Reflective Essay – Types of Teacher Knowledge

The research articles for this week’s topic were enlightening and informative. Although I’m currently a 7th grade special education teacher, I spent 10 years working in the healthcare information technology field  managing the implementation of hospital patient accounting systems and interfacing with developers of claims management systems.  Because of these experiences, I’m very comfortable using technology both personally and professionally. In my classroom, I try to ensure that software tools and assistive technology help convey the knowledge that I want my students to acquire.

I began reading Shulman’s article and he got my attention immediately with his opening statement regarding George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” I have always viewed that quote as an insult and feel that the best teachers are ones who not only can do but can then show or explain the action or information.  Shulman’s article provided insight into the differences between two types of teacher knowledge, content and pedagogy.

Shulman (1986) stated that it is assumed that most teachers possess knowledge about the content area that they are assigned to instruct. His statement is supported by current state and federal law for the certification of teachers. For example, in the state of Georgia, teachers must pass a Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) exam in the content area they want to teach (e.g., science, math, music). Furthermore, due to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, special education teachers must pass an exam that covers content knowledge (e.g., language arts, social studies) AND core knowledge (e.g., types of disabilities, federal laws) in order to be classified as “highly qualified” by the federal government.

Good teachers are able to convey subject matter in a way that meets their students’ needs. This is where knowledge of pedagogy is critical. Teachers need to know HOW to pass on the content that they are tasked to deliver. Shulman (1986) states that teachers must know “the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations – in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others.” I believe that pedagogy supports everything that a teacher does. Most teachers learn the principles and theories that support pedagogy through their university training programs and school systems provide additional support through professional learning initiatives. However, there are some aspects of pedagogy that cannot be learned from a book. For example, although there has been extensive research conducted regarding classroom behavior management, individual teachers must find their own methods to control the behavior of their students. They must learn the right level of firmness to use, the proper tone of voice that conveys displeasure or support, consequences that work or don’t work, etc.

Teachers must know how learners acquire knowledge (cognition) and must be able to reflect on the “cognitional knowledge that he or she has, both general and content-specific” (meta-cognitional knowledge) (Peterson, 1988). Teachers are continually assessing their students’ performance in order to maximize achievement. Special education teachers have to write goals and objectives for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and must determine student present levels of performance. This allows special education teachers to incorporate differentiated learning strategies in the classroom (e.g., lessons for auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and visual learners).

  Mishra and Koeler (2006) expanded on Shulman’s work by adding technology as the third teacher knowledge. We live in an information age and our students are digital learners. Our teaching practices have to incorporate technology in order to engage students and we must deliver content in a way that is comfortable for them to receive.  I am fortunate to have access to technology such as interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, wireless laptop carts, overhead projectors, and TV/VCR/DVD players. In addition, technology such as the Classroom Performance System (CPS) assessment tool is available to use in a game format in order to foster competition and provide a fun experience for the students. 

These three types of teacher knowledge provide the framework for effective practices today. In addition to staying current with information in their subject areas and knowing how to deliver content, teachers must be open to try the plethora of technology that exists to see what works and what doesn’t. They must be willing to stretch themselves and accept their own learning curve in order to become comfortable using new tools and techniques. Flexibility is the key to blending these three types of knowledge and utilizing them will benefit both our students and our education system as a whole.    

 

References:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006, June). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teacher College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Peterson, P. L. (1988, June/July). Teachers’ and Students’ Cognitional knowledge for classroom teaching and learning. Educational Researcher, 17(5), 5-14.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.



9 comments ↓

  • #   lwalters1 on 01.15.10 at 10:09 am     

    Rod,
    I can tell that your fellow classmates will benefit greatly from your technology experiences. I too am affected by Shulman’s initial statement “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This comment resonates throughout the nursing world as well. People do not realize that the knowledge base is there yes, but do they have the ability to portray this information in a manner where others will benefit. Your statement about No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 makes me curious as to the need to be “highly qualified” to teach special education. Do you feel that teachers that deal with special needs children need highly developed content knowledge? Does this help them to be better equipped to deal with these types of children? Do you feel that Peterson’s statement “…that he or she has, both general content-specific” is the disconnect that we are seeing in college students today? These students have not been taught that learning and education is just as much there responsibility as it is the teacher’s responsibility to resonate the information? Also in relation to technology do you feel that technology is a must to reach all students or does technology sometimes inhibit the learning process.

    Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006, June). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teacher College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

    Peterson, P.L. (1988, June/July). Teachers’ and students’ cognitional knowledge for classroom teaching and learning. Educational Researcher, 17(5), 5-14.

    Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.


  • #   Randall Cook on 01.15.10 at 5:24 pm     

    I agree with you when you state that “there are some aspects of pedagogy that cannot be learned from a book.” I think that first year of teaching there is a steep learning curve. The novice teacher learns so much from the experiences of older, more experienced teachers. In regards to pedagogy, I have had several teachers in my education that had a solid grasp subject matter, but couldn’t present it in an understandable way. I think that the Peterson article really gets to the heart of this when it discusses both the general and content-specific knowledge at the cognitional and meta-cognitional levels. The teacher should always be examining on how they are teaching and how the students are learning.


  • #   malhawiti on 01.16.10 at 12:39 am     

    Hello Rod,

    I really like how you connected what teacher do in classrooms (practice) to theories. When I took CIMT 862 last semester, Dr. Davis explained to us how theory and practice are connected. Indeed, he illustrated that one of the most defining characteristic of theories is how they are informed by practice and observations. However, this is not a one-way relationship; instead, it is two-ways relationship. In other words, theory and practice affect one another. This means that practice and observations also inform theory and inspire new research.

    I found the design-based a very interesting research methodology. I believe that the most interesting advantage of using the design-based research method t is the collaboration between the researcher and the practitioners. This collaboration can then lead to a synthesis of solutions to practitioners’ questions and researchers’ questions. How do you find such research methodology? Is it practical?

    Mohammed


  • #   Roddran Grimes on 01.16.10 at 4:47 pm     

    Linda:

    I became a teacher in 2004 and that’s when the “highly qualified” requirement kicked in. I did some Google research and found the following on the US Dept of Education’s website for that time period http://www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/teachers/hqtflexibility.html :

    IV.Special Education Teachers
    The highly qualified teacher requirements apply only to teachers providing direct instruction in core academic subjects. Special educators who do not directly instruct students in core academic subjects or who provide only consultation to highly qualified teachers in adapting curricula, using behavioral supports and interventions or selecting appropriate accommodations, do not need to demonstrate subject-matter competency in those subjects.

    Congress, in the context of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorization, is considering modifying how the highly qualified teacher provisions of NCLB apply to special education teachers. The Department looks forward to working with Congress in addressing this need.

    Linda, what this means is that special education teachers who want to be the “teacher of record” need to be certified “highly qualified”. We have to take two tests (core & content knowledge). You ask me:

    1) Do I think special education teachers need more highly developed content knowledge?

    My response is no. In my humble opinion, special education teachers generally have the right amount of content knowledge needed for the job. Also, because special education teachers provide instruction in all five academic subjects (language arts, math, social studies, reading, and science) we know a lot of information about a variety of subjects. The average special education teacher is EXTREMELY flexible and can shift subject matter at a moment’s notice. We may not have the deep detailed content knowledge that a general education teacher has about the subject but we’re fortunate to team-teach with general education teachers and learn from them the subject matter we need to know. We are then able to effectively teach in our resource classes (only special education students) the same material but tailor it for differentiated learning styles in order to help the students progress academically.

    2. Does this help them to be better equipped to deal with these types of children?

    My response is yes, the training special education teachers receive helps us to better understand the different types of students we instruct. We deal with all kinds of disabilities in our classrooms (e.g., vision, hearing, autism, learning) and we need to utilize techniques that help our students learn. Truth be told, however, I must say that I get my best techniques from other special educaton teachers who have learned what works for them and pass on the tip. We’re always saying to one another, “have you tried . . . ?”

