This study examines preschool teachers’ knowledge of their young students’ number conceptions and the teachers’ related self-efficacy beliefs.
The participants were a group of 25 teachers who took part in professional development program. At the time of the study, all of the teachers were teaching 4–6-year-old children in municipal preschools. All had a first degree in education from a credited teaching college.
The participants were requested to fill out a two-part questionnaire at the beginning of the program and again at the end.
The authors found that promoting preschool teachers’ knowledge of appropriate mathematical tasks is interrelated with promoting their knowledge of students. The authors also argue that when designing tasks with teachers, especially assessment tasks, they may in the process promote teachers’ knowledge of their students and enhance their ability to observe different aspects of children’s knowledge.
The findings reveal that that teachers’ estimates of their students’ abilities increased as a result of participating in the program. The authors argue that teachers who believe in their students’ ability to successfully perform tasks and learn new conceptions are more likely to spend time developing those skills and conceptions.
Moreover, it has been found that teachers’ beliefs in their students’ abilities can positively impact on students’ motivation to succeed, in turn affecting student achievement, even when those students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Hence, raising the preschool teachers’ beliefs in their students may have had additional positive effects.
The authors also saw that teachers’ improved the accuracy of their estimations related to students’ abilities to perform number-related tasks. While the authors engaged teachers in observing the implementation of mathematical tasks, this element of the program was used to promote teachers’ knowledge of their students and was not used as a tool to assess teachers’ knowledge.
Despite the success of the program, the authors also noticed gaps in teachers’ knowledge even after the program was finished. Teachers overestimated students’ abilities for some of the tasks.
During the program, the authors attempted to promote teachers’ self-efficacy related to students’ knowledge by using teaching methods which were non-threatening and which were collaborative. The authors succeeded in promoting teachers’ self-efficacy. They also succeeded in breaking the negative correlation. However, the authors cannot say that at the end of the program knowledge and self-efficacy were positively correlated.
The authors conclude that they highlighted the important aspect of teachers’ knowledge related to knowing their students. They also incorporated this aspect into their investigation teachers’ self-efficacy related to students’ knowledge.