EDS 111

A Teacher’s Knowledge Base

ejournal 4 / module 3a

This week we read about Shulman’s seven categories of teaching knowledge base. Shulman argued that current assessment of teacher readiness relies too heavily on the assessment of ‘research-approved’ techniques and strategies. The extent to which teachers demonstrate those teaching strategies and classroom processes that correlate to student achievement are not necessarily the most effective or appropriate across all subjects and levels. For example, education students may be encouraged to use (and later assessed on) instructional technology in the classroom. However, a teacher who opts to conduct a lesson without advanced technology did not necessarily have an inferior lesson. There is no ‘magic formula’ for creating a perfect lesson and many factors such as content complexity, student ability, and lesson objectives influence how a teacher will develop and justify her lesson.

Shulman further develops his argument by outlining seven essential categories of a teaching knowledge base. In order for a novice teacher to effectively guide appropriate learning activities and enhance lessons with relevant principles and strategies and ultimately evolve into an effective educator, she must first have a knowledge base built on:

– Content knowledge e.g. English grammar, speech, composition

– General pedagogical knowledge e.g. the effectiveness of constructive positive feedback to motivate further learning

– Curriculum knowledge e.g. the Jolly Phonics or Scholastic curriculum for reading and writing in kindergarten

Pedagogical content knowledge e.g. the use of instructional scaffolding to guide students from amateur level to that of a novice; modeling how to read individual letter sounds then repeating them aloud for the child, allowing him to focus on hearing the sounds and blending them together

– Knowledge of learners e.g. understanding and responding to the individual learning styles, individual needs, and challenges of the class

– Knowledge of educational contexts e.g. how pairs of students, small groups, and whole-class activities function differently; the hierarchy of school governance

– Knowledge of educational ends, purposes, values, and their philosophical and historical grounds e.g. understanding why we teach, the importance of education for society as a whole

So where does all of this knowledge come from? Shulman identifies four sources of the teaching knowledge base as

  • Scholarship in content discipline covering not only the actual skills or concepts but also its relevance and justification as a subject matter. Knowing not only about the structure of cells, but also why biology is an important part of a student’s education.
  • Educational material and structures based within school policies, curriculum, rules, and governance. Teachers need to delve into
  • Formal educational scholarship in the form of research-based findings on learning, development and teaching to better define what is a good education? What theories are gaining support in the most current research about how we can teach more effectively?
  • Wisdom that comes from practice and experience

An extensive teaching knowledge base makes pedagogical reasoning possible. Pedagogical reasoning is teacher’s process of understanding an idea, dissecting it into manageable concepts, restructuring it to appeal and relate to students, guiding learning opportunities and evaluating their effectiveness through thoughtful reflection. Both teacher and student should gain insight from the process and the teacher will be able to act more effectively in the future by reviewing the successes and shortcomings (for teacher and students) of the experience.

Shulman emphasizes that the teaching knowledge based is not fixed. Instead, it is always evolving and continues to be improved upon through further definition, description, and review. Just reflect for a moment on the one-room schoolhouse of 100 years ago. A teacher would have had vast general knowledge but likely lacked specific expertise and pedagogical training. It was a fake-it-till-you-make-it situation in which teachers developed classroom management techniques through trial-and-error and imitation of their own classroom experience as students. A child’s education would vary greatly depending on the nature and education of whatever teacher happened to be assigned to the local schoolhouse. Teaching today is more standardized and teachers must adhere to strict guidelines and policies both in and out of the classroom. The quality of education has certainly made significant progress, but there is much more to be done in terms of overhauling in the school system and further development and refinement of teacher expectations and guidelines, The knowledge base Shulman describes can serve as the base on which later reform can be built.

The standardization of the teaching profession creates more uniform quality and competence in the workforce, but there can certainly be too much standardization. Extensive across-the-board teaching requirements and binding classroom policies can create a constricting red tape that limits teacher creativity and stifles what should be an organic and authentic exchange of knowledge between teacher and student.

I personally think Shulman’s knowledge base would be better developed if it were further defined by subject area and student level. Teachers benefit from open discourse and sharing of ideas and strategies. They can support and advise one another for a stronger teaching community. I do believe that guidelines for the most effective approach for teaching primary English should be discussed and encouraged. They should also differ from guidelines for secondary science. Would this sort of regulation be most appropriate and impactful at a school level rather than a community or national level? For example, teachers could meet by department to discuss theories, principles, and strategies that are most useful and effective in the classroom. Observation, feedback, and reflection could inform on necessary adjustments. Communication within departments should be routine and encouraged. I think all schools would benefit from this kind of collaboration.

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