THE notion that mathematics teaching and learning influence teachers has been suggested by researchers.
Studies have shown that teachers’ beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning are mostly formed
during their own schooling, and
are developed as a result of their experience as mathematics students.
Their conceptions about mathematics and how it should be taught are rooted and are difficult to change.
To understand how teachers’ belief systems can influence how they interpret and implement curricula, it is important to distinguish between teachers’ beliefs and teachers’ knowledge.
Teachers who hold the traditional absolutist view about mathematics teaching and learning are more likely to create a teacher-centred instructional environment, such as teaching mathematics as rules to be memorised.
They emphasise performance in their classrooms rather than learning and understanding. They also give students less autonomy and create a classroom environment where mistakes are viewed as something to be avoided, rather than creating an environment where there is no risk if a mistake is made.
Traditional teaching begins with an explanation on the idea or concept on the subject being taught, followed by showing students how to do exercises.
The focus of the lesson is on
getting answers. Students emerge from these experiences with a view that mathematics is a series of arbitrary rules, handed down by the teacher.
Teachers holding constructivist views of mathematics are expected to adopt a student-centred environment by allowing students to explore and mix with each other while teachers act as a facilitator.
This view is in line with current reform efforts that ask teachers
to lead mathematical explorations and allow students to construct meaning and understanding in mathematics.
Researchers found that the most important obstacle to reform is that teachers’ beliefs and prior experience of mathematics and mathematics teaching are not congruent with the current approaches to teaching.
Ambrose (2001) suggested several avenues for changing belief systems.
The first involves the process of reflection and examination of personal beliefs. In this way, inconsistencies can be identified.
The second involves making connections between beliefs. This allows one to activate new beliefs in situations where they might not previously have been activated.
Another way that belief systems can be changed is by developing a new belief that is connected to existing beliefs.
The last belief change is the reversal of an existing belief. However, this type of paradigm shift is uncommon.
It is not easy to change firmly-held beliefs of teachers. However, continuous effort should be made to change for the better.
Teachers should be encouraged to consider instructional practices that parallel the needs in the teaching profession.
We need greater collaboration and interaction among teachers. For the benefit of future teachers, teacher training institutions should adopt 21st century skills in their curriculum.
DR EFFANDI ZAKARIA, Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia