Defining pedagogical content knowledge
First, let us consider what Shulman understands by pedagogical content knowledge:
A second kind of content knowledge is pedagogical knowledge, which goes beyond knowledge of the subject matter per se to the dimension of subject matter knowledge for teaching. (…) the particular form of content knowledge that embodies aspects of content most germane to its teachability. (Shulman, 1986:9)
His conceptualisation of this particular type of knowledge is central to teacher education as it will establish the difference between a teacher who teaches English because this is his first language, and university student who studies English from another who studies how to teach English.
For Shulman (1987:9), pedagogical content knowledge is core a
(…) it identifies the distinctive bodies of knowledge for teaching. It represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organized, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instruction. Pedagogical content knowledge is the category most likely to distinguish the understanding of the content specialist from that of the pedagogue.
From this quote I detect a converging zone where general pedagogy, subject-matter and the teaching of a particular content interact to distinguish one teacher from another in terms of specialisation. This aspect of teacher education will provide student-teachers with examples, illustrations, explanations, demonstrations, and essential topics to deal with the content their learners are supposed to learn at school.
Sources of pedagogical content knowledge
The sources which contribute to this portion of the knowledge-base come from scholarship in content disciplines, education material and structures, and action research as understood by Widdowson (1990) and Smith (2004), all under the scrutiny of what Shulman (1987:11) calls wisdom of practice, that is, procedural knowledge informed by experience.
Pedagogical content knowledge assumes that student-teachers understand that they will teach English as a subject and therefore they need to initially explore what has been called pedagogic valency (Widdowson, 2002:79-80). This could be interpreted as the ability to deconstruct our knowledge of the language in such a way that we make it accessible for learners to approach. However, a word of caution can be found in Richards (1987:3) as regards how student-teachers are taught English in their programmes. He calls for an approach which truly connects subject-matter knowledge and practice in terms of procedural knowledge as preparation for language teachers. This means that teacher-trainers who are in charge of teaching the language should use those methods being taught in Professional Practice, for instance. Basically, the point he is advancing here is the apparent lack of internal coherence inside ILTE programmes since a possible contradiction in the approaches being advocated can also be found within the strand which represents pedagogical content knowledge.
It follows that the concept of loop input also resonates with pedagogical content knowledge. One of the main challenges that pedagogical content knowledge faces when realised in seminars is this ‘practise what you preach’ congruence between what teacher educators claim and what they actually do in their classes (Swennen et al., 2008). Especially in this strand, teacher-trainers are expected to reflect in their own practices the teaching approaches they promote (Wallace, 1991), a fact which may be neglected and which may be causing aim contradictions (Tochon, 2011). In order to address these issues, Dooly and Masats (2011) developed and implemented a teaching unit which integrated new technologies, language learning and contexts in an ILTE programme. Based on the richness of the experience, the authors suggest that theory and practice could be fused if student-teachers are exposed to context-responsive PBLL (Project-Based Language Learning) which, above all, promotes the integrated learning of technology in what they call TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge).
As pedagogical content knowledge also deals with the restructuring of content knowledge for the purposes of pedagogy to our learners’ benefit, knowledge of learners could be included. Their needs, characteristics and expectations influence the decision-making processes teachers engage in when facilitating learning. Due to these factors, Ball et al. (2008) distinguish two subdomains within pedagogical content knowledge: knowledge of content and students, and knowledge of content and teaching. This awareness as regards subdomains needs to be systematically introduced at an initial stage of teacher education since this understanding will illuminate the relationship between teacher-learners or peers. Pedagogical content knowledge should inform student-teachers that their actions transcend the classroom dimension influencing more than their learners’ lives inside the classroom.
Thus, this influence needs to be seen within a social matrix that is crystallised in a context-responsive curriculum. If general pedagogical knowledge needs to take care of student-teachers’ expectations, so does pedagogical content knowledge. It is not enough to know who they are. It is also vital to recognise the context for which these student-teachers are being educated. Pedagogical content knowledge needs to be rooted in the context future teachers will deal with in their immediate experiences. To begin with, ILTE programmes should always have in mind that they need to be responsive in terms of the status of English in their context of instruction (Carrier, 2003; Liyanage and Bartlett, 2008). Second, teacher teacher-trainers need to be aware of the following fact: to what extent the methodologies, approaches, techniques being offered as tools are feasible in the student-teachers’ contexts and how they could be adapted.
All in all, the sources explored above will inform ILTE programmes in the form of seminars or modules student-teachers are supposed to follow throughout their education.
In a future post, I will look at how pedagogical content knowledge permeates through components such as Methodology and the Practicum.
- Teaching resources
- Teacher development
- Teacher training