Summary of Beliefs
People learn most effectively when:
- Authentic and differentiated learning activities are challenging, meaningful, engaging, and build on what they already know.
- Through hands on experiences and social interaction.
- Through high expectations and clearly defined goals that are shared.
I believe activities must be student led and tailored to meet the abilities of the individual students. Additionally, collaboration and discussions are the essential for learning. Furthermore, tasks must be authentic, meaningful, practical and students need to be aware of the learning intention. The message I want to communicate with the students is that learning is a process and not an outcome/product. Teaching practice is comprised of 3 major components – (1) content knowledge, (2) pedagogy, and (3) pedagogical content knowledge. The following article explores my understanding and beliefs of each of these domains.
The definition of teacher knowledge varies amongst scholars and has been the subject of much controversy. Schwab (1964) states that teacher knowledge centers around the subject matter, teacher, and learner. Grossman and Richert (1988), in union with Shulman (1987), concur, claiming teacher knowledge encompasses pedagogical principles and knowledge of the subject matter.
The implications of these early definitions are detrimental to teacher pedagogy. The model leads to the bifurcation of two interdependent domains, namely content knowledge and pedagogy (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). The result is that a teacher pedagogy built on this framework will emphasize either one or the other and rarely both (Ball & McDiarmid, 1990). Furthermore, treating them as mutually exclusive leads to a fragmented and mechanistic view of teaching practice, failing to address the complexities of a multivariate and multidimensional profession (Doyle, 1990). Practical knowledge and knowledge of subject matter are not sufficient for capturing effective teacher practice (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).
Content knowledge and pedagogy must be confronted simultaneously when defining teacher knowledge. The blending of content and pedagogy into – an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organized and represented – is identified by academics as pedagogical content knowledge (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). In relation to pedagogy, pedagogical content knowledge makes content comprehensible to learners through differentiated practice and enhances learning outcomes of students (McCutchen et al., 2002).
Later definitions expand the view that teacher knowledge is more than just instructional and content competencies. Rather, it embodies a professional entity and, with it, their personal beliefs and attitudes (Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002). This teaching-self is developed by building knowledge from positive teaching experiences (Tamir, 1988). Through these experiences, teachers may change from dissonance to resonance between the teaching-self and core-self (Yee Fan Tang, 2003). Teacher knowledge, therefore, becomes a construct embodying the professional and personal domain.
Personal limitations now pertain to teacher knowledge and pedagogy. Elements of the teacher’s personal domain, such as (1) ego, (2) prejudice, and (3) personality, are introduced within teacher knowledge. This can harm pedagogical practice. Cunningham et al. (2009) observed that teachers overestimate what they know, limiting the search for additional knowledge. This impacts student learning outcomes as opportunities to extend pedagogical content knowledge have been restricted by the teacher’s ego. Furthermore, societal issues and any teacher prejudices must be addressed in teacher knowledge to achieve educational equity (Gorski, 2009; Buitink, 2009).
Challenges arising from teacher knowledge pertain largely to the self-schema of the teacher within the behavioral domain. These challenges encompass (1) perpetual development, (2) potential for marginalization, and (3) bias towards students. Each of these challenges pertains to pedagogical practice and plays a major role in student’s progression and achievement in year five to eight students.
Differentiated learning is a challenge that arises from teacher knowledge. The pedagogical content knowledge requires that content is tailored to the learning needs of the individual. Rubie-Davies (2014, p.121) claims that the “student diversity… presents a continual challenge”. That is to say, teacher knowledge will always be in a deficit, requiring continuous investment from the teacher. Alton-Lee (2004, p.3) states that “the daily and complex challenge for teachers is that they need strategies to teach a diverse group of learners effectively and simultaneously”. A challenge further compounded by the perpetual development of learning needs as students’ progress. However, the payoff of differentiated learning is that it presents the possibility for increased student achievement through tailored learning (Reis, 2011).
Teacher knowledge can marginalize students in classrooms. This challenge is pertinent to students that may be unaccustomed to the teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. Without explicit scaffolding, the disparity can lead to negative teacher and peer assumptions about those students’ ability to learn (Hancock et al., 2009). Such a negative perspective can have a detrimental impact on student achievement as the teacher’s negative perception prevents a safe learning environment (Hutchinson, 2003).
Teachers bias can also be a challenge toward student progression and academic achievement. Foster and Ysseldyke’s (1976) examined the effects of bias teacher knowledge by comparing teacher referrals of a neurotypical student that was randomly presented with a false label of either – emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, or mentally retarded. One hundred teachers were asked to complete a referral form on the basis of the normal student’s behavior. The study found that teachers aligned their observations towards whichever label the child was assigned. Foster and Ysseldyke’s (1976) study provides evidence that teacher knowledge is inseparable from their bias and will limit the learning possibilities of select students.
There does exist positive opportunities for students as a result of teachers perusing teacher knowledge. The students are provided with (1) equitable learning opportunities and (2) authentic learning experiences. Research has found that the presence of either of these within pedagogical practice greatly enhances the learning outcomes of students (Campbell & Nutt, 2008; Timperley & Parr, 2007; McCutchen et al., 2002).
Differentiated learning provides equity over equality. In other words, students are presented with learning resources they need as opposed to a one-size-fits-all system. Through differentiation, teachers create the conditions for motivating students (Tomlinson, 2014), an essential element for engaging learners (Ministry of Education, 2016).
Furthermore, teacher knowledge provides learners with the contingent cognitive and effective support required to engage in the discourse of the subject (Edwards & Ogden, 1998). Campbell and Nutt (2008) have found engagement to be a key ingredient when advancing student achievement outcomes.
- The primary objective of literacy is for students to understand, respond to, and use those forms of language that are required by society and valued by individuals and communities (Ministry of Education, 2012). Successful reading, therefore, requires a multitude of individual needs to be addressed. As with teacher knowledge, this provocation compels teachers to deliver a differentiated response to individual learner needs within the context of their communities.
- Years five to eight students are assigned more complex and abstract tasks requiring the teacher to explicitly model the required oral language. Students need to utilize language as a tool for thinking and problem solving (Hancock et al., 2009). Therefore, pedagogical content knowledge and pedagogical practice must allow students to shape their understandings through talk. As a result, verbally communicating ideas will mold the way students think critically (Rudd, Baker & Hoover, 2000). Additionally, through talk, students learn to understand each other and see their own interpretations of events in contrast to others (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001). Hence, pedagogical content knowledge informs teachers that literacy skills, such as reading and writing, are effectively, if not fundamentally, developed through talk.
- Both students and teachers are apprentices in the craft of learning as the curriculum goals, for both students and teachers, perpetually evolve. Requiring constant development from both parties.
- Differentiated expectations for learners is strongly supported by evidence that finds teacher expectations function as self-fulfilling prophecies on student learning outcomes (Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016; Brophy & Good, 1970; Foster & Ysseldyke, 1976).
- Educational equity is a universal human right (The United Nations, 1948), transcending any trends in contemporary academic research. Teacher knowledge advocates for learner’s individual needs and, for this reason, also addresses the fundamental needs of the human condition. Educational equity and the principles that ensure its fruition (differentiated expectations, tailoring instructional strategies, knowledge of the learners), are timeless principles, applicable to all curriculum domains and are attained through teacher knowledge.