In Shulman’s article “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform,” he describes how both management of students and management of ideas are necessary components of guides of good practice. He also says that teachers themselves have difficulty in articulating and explaining what they know and how they know it. These two points stuck out to me in particular as they emphasize the interconnectedness of the different components of PCK and TPACK. Individually, each of the components provides a fragment of the image of teaching and learning, but it is only through a collective approach that true teaching occurs. An individual with strong content knowledge but poor pedagogical knowledge likely would not be truly effective at achieving learning goals in the classroom, nor would an individual with weak content knowledge and strong management skills. The balance is what I feel develops over time as university students become professionals and new professionals become more experienced in the profession. Unfortunately, it would seem that for teachers who struggle to find this balance, burnout caused by needing to compensate for gaps in pedagogical or content knowledge can be more likely.

When I teach students about fractions, I spend time developing understandings with physical manipulatives (e.g. coloured cubes, fraction magnets, egg cartons and marbles, fraction pizzas) and digital simulations in Smart Notebook or on the iPad, and then move into the more abstract concepts of the written algebra. This comes to mind as an example of PCK (or TPACK depending on the strategies on a particular day) as it includes knowledge of the actual mathematics of fractions, what they represent, common errors when working with them, and real-world applications, while also accounting for pedagogical strategies of how best to help specific students learn the concept. I have found that while students initially struggle with the abstract concept of fractions, when they are able to see and manipulate conditions, they are better able to develop an understanding of fractions and their mechanics, and then subsequently be able to apply this knowledge in further learning. Someone with a strictly mathematical knowledge base would not likely be able to select the most effective activities for the learning needs of particular students, and someone with a weak understanding of fractions would not likely be able to provide a wide range of learning opportunities and manage student questions and strategies.

In situations where a teacher needs to teach unfamiliar or uncomfortable topics, what strategies can be used to help them continue to provide effective learning experiences? How can more experienced colleagues support new teachers in developing the skills and knowledge necessary to find the balance without burning out in the process?

Stephanie,

I really liked the position that you established between technical knowledge and teaching skill (if we may group lesson delivery and class management and the like as “skills”), wherein an teacher must proficient in both to be maximally effective. Your use of physical and digital manipulatives is a good example of the learning that students can achieve when that balance is struck.

In regards to your first question, I feel that teaching working with unfamiliar or uncomfortable topics are still able to produce meaningful learning experiences by designing lessons that challenge students to investigate and share their understanding. Would it be too much of a stretch to suggest that the process of learning and self-discovery can be similar in the early stages of many topics? For example, the first few lessons could focus on establishing foundational knowledge (types of poetry or atomic theory), exploring these concepts through activities (writing poems or performing lab experiments), relate them to the foundational knowledge (compare poems or determining if results match theory), then creating using their knowledge (continue to write new poems or investigate a scientific interest). As a science teacher, this process makes sense to me but I may have codified it too much so if the process is vastly different in non-STEM areas, please do correct me.