    3. Do you feel that Peterson’s statement “…that he or she has, both general content-specific” is the disconnect that we are seeing in college students today?

    Linda, can you please clarify that question? I don’t understand it. What disconnect are you referencing?

    Roddran


  • #   Roddran Grimes on 01.16.10 at 4:56 pm     

    Mohammed:

    You made the following statement:

    I found the design-based a very interesting research methodology. I believe that the most interesting advantage of using the design-based research method t is the collaboration between the researcher and the practitioners. This collaboration can then lead to a synthesis of solutions to practitioners’ questions and researchers’ questions. How do you find such research methodology? Is it practical?

    If do feel that researchers and practitioners always need to work together. I am definitely a practitioner but I like to know about the reseach hypotheses and findings that support my actions. Therefore, I have to say yes, it is very practical to have a combined effort.

    Roddran


  • #   lwalters1 on 01.16.10 at 11:11 pm     

    “Teachers must know how learners acquire knowledge (cognition) and must be able to reflect on the “cognitional knowledge that he or she has, both general and content-specific”

    Knowing how learners acquire the knowledge helps with reflection – is there a disconnect between this and that is why we are seeing students in college with the inability to critical think because they are unable to reflect and pull from information that they have already learned?

    I am sorry it wasn’t very clear the first time. Hope this helps.

    Thanks for the answers to the rest. I guess why this hits home is because I see what my sons teacher goes through with all the special needs children and to expect more from them is not fair. She already has to have contect knowledge of every class why more stress of passing test and things.


  • #   Roddran Grimes on 01.17.10 at 9:21 am     

    Linda:
    I’ve never taught high school so I don’t know how they foster critical thinking skills in that environment but I can speak of middle school efforts. We try to connect students’ personal experiences to the class content. For example, in my 7th grade social studies class we are studying Africa’s water issues. In our discussions, I remind my students about the Atlanta area’s 5-6 year drought and tell them that water issues affect them too. Our language arts classes use graphic organizers to help stimulate ideas.

    By the time a student reaches the college level ideally they should be able to critically think about a particular topic. However, if they haven’t had much life exposure and haven’t read a lot they won’t have the background knowledge needed to help them form an opinion. In addition, if they’ve only learned facts and figures but never the REASON why these facts and figures are important the information will have no relevance to them. As you state, they will be “unable to reflect and pull from information that they have already learned” and there will be a disconnect.

    You are correct in your assessment about your son’s teacher. She’s working hard to teach the class content AND apply special education techniques with her students (e.g., gear her lessons toward how her students learn best) PLUS manage paperwork (e.g., IEPs, behavior assessments, student caseload requirements). It’s what we do to help our students be successful.

    Roddran


  • #   beckyfiedler on 01.18.10 at 10:07 pm     

    Roddran,

    I know you to be an enthusiastic technology user. I’m curious about your observations regarding technology use in your own classroom and in your school more generally. I sometimes noticed that very sophisticated technology-using teachers kept the technology all to themselves while their students looked on. You mentioned wireless laptops and clickers which are almost certainly for student use. Do you have abundant access to these technologies (and others) for your students to use?


  • #   roddrangrimes on 01.19.10 at 9:16 am     

    Dr. Fiedler:

    In my Reading class, I have the students conduct web quests for their research projects. I’ve also used the clicker game in my team-taught classes. I’m not a big user of the wireless laptops because by the time they are passed out to each student, turned on, and resolve issues there’s little time left to work on assignments. I prefer to use the computer lab.

    My favorite technology to use with students is the interactive whiteboard. Students love to manipulate the images on the screen and are really engaged in the associated lessons. Again, I’m fortunately to work in a school that supports the use of technology. My school has just purchased 10 “mimeos” that turn any plain whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard. I’m excited to have access to this tool and look forward to designing lessons around it.

    Roddran


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