, 2004

    San Diego, CA

    Paper Presented as Part of the “Theory in Action: Research on the Role of Field

    Experiences in Educational Psychology” Symposium at the Annual Meeting of the

    American Educational Research Association

    Draft. Do not reproduce without permission Contact Information:

    Nancy DeFrates-Densch

    Northern Illinois University

    Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations

    DeKalb, IL 60115

    Implicit Theories



    This study examined the evolution of students’ implicit theories of development, learning, and motivation across a 16-week period during which they were enrolled in various educational psychology courses. Particular attention was paid to the role of field experiences, formal and informal, concurrent and non-concurrent in the development of students’ implicit theories.

    No evidence was found to support that participation in field experiences while taking educational psychology coursework enhances change in students’ implicit theories. However, students’ implicit theories of development, learning, and motivation did exhibit positive change across the 16-week period on dimensions of authenticity, explanatory power, complexity, and alignment with formal theory. Student theories were relatively stable with regard to theoretical orientation.

    Implicit Theories


    Impact of Coursework and Field Experience on Pre-service and In-service Teachers’

    Implicit Theories of Development and Learning

    In many social and behavioral science fields in higher education, students often come into entry-level courses holding certain beliefs, presuppositions, and implicit theories about the nature of human behavior and related social phenomena. These beliefsoften rooted

    in common sense, other times founded on myth and misinformationmust frequently be

    confronted and countered by instructors (Osberg, 2002). Implicit theories are defined as personal constructions about particular phenomenon that reside in the minds of individuals (Sternberg, Conway, Ketron, & Bernstein, 1981). Furnham (1988) describes four characteristics of implicit theories. They are typically ambiguous and inconsistent in regards to explanation for phenomena, tend to be descriptive of types or categories of phenomena, often confuse cause and effect, and are deductive rather than inductive. Furnham notes that implicit theories can, and often do, overlap with scientific theories and may function in similar ways. In fact, formal, scientific theories often originate from initial informal observations and implicit theories of scientists.

    Social as well as cognitive psychologists have studied peoples’ implicit theories in a variety of domains, including everyday views of intelligence (Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Berg & Sternberg, 1992), interpersonal and romantic relationships, and creativity (Chan & Chan, 1999; Puccio & Cheminto, 2001), and the role that implicit theories play in social information processing (McConnell, 2001) and stereotype formation (Levy, Stroesser, & Dweck, 1998). Implicit theories are influenced, in part, by cultural traditions and expectations (Runco & Johnson, 2002) and are found to be highly stable over time (Franiuk, Cohen, & Pomerantz, 2002).

    Dweck and Leggett (1988) described children’s implicit theories in distinguishing

    between their beliefs that human attributes, such as intelligence, are fixed or malleable. Children who viewed intelligence as stable and unchanging were said to have an entity theory of intelligence, whereas those who viewed intelligence as something that could be improved were described as having an incremental theory. A belief in fixed intelligence is associated with a performance goal orientation, that is, having a concern for demonstrating one’s ability rather than a concern for learning and mastery. Such students tend to adopt a "helpless" pattern when responding to failure. A belief in malleable intelligence is associated with a learning goal orientation. These students demonstrate mastery-oriented responses to failure, and have higher achievement outcomes (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Henderson & Dweck, 1990).

    In the social domain, implicit theories can influence behavior in a variety of ways. For example, parents’ beliefs about how children learn shape, in part, the ways in which they

    interact with and teach their children. DeBaryshe, Binder, and Buell (2000) found that mothers' implicit theories were associated with their modeling of literacy behaviors, helping their children to write, and with their children's independent exploration of writing and current levels of literacy skill.

