How important is it for teachers to know subject matter content? Pedagogical content? Curriculum content? According to Shulman (1986) and Mishra and Koehler (2006), all three questions raised (known as PCK) play an integral part in teacher education programs. Is one more important than the other? Should teachers focus on pedagogy more as opposed to subject knowledge? This is where there is a divide between scholars, school districts, teachers and students alike. They should not be separated from one another, but interwoven.
For example, in January of this year, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) had introduced an aptitude test for potential teachers. On Make a future website, it states:
The multiple choice, timed assessment is called EPI: Educators Professional Inventory and it covers three domains: teaching skills, attitudinal factors and cognitive ability. You have 90 minutes to complete the test but on average, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. The assessment is from the U.S. and occasionally will use educational terms that are not used in Canada. For example, several questions refer to the Standards which means the key concepts and skills in the curriculum. You may want to have a pen and paper ready before you begin the test.
Apparently, these types of test were conducted for incoming teachers as far back as 1875. Is this how we still measure teacher’s abilities when it comes to subject knowledge, pedagogy and curriculum content? More recently in the United States of America, such tests don’t mention subject content, but more about cultural awareness, management, assessment, educational policies and procedures (Shulman, 1986). At the heart of PCK is the way in which subject matter is transformed for teaching. This happens when teachers interpret the subject matter and finds alternative ways to showcase it and make it accessible for students (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). With this, comes technology.
Added to the mix is technology, or TCPK. Educators must know how technology relates to content and pedagogy. Working in the 21st century, technology is always one step ahead of the game, with students knowing more about technology than teachers do half the time. I think it’s extremely important for educators to take it upon themselves. They need to be informed about the importance of not just the subject matter they teach, but the manner in which the subject matter can be changed with technology (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).
An example I will share of teaching a particular concept, is the scientific method. Today was the day where the 2 science classes I teach showcased their science fair projects to other classes. This was the first time I took on 55+ kids in one setting and I couldn’t be happier with their results. What I think worked well, was scaffolding the project of breaking down the steps that are involved in the scientific method week by week. One week, we would just focus on coming up with a testable question, then the next week focus on their hypothesis etc. The students were able to manage their time better this way and I believe this produced better results in their overall project display.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers college record, 108(6), 1017.
Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational researcher, 15(2), 4-14.
Make A Future. Retrieved from: https://makeafuture.applytoeducation.com/Applicant/AttJobPosting.aspx?JOB_POSTING_ID=2b9404f1-4d21-491c-9727-6649f140e2d4&PAGE=1&locale=en&MAF=1
I like that you mentioned how important it was to break down your science fair into smaller, more manageable, scaffolded steps. This is something that I have also found to be really successful for student learning. They know the big picture, but can easily tackle the scope of such a large project when it is broken down (very similar to the structure of this class!). I wonder though, if this limits how some students work? I suppose this is where weekly reflection is necessary to allow students the opportunity let the teacher know as they move through the cycle.
In regards to the new assessment implemented by VSB this year, I wonder if this is even being used effectively since there is such a demand to hire teachers due to the supreme court ruling which overturns the decision around class size and composition. As new approaches to teaching and assessment are implemented in classrooms, it is ironic that school boards are falling back on old habits of sorting applicants.
I agree that scaffolding certain topics/lessons could hinder others from moving forward at their own pace. Like you said, weekly reflections will help, and also the students wishing to move on can always do so.
I am glad you mentioned the VSB EPI, especially as it relates to Shulman’s characterization of how teacher testing has changed over the years. One of our student teachers mentioned it as well. I find it interesting that the VSB doesn’t give an explicit rationale for its use. Unpacking their description, it seems to imply that despite everyone having completed a 4-5 year undergraduate degree program and a year or more of a B.Ed. program, it is desirable to check up on teaching skills and cognitive ability. What do they expect to find, I wonder, that isn’t implied by having a degree from a certified university?
I wonder too, what do they expect to find? It seems it’s another tactic used to ‘weed’ out potentially great teachers. How does an online test determine if you’re suitable or not? It’s just like the FSA test, where grade 4 and 7 students each year have to complete a math and writing test to see how much they know? What if they don’t know probability yet and will learn it near the end of the year? The FSA test is completed in February.
There’s already a shortage of substitute teachers, and it seems this test is unfounded for. Like you said, doesn’t having 5+ years of post-secondary studies constitute as enough? Shouldn’t an in-person interview be more credible? It’s interesting to note that the VSB test is actually an American one. Hmmmmm, makes you wonder.