Defining general pedagogical knowledge
Referring to general pedagogical knowledge, Shulman (1987:8) means aspects about pedagogy in general regardless of the content knowledge teachers are to be specialised in. Following Richards and Farrell (2005:9-10), general pedagogical knowledge empowers prospective teachers with self-awareness of the educational system as a whole together with an understanding of learners supported by studies in psychology and pedagogy. In addition, this type of knowledge paves the way to build in pedagogical expertise as well as an understanding of curriculum and materials which do not necessarily come from the realm of ELT. I particularly favour this concept of teacher empowerment through general pedagogical knowledge as it allows teachers to have a better understanding of their educational context which transcends the ELT classroom. In other words, teachers of English are teachers who have specialised in ELT and therefore they need to be aware of the dynamics of the educational system as a whole.
Sources of general pedagogical knowledge
The sources of this type of knowledge come from philosophy, pedagogy, psychology and research interested in capturing a general framework of teaching and learning. However, there has been an expansion as regards the sources which feed in general pedagogy. Though at the beginning philosophy, pedagogy and history of education together with research-driven knowledge constituted the base for a context-free view of education, a new body of research emerged during the 1980’s: teacher cognition (Borg, 2009; Crandall, 2000:38; Freeman and Johnson, 1998:400). Broadly speaking, by teacher cognition we mean general pedagogy taking into account teachers’ beliefs and their experiences as students. Based on this view of pedagogical construction, Wilson and Cameron (1996:182) indicate that student-teachers also start education programmes with established perceptions of what teaching is based on their experiences as learners at previous stages. Johnson (2006:236) states that teacher cognition research has been able to present a more complex picture of who they are, what they believe in, and how they understand the processes of teaching and learning guided by their own experience.
This new conceptualisation of teacher cognition has opened up the exploration of a sociocultural turn in teacher education. The social activities student-teachers engage in become crucial as this learning with others will impact tremendously on their development (Johnson, 2006:237-238). This impact will validly generate teachers as users and creators of knowledge derived from their own social activities in their history. General education research informs us that once the notion of teachers as theorisers in their own right has been acknowledged, this recognition has to permeate through the different components of a teacher training programme in such a way that teachers’ knowledge, as it were, can be articulated with scholarly sources present in general pedagogical knowledge.
General pedagogical knowledge in pre-service education
Within the realm of beliefs in the development of general pedagogical knowledge we can look at studies carried out in general pre-service education. The following studies discuss how general pedagogical knowledge impacts on student-teachers.
One study which could shed some light regarding general pedagogical knowledge in pre-service education is Cheng et al. (2009). Bachelor of Education students were administered a questionnaire followed by a semi-structured interview so as to explore to what extent knowledge derived from research and other sources could change student-teachers’ beliefs on teaching and learning. Results show that participants possess mixed beliefs and inconsistencies between epistemological beliefs, i.e., beliefs regarding how knowledge can be acquired, and conceptions of teaching. These views underpin their tendencies to favour teacher-centred or student-centred approaches. The study concludes by highlighting that conceptions of teaching are belief-driven and therefore a relational pedagogy and holistic approaches (Korthagen, 2004) should be included in pre-service programmes so as to create a new dialogic space among teacher-trainers and prospective teachers. This suggestion seems to confirm what Gutiérrez Almarza (1996:73-74) asserts. He stresses that teacher education programmes should allow student-teachers to examine their own beliefs and pre-training experiences to understand how these can relate to education knowledge. I believe that teachers’ beliefs do not try to undermine ILTE; on the contrary, they can contribute to make it more meaningful. In other words, these beliefs will not clash with content coming from scholarly sources since student-teachers will not find theories of learning and teaching as distant from them but rather as a powerful source which will help them reach a better understanding of their own conceptions of teaching and learning.
Another study which looks at the way student-teachers construct their knowledge of pedagogy is reported by Cheng (2005). In a longitudinal study, Bachelor of Education students at Hong Kong Institute of Education were interviewed so as to understand their construction of knowledge during the field experience component of the programme. Findings show that participants’ construction of pedagogical knowledge is enhanced by working in interaction with peers and supporting teachers. The study concludes that by adopting a view of learning and knowledge of teaching as socially shared to support student-teachers, their initial development will be characterised by an integral vision of their learning and field experience. Learning with others will lead to deeper individual learning. This study may also be compared to another study conducted by Van Zoest and Stockero (2008). They report that a systematic use of reflection helps student-teachers revisit their conceptions of teaching and support their exploration of self-as-teacher. Needless to say, this self-as-teacher will feed in both general pedagogical knowledge as well as pedagogical content knowledge.
It follows that greater contextualisation is needed to strengthen general pedagogical knowledge in ILTE. In a study carried out in Ghana, Akyeampong and Stephens (2002) conclude that initial teacher education, regardless of content knowledge, should pay attention to three fundamental pillars in the construction of the knowledge-base: who comes for training, what they bring, i.e., their teaching schemas, and how they perceive themselves. General pedagogical knowledge which takes care of these important factors as regards student-teachers will hopefully impinge on their beliefs and overall initial teacher education.
General pedagogical knowledge also needs to infuse other aspects of a programme. When content knowledge, i.e. subject-matter knowledge and situated cultural knowledge, intersects with general pedagogical knowledge, a new element for the knowledge-base becomes essential. This new type of knowledge will make all the difference between EFL teachers and other subject-matter teachers. We are referring to pedagogical content knowledge. This will be the discussed in another post in my blog.
- Teaching resources
- Teacher development
- Teacher training