    University students studying to become elementary and secondary education teachers presumably have some ideas about the characteristics of children and/or adolescents, as well as how children and adolescents change through the processes of growth and

    Implicit Theories


    development. These ideas are, no doubt, shaped through their own experiences in growing up, as well as their observations of and interactions with children and adolescents. Thus, teacher aspirants come into their teacher education classes pre-existing assumptions, i.e., implicit theories, about human learning, motivation, and development. These “naïve” theories are just that—relatively uninformed and primitivebut they may

    also be highly consistent with formal scientific theories in terms of offering a sound explanation for aspects of human behavior and learning. Because teachers’ implicit theories about student characteristics such as intelligence may play a role in influencing their instruction and their views about the likelihood of certain students being academically capable, it is important to understand the nature of the implicit theories held by aspiring teachers. We wondered if, and how much, students’ implicit theories might be

    influenced, challenged or corrected through their exposure to formal theories and current research on development, learning, and motivation. Jonassen (2003) argued that teacher education students should not be taught formal theory because they lacked the background necessary to effectively incorporate them into their cognitive schemata. This study investigated the evolution of implicit theories held by pre-service and in-service teachers regarding development, learning, and motivation across a 16-week course experience. During these courses all students were exposed to formal theory in the disciplines. In addition, some students were participating in a field experience that paralleled their fist education coursesEducational Psychology and Development of the

    Elementary School Child. This first field experience involved conducting 14 weekly,

    structured, 30-minute observations of elementary or middle school students in classroom situations and tutoring an assigned student for 30 minutes across the same 14-week period. The observations involved a focus on theory and/or research in child development and educational psychology. For instance, students analyzed children’s performance on Piagetian conservation tasks and engaged in reciprocal teaching. Such experiences have been recognized as important components of teacher education programs (e.g. NCATE, 2000). The goals of the research were to discover how stable students’ implicit theories are over time and to what extent they are influenced by coursework and focused field experience.


    Participants. The sample was comprised of students (n = 113) enrolled in three undergraduate educational psychology courses, Educational Psychology (n = 19),

    Development of the Elementary School Child (n = 37), and Development of the

    Adolescent in Middle School (n = 31), and one graduate course, Theories and Research in

    Adolescent Behavior and Development (n = 26). Some of the students enrolled in

    educational psychology and child development were concurrently enrolled in a newly developed, focused field experience (n=38).

    Participants ranged in age from 19 to 51, with a mean age of 23.79 years. The sample was comprised predominantly of female (n = 88, 77.9%) elementary education majors (n = 79, 69.9%). Other majors represented included arts education (n = 5), English education (n = 5), social studies education (n = 5), mathematics education (n = 4), music education (n = 2), special education (n = 1), adult education (n = 1), physical education, and counseling (n = 1). The remaining students were undeclared majors.

    Implicit Theories


    Instruments. At the beginning of the course, students were asked to write about their implicit theories of development, learning, and/or motivation, without consulting their textbooks. They were asked to indicate the basic tenets of their theories and to describe the sources of their theories (e.g. their own childhood experiences, observations of siblings, parenting experience, teaching experience, other coursework). In addition, they were asked to describe any evidence in support of their theories. At the end of the semester, they were asked to repeat the exercise, but to include ties to formal theory in support of their own theories.

    Data analysis. Content analysis of theory papers was conducted by one of the researchers. Papers were coded using a 5-point scale on each of the following dimensions: authenticity, or the extent to which the theory reflected the real world of adolescence or childhood, explanatory power, complexity, and consistency with formal theory. A second researcher, to determine inter-rater reliability, also coded approximately 60% of the papers.

    Inter-rater reliability was computed using Pearson correlation method. Inter-rater reliability ranged from .869 to .906. See table 1 below.

    Table 1.

    Inter-rater Reliability Statistics

    Dimension r

    Pre-course Authenticity .882

    Pre-course Explanatory Power .888

    Pre-course Complexity .894

    Pre-course Consistency with Formal Theory .869

    Post-course Authenticity .891

    Post-course Explanatory Power .906

    Post-course Complexity .880

    Post-course Consistency with Formal Theory .895

    Differences between students’ pre-course scores were determined using independent

    samples t-tests (see Table 2 below). Statistically significant differences were found on the pre-course measure between students currently enrolled in a course with an attached field experience and those enrolled in the same courses without the attached field experience, in terms of consistency with formal theory, favoring those without the concurrent field experience. Statistically significant differences in precourse scores were also found between students who had prior field experience and those who had none with regard to authenticity and explanatory power, favoring those who had never participated in a field experience. A statistically significant difference in pretest score regarding consistency

    Implicit Theories

    6 with formal theory was found between those with prior tutoring experience and those

    without, favoring those without. No statistically significant differences were found

    between under-graduate and graduate students, nor between pre-service and in-service

    teachers. Our sample had too few participants with counseling experience (n=4), or

    juvenile justice experience (n=3) for valid comparisons to be made.

