Content ?Versus? Pedagogy

Posted on April 25, 2010. Filed under: classroom related, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, thinking aloud | Tags: , , |

I am struggling with  a teacher’s need to know the content.  Does it get in the way of good teaching?  Does it help make teaching better?  Seems an obvious” yes,” content knowledge is important.  On the other hand, when we begin to deal with issues of inquiry and constructivism, should teacher content knowledge matter?  I was having a recent twit-talk with a couple of ed regulars: tomwhitby and jerridkruse, and they (or one of them) had proposed that teachers should be experts in learning, not content.  They should learn beside the kids.  Here a few thought-provoking tweets from them:

tomwhitby Wouldn’t it be reasoned if we thoroughly understand learning and teaching methods,we could aquire content as needed?

jerridkruse sometimes when I’m unsure of content my teaching more authentically models real learning cause kids & i in it together

And I was going to answer the following: Pedagogy, content, and learning are tied together, as each progresses, so go the others.

Then I deleted my comment and decided to examine whether I really mean that. Here is where my thoughts took me:

Pedagogical Content Knowledge or Content Pedagogical Knowledge (depending on how you want to prioritize) is a solid concept being examined by leading researchers.*1 and *2 My own dissertation process was tied to this idea of content and pedagogy being linked into a new type of teacher knowledge, PCK.  It is a type of knowledge that develops as a teacher develops.  It allows a good math teacher to recognize misconceptions as students fall into them; it allows a social studies teacher to know the perfect graphic organizer that will lead students to a deeper understanding of a particular historical perspective;  it helps a science teacher to hone student questions to a place where they have the materials and tools to pursue true answers. PCK says content knowledge does matter for pedagogy to be at its best, and PCK says that pedagogy does matter for content to be at its best.

I have seen this PCK in action when I see a teacher versed in history, extremely well read, but not versed in pedagogy–the result being a lecture that seldom engages the students.  Or the teacher versed in pedagogy who loves to do cooperative grouping, organizes her students beautifully, brings out the math manipulatives, but has no idea how to engage the students in productive math talk because her content knowledge is weak and she does not know where to begin or the right questions that might provoke student inquiry.

Ironically, concurrent with the twit-talk, one of my listservs on math was having a similar discussion about whether the text or the teacher should be in control of the math content provoking Michael Goldenberg to write a blog here and say:

“And that’s why ultimately it must be the combination of the PCK of the author [textbook author] tempered by that of the teacher that rules.”

And so I am back, in a way, to my original idea that “Yes, content knowledge matters.”  But I still get what jerridkruse and tomwhitby are saying about how learning about learning is the key to inquiry. Where teachers fail in inquiry is often at the point where we choose not to re-learn what we think we know–right beside the students.  I also believe we cannot use inquiry to have students entirely relearn all knowledge that exists in each discipline.  I know students do not need to know everything in a given discipline, but must not a core be solidified for students to make discoveries that move ahead of the discoveries that have already been made?  It is a delicate balance, the inquiry versus knowledge-giving role of educators.  It is why I think good teaching is much, much harder than most people (many teachers included) believe.

🙂 Bonita DeAmicis

** thinking here of Deborah Ball and Shulman

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What if…

Posted on January 1, 2010. Filed under: interesting reading, leadership related, technology, thinking aloud | Tags: , , , , , |

What if I could recreate schools the way I want them to be?  Places where children experience the excitement and energy of working on that which most interests them for as long as their hearts desire. Places where curriculum, schedules, and resources bend to the whim of the learner, and not the other way around. Places where teachers learn beside students. Places where students read, write, and do math because the value of all of it is so obvious it takes no persuasion. Those are the kinds of schools I would like to see. Technology would be part of the rich underbelly of resources that make such an environment possible, not the driving force, just the enabling partner. Why not do this?

Whenever I have tried to pursue such aims in a traditional school, it has been a mishmash of half tries, and a crashing of opposing ideas.  The bells, whistles, tests, and grades of the educational establishment proceeded around and over my students as if they were standing still in their tracks.  Parents panicked at the possibility that  their child’s test scores would be harmed.  Other teachers panicked that students would come to them “unprepared” for the rigor of the next grade level. Our experiments in exploration were inevitably sidetracked by the realities of traditional school demands.  Trying to unpack constructivist practices in traditional school environments is like trying to fit an octopus into blue jeans.  Sure you can stuff its eight tentacles into the two pant legs using various implements and force, but the ocotopus’s fluid movements would be constricted beyond recognition; and why would you want to do this anyway?

Today I read a paper from Gary Stager that described exactly how I want schools to be.  I was surprised to learn that he had been lucky enough to have worked with Seymour Papert,  and yet not surprised at the results they saw through their Constructivist Learning Laboratory (CLL).  Using all the methods I describe in the first paragraph, they seemingly transformed learning for children in juvenile detention centers.  If disenfranchised children experience such dramatic changes of engagement in a constructivist environment, then I imagine all children would love having that same opportunity.  Of course, to give all children that opportunity would mean asking educational stake-holders to turn a blinds-eye to almost all the instructional practices that are presently held in high esteem.  Such an environment does not occur in the rampant bell-test-grade-rank-standards world of schools today.  Teachers wouldn’t even know how to begin to work under such free wheeling conditions as the CLL.  Where have they been trained for this sort of freedom?

We need to create some CLL experiences for teachers, full inquiry that allows teachers to experience the engagement that occurs when you have rich resources at your feet and pressing questions in your mind. To transform practice you need to first give practitioners a vision and a feeling for the real thing. They need to be learners in such a constructivist environment, or they will be doomed to fail at constructivism. They cannot be blind to where they are leading.

Unfortunately, little of professional development has truly moved teachers in this direction. Even my beloved PLCs are only a mere shadow of what true constructivist professional development should look like.

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