American Educator: Content matters

The new American Educator includes Jeffrey Mirel on Bridging the “Widest Street in the World,” (pdf), the divide between education school professors and their liberal arts colleagues.

Instead of continuing to debate the relative merits of pedagogy versus content, professors on both sides should realize that prospective teachers need to know not only their subject matter, but also how to teach it so students will understand.

Lauren McArthur Harris and Robert B. Bain write on Pedagogical Content Knowledge for World History Teachers (pdf).

Deborah Loewenberg Ball and Francesca M. Forzani write on Building a Common Core for Learning to Teach (pdf). They see the Common Core State Standards as an opportunity to establish “a common core of professional knowledge and skills for prospective teachers.”

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    An exaggerated end of the continuum would be knowing how to teach, expertly, something about which one knows absolutely nothing.
    The other end would be an expert who knows nothing about teaching his expertise.
    Mirror images? Opposite equivalents?
    People can learn unilaterally. We don’t need a lesson from a certified teacher to know water is wet. An expert with no pedagogical skills can still, even if by accident, transfer at least some knowledge. I should say that I know some folks who are good at something but couldn’t tell somebody how to come in out of the rain without causing massive confusion. (Start in the middle of a sentence and go both ways, alternately, with lots of “unless”).
    And an expert can look at a lesson plan and revise it until it makes sense, or at least flows from A to B to C instead of jumping around. The hypothetical master teacher with zero content knowledge can stare at a lesson plan book forever with no result. To be absolutely useless, the non-pedagogical expert would have to have some version of dyslexic Aspergers which would positively prevent making any logical train of explanation. Rare, in other words.
    These are both hypotheticals, of course, but it seems to me that favoring content is the more useful way to go.
    Closer to reality would be the expert in teaching with a rudimentary possession of content. Okay, as long as nothing out of the predictable arose, either a different way of addressing something or a “why” question from a student.

  2. These articles sound really juicy, Joanne. Unfortunately I cannot get the PDF files to open –I’ve had this problem before with downloads from the AFT website.

  3. Obi-Wandreas says:

    The PDF is a little weird. It opens perfectly on my MacBook Pro, but on my iPad none of the illustrations appear.

    The article seems to be a lot of setup without a lot of payoff. It spends a great deal of time discussing the history of teacher education, but I saw nothing which spoke to any sort of analysis of their effectiveness. It seemed to build up only to this idea that without common core standards, we can’t train teachers since they won’t know what to teach.

    Buffalo Bagels.

    A teacher with a thorough command of their subject knowledge will be able to adapt to whatever fresh hell is visited upon them by new curricula (if there is anyone who thinks that common core or any other program will be present for their whole career, I can offer you a great deal on a certain bridge in New York City). Leaving aside the issue that curriculum and standards are not the same thing. To have basic teacher training be centered around any specific program of study would be like training an auto mechanic only for one model – you have just built up a set of skills which have a limited shelf life as well as limited transferability.

    The foundation must come first. Knowledge is that foundation. You can’t learn how to impart knowledge that you dont have, but you can learn how to impart what you do.