Wed | Jan 20, 2021

Pedagogical content knowledge and teacher training

Published:Sunday | December 20, 2020 | 12:15 AMPhilip Patterson - Contributor

Developing general pedagogical skills is insufficient for preparing teachers as is having teachers acquiring only content knowledge. The knowledge base of teaching rests at the intersection of content and pedagogy.

We can define “pedagogical content knowledge” as teachers’ interpretations of subject-matter knowledge in the context of facilitating student learning. Pedagogical content knowledge is what enables teachers to transform the subject matter of a particular discipline to make it accessible to learners. It includes recognition of – what makes specific topics difficult to learn, the conceptions students bring to the learning of these concepts, the need to create teaching strategies tailored to specific teaching situations. To teach all students according to today’s standards, teachers need to understand their subject matter deeply and flexibly so that they can help students map their ideas, relate one idea to another, and redirect their thinking to create powerful learning. Teachers also need to see how ideas connect across fields and to everyday life.

These are the building blocks of pedagogical content knowledge. When teaching subject matter, teachers’ actions will be determined to a large extent by the depth of their pedagogical content knowledge. It is vital also that pedagogical content knowledge be subject-specific.

For example, teachers, ideally, should be the same as scientists in the quality and quantity of their subject matter knowledge but differ in how that knowledge is organised and used. In other words, an experienced science teacher’s knowledge of science is organised from a teaching perspective and is used as a basis for helping students to understand specific concepts. A scientist’s knowledge, on the other hand, is organised from a research perspective and is used as a basis for developing new knowledge in the field.

COMPETENCE

A teacher needs to have the moral authority to teach. Critical to this moral authority is the competence of the teacher at the subject-matter that is being taught. It is on this foundation that the teacher-training process must impart knowledge from all the domains that come under the scope of pedagogical content knowledge. This kind of teacher- training process can only happen if the candidates being prepared to teach have already mastered the subject matter at the school level before the start of their teacher training. The paradigm used in training our teachers attempts to teach pedagogy and school-level content simultaneously. The content covered as part of the teacher training process should enable teachers to understand their subject matter deeply and flexibly and, therefore, needs to be much more than school-level content.

Modest Admission Requirements

Already, modest admission requirements to teacher-training programme are routinely winked at to have students in sufficient numbers. Consequently, students in our teacher-training programmes often struggle with even school-level content. Structurally, this makes having pedagogical content knowledge the focus of teacher training almost impossible to effect in our teacher training programmes.

Consequently, fault lines in the educational culture become exposed in ways such as the Ministry of Education’s needing to direct schools to carry out intervention plans as if they are giving instructions to “Teaching Assistants” or the sudden realisation that ”critical thinking” is important. Inevitably, these have done very little to prevent cataclysmic educational outcomes. The Ministry of Education needs to be the agent that ensures that teachers are prepared appropriately so that they can be professionals, diagnosing and carrying out any necessary interventions in real time for effectiveness and efficiency.

We are at a juncture in our national development where a Transformation Commission has been empanelled to review the education system. Hopefully, their deliberations will be sufficiently informed to enable them to suggest any changes necessary to make schooling an undertaking that is rewarding to the Jamaican people.

- Philip Patterson has served as a lecturer at Shortwood and Moneague Teachers’ colleges as well as the College of Agriculture, Science and Education.