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Blog post Reimagining a curriculum for teacher knowledge

What do teachers need to know to be able to teach? How and when do teachers learn?

By considering responses to these questions we can offer starting points for the construction of a curriculum for teacher knowledge.

Beth Dickson, University of Glasgow

What do teachers need to know to be able to teach? How and when do teachers learn? By considering responses to these questions we can offer starting points for the construction of a curriculum for teacher knowledge.

What?

Arguably, teachers need two kinds of knowledge: declarative and procedural. Declarative knowledge is propositional, and includes information and propositions. Teachers have declarative knowledge of, among many other things, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, disciplines, pedagogical content and child development. Procedural knowledge, on the other hand, consists of knowing how to do something.

To complicate matters, reflection, enquiry and learning to be a professional are forms of knowledge, key to teaching, which have a declarative core and a procedural practice. The declarative core may be taught in a series of lectures, but only when knowing about reflection becomes ‘reflecting’ are the advantages of this knowledge generated. The same is true for enquiry and professionalism.

However, the issue is even more complex. Firstly, the distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge seems neat only because the level of abstraction is so high. Even those content-rich knowledges just mentioned do not contain all that needs to be known. Secondly, the concept of a ‘teacher knowledge base’ is a contested one. Some regard it as being impossible to specify (Kincheloe 2004; Edwards, Gilroy, & Hartley 2006). Thirdly, the distinction gives rise to misunderstanding because it appears to express underlying assumptions about ‘theory–practice divides’ which occur in space and time. Spatially, theory is associated with university/college, and practice with school. In time, theory is more associated with the initial stage and less with continuing learning. Fourthly, although the two types of knowledge and their interrelationships are complex, governments tend to believe that teaching is common sense. In 2006, some frustrated teacher educators argued, ‘it is not possible to find an objectivist [that is, declarative] knowledge-base for teacher education and [practitioners should] recognise that the one that is currently policed in England by Ofsted is a fiction enforced by political fiat’ (Edwards, Gilroy, & Hartley, 2006, p.50).

How?

Such easy assumptions mask the sophistication of how teachers know. Pre-service teachers do take their first steps in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in schools where there is a repeated and intensive focus on the learning cycle. Their progress through this spiral is informed by discussing their practice with more experienced teachers. Eventually, pre-service teachers know how to reflect more deeply on their classroom practice: ‘Do these pupils actually understand what I am teaching?’

Although enquiry is often not perceived as being as urgent as ‘learning how to teach’, it often provides pre-service teachers with surprising results: for instance, pupils may not have grasped early explanations which the pre-service teacher thought were clear. That fracture in assumptions about what is happening is key to how teachers continue to learn. In An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development (1975), Lawrence Stenhouse argued that curriculum development is properly the work of teachers enquiring in a structured and rigorous way into their own practice – an argument that has influenced the work of modern teacher educators such as Baumfield, Hall and Wall (2008).

When?

‘A curriculum for teacher knowledge should be career-long, with time built in to practice for continuing to know, reflect, enquire, ask new questions and provide imaginative responses, which in turn create a relevant curriculum for schools.’

#Initial teacher education enables teachers to start a career which may last for three or four decades. Programmes of initial teacher education (ITE) cannot anticipate how society will change over that period, so they cannot provide beginning teachers with everything they will need to know during their career. It is argued that what teachers do learn in ITE programmes is likely to ‘wash out’ in school (Zeichner & Tabachnick, 1981). Rather than learning from university/college, they then learn from practice in school. If there is no career-long knowledge curriculum for teachers in the school then practice may become routinised.

A curriculum for teacher knowledge should be career-long, with time built in to practice for continuing to know, reflect, enquire, ask new questions and provide imaginative responses, which in turn create a relevant curriculum for schools.


References

Baumfield, V., Hall, E. & Wall, K. (2008). Action Research in the Classroom. London: SAGE.

Edwards, A., Gilroy, P., & Hartley, D. (2002). Re-thinking teacher education: Collaborative responses to uncertainty. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2004). The Knowledges of Teacher Education: Developing a Critical Complex Epistemology. Teacher Education Quarterly, 31, 49–66.

Stenhouse, L. (1975). An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann Educational.

Zeichner, K. B. & Tabachnick, B. R. (1981). Are the effects of university teacher education ‘washed out’ by school experience? Journal of Teacher Education, 32, 7–11.