What is Pedagogical Knowledge and Does it Matter?

Its the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter

Improving student outcomes depends on improving the quality of the teaching workforce and the quality of teaching.

Empirical research tells us that teacher quality is an important factor in determining gains in student achievement, even after accounting for prior student learning and family background characteristics.

So, it follows ,its important that energy, resources and incentives are directed   to improving the quality of teacher education and training. Although teachers’ education starts in ITT,  the reality is its  a lifelong process.  After all, if you are a member of any Profession, you are expected to have had a lengthy period of specialised training, as well as continuous professional development. And Teaching is a Profession.

An increase in the quality of teacher education and professional development, throughout the career (CPD) can contribute to an increase in student achievement through more effective teaching.  So giving access and support for teachers to regular,  high quality professional development is important.  Teachers are expected to process and evaluate (and be supported in this) new knowledge relevant for their core professional practice, and to regularly update their profession’s knowledge base.  Hence the concept (now a mantra) of ‘ research informed practice’. This means using high quality research about effective classroom interventions,  and combining it  with teachers’ professional judgment, to improve teaching practice and student learning. In short,  relying on research alone  is not seen as sufficient , as it underplays the potential importance of teachers’ professional experience. As teachers observe and reflect on student learning in the classroom, their decisions are influenced not only by a well -established knowledge base but also by their real-time experience.

Research is important. It can  tell us what works. For example, the work of John Hattie (2009), who conducted a synthesis of educational research studies, looked at which teaching practices had the most influence on student learning, and which didn’t.    Research is also telling us much more about how students learn, the difference between knowledge and information, how knowledge sticks, and how our memories work. There are learning strategies that have been identified, that clearly  aid the process of memorisation and knowledge retention, which is at the heart of learning.   The corollary of this is that this  also means dumping some traditional  practice that evidence shows has little ,or no effect on students learning.

We frequently hear the term ‘ Pedagogy’  or ‘Pedagogical Knowledge’ when referring to the nitty gritty or ‘ skills ‘ of teaching. Its accepted that a high level of pedagogical knowledge is essential for  competent teaching. So it really does matter. But what does this  mean?

The OECD has defined general pedagogical knowledge as ‘the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter ‘.  So we are talking about Teachers’ specialised professional knowledge that enables them to teach, and their students to learn.This knowledge is not simply acquired in teacher training.

Shulman (1986, 1987) proposed a typology of teachers’ knowledge base comprised of seven categories, of which ,the OECD suggests,  three have been particularly influential to further research:

First, general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)

Second, content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)

Third, pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and pedagogy).

So what about the specific content of Pedagogical Knowledge?

A review of empirical evidence on teachers’ general pedagogical knowledge concluded three main overlapping components:

 instructional process (teaching methods, didactics, structuring a lesson and classroom management)

 student learning (cognitive, motivational, emotional dispositions of individual students; their  learning processes and development; student heterogeneity and adaptive teaching strategies)

 assessment (diagnosis principles and evaluation procedures)

For a detailed discussion and definition of general pedagogical knowledge, see Guerriero, S. (Ed.) (2017). Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession. Paris: OECD Publishing. Link to Research

Also see OECD Report

OECD- Understanding teachers’ pedagogical knowledge report on an international pilot study

Kristina Sonmark, Nóra Révai, Francesca Gottschalk, Karolina Deligiannidi, Tracey Burns 11 Oct 2017