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Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 Pedagogical Content Knowledge
  • 1:28 How to Use It
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

In this lesson, we'll define pedagogical content knowledge and its positive impact on students. We will also describe its specific features, like teaching with clear illustrations and being aware of student conceptions of the subject.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Anne had a chemistry teacher her sophomore year of high school who had an impressive background working in the field. She knew the subject matter perfectly, so most people would assume that her knowledge made her a great teacher. After all, the most important thing is for the teacher to know what they teach inside and out, right? Well, yes... and no. Anne learned through her experience with Mrs. Johnson that she needed more than a teacher who knew her subject well. She needed one who also knew how to teach it well. So, while Anne's teacher knew chemistry like the back of her hand, she didn't seem to know how to explain it, illustrate it, and make it understandable to Anne and her classmates. For someone who wasn't the greatest with formulas and science to begin with, Anne really needed more assistance.

As it turned out, Anne wasn't the only student who needed more from her teacher. In 1986, Lee Shulman, an educator and researcher, noticed that all students need a teacher who is more than knowledgeable about their subjects. They also need one who can teach their specific subjects clearly and effectively. He called this combination of content and teaching knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge.

So, back to our first scenario with Mrs. Johnson. If she had combined her knowledge of chemistry with class exercises, creative examples, and careful explanations, she would have displayed pedagogical content knowledge. She also would have been a more successful teacher.

How to Use It

How can teachers implement it in the classroom? Well, several features make up pedagogical content knowledge, and each is intended to provide students a route to genuine understanding and learning.

Combining Content and Pedagogy

As mentioned earlier, the foundation of pedagogical content knowledge is the combination of both content and pedagogy. Rather than just knowing the ins and outs of psychology, for example, a psychology teacher has to know exactly how to get the concepts across to students. Let's say the teacher wants students to learn about positive reinforcement. Of course, she has to have a knowledge of what that is in order to teach it; that is her knowledge of psychology content. Then, based on her own understanding, she can explain the term and use examples. She can demonstrate it to the class by telling her students that for the rest of the week every time someone raises their hand to answer a question, he will be given a candy bar. Students can experience what it's like to have behavior reinforced and encouraged. They will likely understand the term and also find it memorable.

Understanding Student Perceptions

Pedagogical content knowledge requires an understanding of where students are coming from in reference to the subject being taught. That's because, in order to teach material well, teachers have to know what the students bring to the table as far as prior conceptions, feelings, and strategies. For example, many students tend to have personal thoughts about math word problems. A math teacher with pedagogical content knowledge would address each of these prior conceptions and show why each one is inaccurate. The teacher would help the students understand how to break down word problems to make them clearer and see them from a different perspective. If the students have certain strategies that they have been using, the teacher would want to know what those are, and how they might need to be changed.

Deciding a Subject's Difficulty

Teachers with pedagogical content knowledge must have a good grasp of which aspects of their subjects are typically easy for students and which are typically more difficult. That way, they can create lesson plans that move through the easier material quickly and provide more time for the difficult subjects. This will help students fully grasp the more difficult topics so they are better prepared to move forward.

Knowing Teaching Strategies

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