|Asia-Pacific Forum on Science
Learning and Teaching, Volume 4, Issue 2, Article 2 (Dec., 2003)
Pamela MULHALL, Amanda BERRY and John LOUGHRAN
Frameworks for representing science teachers' pedagogical content knowledge
The CoRes and PaP-eRs are complementary representations of successful teachers' PCK about the teaching of a particular topic to a particular group of students. A CoRe provides an overview of teachers' pedagogical content knowledge related to the teaching of a topic in the form of propositions. A PaP-eR is a narrative account that offers insight into the interacting elements of a teacher's thinking about a small "piece" of this PCK. Both representations of PCK are constructed from our research amongst a small group of teachers and, consistent with representations used by other researchers of PCK (Van Driel et al., 1998), they should not be interpreted as depicting the PCK of each teacher in the study. Rather, these representations are generalisations of teachers' pedagogical content knowledge about teaching particular science content to a particular group of students, and as such are potentially valuable contributions to the knowledge base of teaching.
Both forms of representation of teachers' PCK are limited in that they do not enable us to "see" the teaching in action, or tell us how teachers' beliefs about the nature of the knowledge represented influence their practice. Nevertheless CoRes and PaP-eRs allow insights into the ways that successful teachers think about science content in the context of teaching. Importantly, both CoRes and PaP-eRs provide reasons which support our assertion that the teachers' knowledge that is represented is pedagogical content knowledge (Fenstermacher, 1994). A long term goal is to establish the "ecological validity" (Kagan, 1990) of this work, i.e., that teachers who have this knowledge do in fact teach in ways that lead to student understanding.
It is well accepted that much teacher knowledge is implicit, with teachers rarely having the opportunity to reflect on what they do in the classroom and why. Further, curriculum and other documents tend to represent the teaching of a topic in an undifferentiated form as certain content to be learned and understood, and activities that might engage students. Not surprisingly, teachers' framework for thinking about and discussing with colleagues the teaching of a topic is often limited to "what works". The framing of the CoRes has the potential to help problematise the content and teaching approaches in teachers' minds, and to provoke their thinking about what is important in the teaching of a topic and why. It may also help teachers to identify what they need to know and think about when teaching a new topic (e.g., "What are the big ideas for teaching this topic to this particular group of students?" "What should I expect, and equally, not expect, these students to learn?" "What teaching procedures will help this group of students to understand a particular big idea?" etc) and to become aware of the PCK they already have. PaPeRs may also help in some of these ways, as well as making explicit the ongoing reflection and problem solving that is part of teachers' sense making of what happens in the classroom. Thus, the purpose of both CoRes and PaP-eRs is to not only represent teachers' topic specific PCK, but also to act as triggers that may help other teachers (both pre- and in-service) widen their range of attention about practice, leading to a reframing of their experience and a development of their PCK. As Bullough (2001) notes,
Teachers need help to think more complexly about their practice and the reasons behind their actions in the light of how particular pupils learn and in relationship to specific formal academic knowledge. (p. 665)
CoRes and PaP-eRs make explicit this complexity in teachers' thinking and are intended to promote an awareness of this, and a capacity for this, in teacher readers. At this point in our research, we are unsure whether CoRes and PaP-eRs achieve this aim. It is possible that our work may be more helpful for practising teachers who have some experience because, as Calderhead (1996) notes, experienced teachers are "able to make a deeper interpretation of events, interpreting significant contextual cues" (p. 717). For pre-service and beginning teachers, on the other hand, it is possible that our representations of PCK may not "resonate with the context within which they will eventually teach" (Bullough, 2001, p. 664). Thus another long-term goal of our project is to explore the accessibility and usefulness of these representations of PCK for teachers and researchers, including the extent to which they are helpful in developing teachers' PCK.
Finally, we are in agreement with the assertion by Bullough (2001) that exploring critical aspects of PCK and how these aspects should be divided between pre- and in-service teacher education requires answers that involve what Bagley calls "a unique quality of scholarship" (Bagley cited in Bullough, 2001, p.665).
The authors would like to thank Dr. Gaell Hildebrand, Faculty of Education, Monash University, for critical comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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