The Language-Learning Beliefs of Students with Disabilities: An Exploratory Study
According to several researchers (e.g., DeJong & Ferguson-Hessler, 1996), epistemological beliefs are students’ tacit beliefs about knowledge and learning, and these implicit beliefs may contribute to their academic performance (Jehng, Johnson, & Anderson, 1993; Schommer, Crouse, & Rhodes, 1992; Schommer-Aikins & Easter, 2006). The research into and subsequent field of epistemological beliefs began in 1968 with Perry’s interest in the source and structure of knowledge (1999), a relatively narrow area of interest within the field. Perry theorized in this classic study that students progressed in their beliefs about knowledge from “dualistic thinking” to the more sophisticated stage of “contextual reasoning”.
In her 1990 investigation into the epistemological beliefs of students, Schommer suggested that there are four dimensions in which students hold beliefs about learning: simple knowledge, certain knowledge, fixed ability, and quick learning. She asserted that fixed ability refers to students’ beliefs that ability to learn is innate and cannot be changed. Students with learning disabilities (LD) may “operate” from this dimension, with the belief that their learning abilities are predetermined and permanent. Indeed, how one feels about one’s abilities may translate into academic achievement. Further, the related construct of self-efficacy in academic performance may be the progressive result of students’ learning disabilities and subsequent beliefs about their ability to acquire knowledge.
Despite the wealth and richness of literature regarding the epistemological beliefs of secondary and adult learners, there is a dearth of empirical data concerning this psychological construct among middle school students. Moreover, investigations into the learning beliefs of students with disabilities are scant. This presentation will discuss the results of the author’s investigation into the relationship between written language ability and epistemological beliefs among sixth-grade students with LD. Implications for educators will be discussed.
Keywords: Learning Disabilities, Written Language Ability, Epistemological Beliefs
Dr. Sherri Franklin-Guy
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling, California State University, San Bernardino