Sunday, May 5, 2013

Beliefs about Language Learning: Current Knowledge, Pedagogical Implications and New Research Directions

This paper argues that, while research on learner beliefs about language learning so far has provided us with valuable insights, it has stagnated, investigating which beliefs are fundamental to the exclusion of other important factors. The question central to this paper is what shapes learner beliefs? Despite what we know about beliefs, we have very little knowledge about the psychological mechanisms involved in creating, shaping and guiding these beliefs, which are byproducts of a number of internal as well as external factors.

The Nature and Origin of Beliefs

 Terms such as knowledge and beliefs are treated differently within the research
community, depending on varying theoretical orientations. Early psychological studies
into learner perceptions and beliefs about learning "opened a whole new Aladdin's cave of personal beliefs, myths, understandings, and superstitions as they were revealed by the persons' thoughts and feelings about their learning" (Thomas & Harri-Augustein, 1983, p. 338). They concluded that beliefs about learner capacity and personal models of their own processes were more central to understanding the individuals' learning performances than universally accepted theories of learning; these personal "myths" explained more about individual differences in learning than such psychometric measures as intelligence or aptitude (Thomas & Harri-Augustein, 1983).
In cognitive psychology, learner beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning, or epistemological beliefs, have been investigated with the idea that they are part of the underlying mechanisms of metacognition (Flavell, 1987; Ryan, 1984), form the building blocks of epistemology (Goldman, 1986), and are a driving force in intellectual performance. Psychologists have begun to acknowledge the pervasive influence of personal and social epistemologies on academic learning, thinking, reasoning, and problem solving (Schommer, 1993), persistence (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), and interpretation of information (Ryan, 1984; Schommer, 1990).

From this perspective, beliefs about language learning are viewed as a component of
metacognitive knowledge (Flavell, 1987), which include all that individuals understand about themselves as learners and thinkers, including their goals and needs. Flavell (1979, 1981) emphasizes the study of meta-cognitive knowledge in second language learning and focuses on the person. He calls this "person knowledge." Person knowledge is knowledge learners have acquired about how cognitive and affective factors such as learner aptitude, personality, and motivation may influence learning. In addition, it includes specific knowledge about how the above factors apply in their experience. For example, is it the learners' belief that they do, or do not, have an aptitude for learning another language or, that their particular type of personality will inhibit or facilitate language learning (Wenden, 2001)?
Beliefs have also been said to "act as very strong filters of reality" (Arnold, 1999, p. 256).Interdisciplinary research suggests that learner beliefs about learning are intertwined
with factors such as self-concept and identity, self-efficacy, person
ality, and other
individual differences (Epstein, 1990). For example, students may be directly influenced
by their perception of success in learning and levels of expectancy (Yang, 1999; White,
1999; Bernat, 2004)--with realistically high helping to build confidence, and low (or
unrealistically high) expectations helping to build incompetence (Puchta, 1999). Truitt
(1995) discusses expectancy (based on Pintrich & DeGroot's (1990) concept) as
students' beliefs about their abilities and responsibilities to perform tasks. Values are
considered by Pintrich and DeGroot to be related to students' goals and beliefs about
the relative importance and interest of the task. Truitt (1995) further addresses selfefficacy as beliefs about ability, similar to expectancy.
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