The blending of our knowledges and our students as creators of their own content knowledge

While pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge continue to be different concepts by definition (with pedagogical knowledge addressing the “how” of our teaching, and content knowledge addressing “what” we are teaching), it is interesting to me that these concepts would have been treated as separate entities, not that long ago (Shulman, 1986; Mishra & Koehler, 2006), rather than interconnected as I believe they are seen today. In the past, the “how” was through an imparting of knowledge from teacher to learner. Children’s minds were to be filled and knowledge was transferred through lectures and independent work assignments. Today, through research and technology, we realize that students do not learn well in these environments. In addition to this, the content that we once deemed important has changed as well, and will continue to evolve as the world changes with the development of new technologies and as we learn from our current world structures and experiences.

The concepts of pedagogical and content knowledge are not new, but the way they are addressed in our society and our classrooms today has changed (or at least is in the process of changing) to support the increased importance and value of digital technology and related multiliteracies/new media literacies. This brings into question “how” we are using technology in our classrooms today, as well as what programs or skills we are teaching through it. Are we enhancing learning? As Mishra and Koehler (2006) point out, “Merely introducing technology to the educational process is not enough” (p. 1018) and both the “how” of teachers’ application of technology and the “what” that technology will look like play important roles in our classrooms today. As Mishra and Koehler (2006) discuss, it is now the “how” of educational technology’s integration into our curriculum and teaching practice that must be addressed.

Today, I feel that much of our teaching is moving away from imparting “teacher” content knowledge and towards instead teaching students skills so that they can investigate and research to find their own knowledge. While this might sound like we are beginning to shift our focus back to “pedagogical knowledge,” I would argue that today pedagogical knowledge incorporates concept knowledge (and in some classrooms, technology knowledge – we’re getting there…) in so well, that they blend together quite naturally. Students construct knowledge best by doing, not by listening, so by allowing students to be creators of their own content knowledge (to a certain extent – teachers, of course, continue to play an important role), we are allowing them the choice and flexibility to learn more freely, with fewer restraints. For example, for a science unit on the human body, my students and I explored, together as a class, the digestive system, which included some textbook reading (read and discussed together as a class, not individually), a look at x-rays of human intestines (belonging to a colleague of mine who recently retired and passed on a set of old x-rays to me – the kids love them!), student diagrams/models, and so on. Once we have done one body system together, students are sent out to research and become “experts” on one other body system that they will be able to share with their peers. The teaching that is done to support this is around the “how” to research effectively, which resources would be appropriate, how to reference works, and so on. There is some “what” (content) mixed in as students are taught to ask inquiry-style questions to get their research going; however, it is not a delivering of knowledge of the actual scientific content I want students to come away with – that part they have to do themselves. Ultimately, students create projects that fulfill criteria that we designed together before beginning the project. Students are required to create initial questions they have about their system, then attempt to answer those questions through their research. They are required to use at least one book source and one online source, to include pictures, keyterms and definitions, and eventually to share their knowledge in small groups with others in their class. Each student ultimately learns about each system, but in the process, they have interacted with the content themselves, collaborated with peers, problem solved and actively participated in their own learning and then in the teaching of others. In this way, the students become creators of their own knowledge and the information being learned becomes more accessible to learners in the classroom.

References:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 -14.

3 comments

  1. Hi Mary,

    I enjoyed reading your post about this transition from the blending of pedagogical and content knowledge. For me, I don’t know how I can think of these elements separately as I see them as already a perfect combination where you cannot have one with the other. Content does not exist without the pedagogy to deliver it while pedagogy needs content in order to deliver. Thanks for sharing your personal example of implementation of TPACK. I liked how it combined different modes of learning representations (e.g. text, group discussions, hands-on, personal inquiry, etc.) to showcase the diverse ways to approach a topic.

  2. Hi Mary and Gloria,
    I agree that good teaching incorporates both Content and Pedagogy, that they are part of the same puzzle that makes an effective teacher. While I believe it is easy for us to recognize this I think it is still important for us to acknowledge that although integral to a great classroom it is not always present in each room or with each teacher. I know I as a student, parent and teacher I always come across the teacher who is much stronger in one area than in the other. The teacher who knows the content but delivers it ineffectively and students are disengaged or the teacher who gets kids to buy into the pedagogy but does not deliver the content and learning suffers. We know what components are necessary yet I think we often forget how much work and talent goes into creating the right balance for our students.
    Catherine

  3. Hi Gloria and Catherine,

    Thank you for your responses and reflections! I agree that we must acknowledge (and keep in mind) that each of us has strengths in certain content areas and weaknesses in others (or at least I certainly do!). As I reflected on your post, Catherine, in relation to my own teaching, I realized that when I feel more confident in a certain subject area is when I allow students more freedom as far as projects and assignments go. When I am less familiar with content, I think I try to keep tighter control over how students show their learning so that I can be sure that their responses, projects, and so on are within my concept “comfort zone.” If I feel very confident in my knowledge and understanding of a certain topic, I am much more willing to allow students the choice and flexibility to show their learning in a way that suits them. This is true of my use of technology as well. When I am confident with a technology, I use it more freely in my classroom and am happy to have students use it as well. For example, I am very comfortable with my document camera/promixa. My students (who are grade 4/5) are also comfortable with this technology as we use it daily throughout the day, and are able to set it up themselves to present their own work, show and tell, etc. to the class via the document camera. This is good for me to keep in mind when I plan, so that I do not limit my students due to my own comfort levels with content – especially when I am teaching a new course or grade level!

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