    Table 2

    Group Differences in Pre-course Scores

    Dimension Concurrent Student Status Teaching Status

    Field Experience

     Pre-Course t(52) Pre-Course t Pre-Course t

     No Yes UG Grad Pre In

    n=16 n=38 n=85 n=26 n=64 n=37 Authenticity 2.00 1.79 .85 2.13 2.54 -1.60 2.31 2.00 1.31 Explanatory Power 1.81 1.61 .99 2.07 2.23 -.605 2.11 2.08 .11 Complexity 1.81 1.55 1.29 1.93 2.08 -.562 2.14 1.73 1.68 Consistency with Formal 2.63 1.76 3.19* 2.15 2.31 -.626 2.13 2.32 -.87 Theory


    Dimension Prior Volunteer Tutoring

    Field Experience Experience Experience

     Pre-Course t(99) Pre-Course t(98) Pre-Course T(99)

     No Yes No Yes No Yes

    n=76 n=25 n=52 n=48 n=75 n=26 Authenticity 2.34 1.76 2.22* 2.40 2.00 1.76 2.24 2.08 0.62 Explanatory Power 2.25 1.64 2.26* 2.25 1.96 1.22 2.21 1.77 1.65 Complexity 2.12 1.60 1.90 2.15 1.83 1.34 2.16 1.50 2.49* Consistency with 2.29 1.92 1.46 2.23 2.17 0.28 2.28 1.96 1.27 Formal Theory


Dimension Parenting Coaching

    Experience Experience

     Pre-Course t(99) Pre-Course t(99)

     No Yes No Yes

    n=90 n=11 n=82 n=19

    Authenticity 2.20 2.18 .961 2.15 2.42 -0.93 Explanatory Power 2.10 2.09 .981 2.05 2.32 -0.88 Complexity 2.00 1.91 .813 1.94 2.21 -0.89 Consistency with Formal 2.24 1.82 .229 2.23 2.05 0.63 Theory

    Implicit Theories


    Change scores for each of the dimensions were calculated by subtracting pre-course scores from post-scores. Differences in pre and post scores were determined through the use of paired sample t-tests. Statistically significant differences were found between pre and post-course implicit theories for all dimensions. See Table 3 below. Table 3

    Pretest to Posttest Change in Mean Scores

Dimension Pre-Course Post-Course Mean t(108)

    Mean Mean Change

    Authenticity 2.23 2.87 0.66 6.32**

    Explanatory Power 2.11 2.73 0.62 5.81**

    Complexity 1.96 2.73 0.75 6.89**

    Consistency with Formal Theory 2.19 3.22 1.05 8.84**


    Further analyses were conducted to determine what, if any differences existed in the amount of change across the 16-week period by students in the groups described above. As shown in Table 4, no statistically significant differences in change scores were found between students currently enrolled in a course with an attached field experience and those enrolled in the same courses without the attached field experience, between graduate and undergraduate students, nor between pre-service and in-service teachers.

    Implicit Theories


    Table 4

    Group Differences in Change Scores

Dimension Concurrent Student Status Teaching Status

    Field Experience

     Change t(52) Change t(107) Change t(99)

     No Yes UG Grad Pre In

    n=16 n=38 n=83 n=26 n=64 n=37

    Authenticity 0.69 0.71 -0.85 0.64 0.73 0.37 0.59 0.81 0.93

    Explanatory Power 0.69 0.63 0.26 0.55 0.84 1.16 0.66 0.68 0.81

    Complexity 0.94 0.63 1.52 0.63 1.15 2.09 0.72 0.92 0.82

    Consistency with Formal 0.87 0.97 -0.45 0.85 1.65 2.98** 1.06 1.13 0.78



    Some of our participants had participated in prior field experiences, although they were not currently enrolled in a course with an attached field experience. No statistically significant differences were found in the amount of change from pretest to posttest between students who had and had not participated in prior field experiences. Because structured field experiences attached to education courses are not the only manner in which students might have gained experience working with or knowledge about children, we also examined other possibilities, such as coaching, tutoring, volunteering, and teaching experience. Statistically significant differences with regard to change in authenticity were found between those with more than three years of experience of volunteer work with children and those with no volunteer experience [F

