Different kinds of teacher knowledge

One way to understand what is required for good teaching is to analyse the different kinds of knowledge a teacher needs. This analysis then allows a teacher to identify the areas where they are strong and the areas in which they need further knowledge. For example in another blog post I pointed out that a teacher needs to know their particular students, and this knowledge can only be developed while teaching the students (or just before you teach them).

A teacher needs a wide variety of different kinds of knowledge. Imagine you were teaching Rob algebra. What knowledge would you need?

  1. First you need to know algebra or you can’t teach algebra.
  2. But this is not enough, as you don’t yet know what Rob already knows or doesn’t know, and so you don’t know where to start with teaching algebra to Rob. This means you also need to know about your students (in this case, Rob).
  • But knowing where Rob starts from is not enough, if you don’t know how learning happens. You have to know how learning occurs in order to foster Rob’s learning about algebra. This means you need to know how learning happens.
  1. But this isn’t enough if you don’t know how to make that learning happen, so also need to know how to teach (which is understood as how to make learning happen).
  2. But it may be learning algebra is different from learning to be a physiotherapist, so you also need to know how to teach algebra. You need to know how to explain the concepts of algebra so that Rob can learn them, and how to foster the particular skills needed for algebra.
  3. Finally, you will be teaching in a context, maybe home tutoring or teaching a mathematics course, or giving the mathematical background needed for some other university course, so you need to know the educational context.

This framework is very useful for understanding your own teaching. What do you need to know for your teaching in your particular context? Which knowledge do you already have, which do you lack, and which can you enhance?

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1–22.


About Clinton Golding

Clinton Golding is Associate Professor at the University of Otago Higher Education Development Centre. His previous positions include Philosopher in Residence at Rangitoto College in Auckland, and Thinking Coordinator at Queen Margaret College in Wellington and St. Cuthbert’s College in Auckland, where he worked to develop the thinking of staff and students. He was also a senior lecturer at The University of Melbourne where he received 5 local and national teaching awards.
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