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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Lesson Study

Posted on December 6, 2009. Filed under: leadership related, thinking aloud | Tags: , , , |

Last week my district reserved time for grade 2-6 teachers to meet for a half day lesson study on each campus.  For most campuses that meant the teachers met and went over their textbooks together.  For my staff that meant we picked and unpacked a math lesson, one teacher performed the lesson while others observed students, and then we debriefed what we learned from our experience.  I found it to be exhilarating to work with my teachers in such an intense endeavor (the time constraints forced greater intensity than my prior lesson study experiences).

Having read about, studied, experienced, and watched lesson study over the years, it was a curious experience to be the leader in charge of it.  First of all, “leader in charge of it” is entirely counter to the notions that I have always understood about lesson study. In true lesson study, my teachers should be driving.  They should choose the course, pick the speed, turn the wheel, everything.  But because there was a limited window of opportunity, I took the helm and scaffolded lesson study to the best of my ability.  My hope would be that the experience would spark a fire of desire in at least a grade level or two of my teachers.  After all, once it got rolling, attentive folks could see that although I was driving the vehicle, they were, in fact, choosing the destination.  Teacher-participants could realize I was just giving them a taste of what was possible within the spirit of teacher inquiry.

Working with students in classrooms, we do not simply drop inquiry into student laps.  We mold it, hone it, offer it in bites until students are ready to go the distance, until they demand autonomy and know how to use it effectively…correct?  I hope I achieved the same with my teachers. As a teacher, I loved how lesson study provided us with the framework for our own investigation of learning.  My fingers are crossed that some small contingent of my teachers comes away excited enough to demand more.

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