    (3,96)=2.712, p<.05]. No other statistically significant differences were found. Due to our small sample size, interactions were not examined as many cells had too few participants. We also examined pretest and posttest data to determine with which formal theories students’ implicit theories were most consistent. The theory most often either mentioned

    or with which students’ theoretical tenets were most consistent was Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. The vast majority of students made at least some reference to reinforcement as an important factor in development, learning, and/or motivation. Aspects of Bandura’s social cognitive theory also appeared frequently in our students’ theories, most notably the effects of modeling. Piaget’s stages of cognitive development were also featured prominently in many students’ theories, as were Vygotsky’s concepts of the zone of proximal development and scaffolding. While students’ implicit theories became more consistent with formal theory across the 16-week period, most did not alter their main theoretical perspectives (i.e. if they began the semester as behaviorists, they ended the semester as behaviorists).


    While we found no evidence to support that participation in field experiences while taking educational psychology coursework enhances change in students’ implicit theories,

    Implicit Theories


    it is important to note that students’ implicit theories did change across the 16-week

    period. Perhaps, given that other researchers have found implicit theories to be stable over time (Franiuk, Cohen, & Pomerantz, 2002), it would be unrealistic to expect even greater change from those students participating in concurrent field experiences of such limited duration.

    It was surprising, and perhaps even disturbing, to find that students with some types of experience working with children and adolescents prior to taking these courses scored lower than those with no such experience on some dimensions. It is possible that their experiences resulted in the construction of implicit theories based on narrow or idiosyncratic experience. Such differences highlight the importance of confronting and countering students’ pre-existing notions regarding development and learning by

    educational psychology instructors.


Berg, C.A., & Sternberg, R.J. (1988). Adults’ conceptions of intelligence across the adult

     life span. Psychology & Aging, 7, 221-231.

    Chan, D.W. & Chan, L. (1999). Implicit theories of creativity: Teachers' perception of

     student characteristics in Hong Kong. Creativity Research Journal. 12(3), 185-


    DeBaryshe, B.D, Binder, J.C, & Buell, M.J. (2000). Mothers' implicit theories of early

     literacy instruction: Implications for children's reading and writing. Early Child

    Development & Care, 160, 119-131.

    Dweck, C.S., & Elliott, E.S. (1983). Achievement motivation. In E.M. Hetherington

     (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and th social development (4 ed.). New York: Wiley.

    Dweck, C.S., & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and

     personality. Psychological Review, 95, 256-273.

Franiuk, R., Cohen, D., & Pomerantz, E. M. (2002). Implicit theories of relationships:

     Implications for relationship satisfaction and longevity. Personal Relationships,

    9(4), 345-367.

    Furnham, A. (1988). Lay theories: Everyday understanding of problems in the social

     sciences. New York: Pergamon.

Jonassen, D.H. (2003, April). The case against learning theories in educational

     psychology courses. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American

     Educational Research Association, Chicago.

Levy, S.R., Stroessner, S.J., & Dweck, C.S. (1998). Stereotype formation and

     endorsement: The role of implicit theories. Journal of Personality & Social

    Implicit Theories


     Psychology, 74(6), 1421-1436.

    McConnell, A.R. (2001). Implicit theories: Consequences for social judgments of

     individuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37(3), 215-227.

    Osberg, T.M. (2002). Psychology is not just common sense: An introductory psychology

     demonstration. In R.A. Griggs (Ed.), Handbook for teaching introductory

     psychology, Vol. 3: With an emphasis on assessment (pp. 180-181). Mahwah, NJ:


    Puccio, G.J. & Chimento, M.D. (2001). Implicit theories of creativity: Laypersons'

     perceptions of the creativity of adaptors and innovators. Perceptual & Motor

     Skills, 92(3, Pt. 1), 675-681.

    Runco, M.A. & Johnson, D.J. (2002). Parents' and teachers' implicit theories of children's

     creativity: A cross-cultural perspective. Creativity Research Journal, 14(3-4),


    Sternberg, R.L., Conway, B.E., Ketron, J.L., & Bernstein, M. (1981). People's

     conceptions of intelligence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 37-


Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email