Developing Effective Teacher Beliefs about Learners: The Role of Sensitizing Teachers to Individual Learning Differences

May. 20, 2008

Source: Educational Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 3, May 2008, 245–272.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Effective teacher beliefs about students are an integral part of effective teaching. Teachers with interventionist beliefs about students (‘I can intervene to help a learner with difficulties’) show more effective practice than teachers with pathognomonic beliefs (‘I blame the learner for his difficulties’).
The present study concerns the development of teachers’ beliefs about students as a result of a professional development (PD) course. The course designed to sensitize teachers to their own and colleagues’ learning characteristics, which affect their capacity to function as learners (Shapiro, Sewell, & DuCette, 1995).

Research Questions

The research questions are as follows:
RQ1: To what extent, if any, did the teachers increase their interventionist beliefs about students after the professional development (PD) course?

RQ2: To what extent, if any, did the length of the PD (28 vs. 56 hours) or the amount of teaching experience affect the teachers’ interventionist beliefs about students?

RQ3: To what extent, if any, did teachers’ own ILDs preferences affect their interventionist beliefs before and after the PD course?

RQ4: What is the distribution and strength of the teachers’ ILDs?


The participants were 234 elementary and middle school teachers, specializing in a wide range of subjects. The teachers were participants in eight professional development (PD) courses: four lasted for 56 hours (over two semesters), and four lasted for 28 hours (over one semester). The courses were conducted over two years at a teachers’ college in Israel.

The PD course sensitized teachers to individual learning differences (ILDs), based on style strategy (Honigsfeld & Schiering, 2004; Ojure, 1997). Five learning/cognitive styles tools were used to facilitate teachers’ strong, personal experiences about themselves as learners in mediated groups with colleagues.

Teachers’ responses to a pre-/post-test question concerning their beliefs about ‘weak students’ were analyzed and correlated with their ILD scores.

Before the PD, teachers with strong ILD preferences matched to traditional learning contexts were significantly more ‘at risk’ (i.e., had fewer interventionist beliefs) than the other teachers; the former teachers were significantly overrepresented in the sample.


After the PD, teachers’ interventionist beliefs significantly increased, regardless of their ILD preferences.
Neither the length of the PD (28 hrs. vs. 56 hrs.) nor the amount of teaching experience affected the teachers’ interventionist beliefs about students.


A mediated, constructivist and collaborative PD, which sensitizes teachers to individual learning differences, can increase effective teacher beliefs about students.

The authors conclude that developing more effective teacher beliefs about learners should become a component of teacher professional development.

Honigsfeld, A., & Schiering, M. (2004). Diverse approaches to the diversity of learning styles in teacher education. Educational Psychology, 24, 487–508.

Shapiro, J.P., Sewell, T.E., & DuCette, J.P. (1995). Reframing diversity in education: Educational leadership for the 21st century. Basel: Technomic Publishing Co. Inc.

Updated: May. 30, 2010