Know the content and how to teach it

The Australian Professional Teaching Standards have the following statement that relates to this standard:

Teachers know the content of their subjects and curriculum. They know and understand the fundamental concepts, structure and enquiry processes relevant to programs they teach

The teaching standard “Know the content and how to teach it” has 6 areas of focus but can generally be broken up into two aspects, knowledge of the content and understanding how to teach it.

Know the content

When we dive into the descriptors for this standard we can see that they have a focus on not just the content of the subject, as is to be expected, but also on skills, such as literacy and numeracy, and cross-curricular content including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages.

Furthermore, knowledge of your subject area is not just about the content in the subject, i.e. if you are a science teacher it is not just about how well you understand the scientific method, its importance or even just your understanding of photosynthesis. The descriptors instead focus on the syllabus and how well you know it, such as the requirements for your subject in terms of curriculum assessment and reporting.

We know from current research that the teacher’s knowledge of the content is actually not all that important when it comes to effect on student learning (Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers). What does have a huge effect, however, is the teachers ability to know how to teach this content, and so we shall now turn our attention to this.

Know how to teach it

How teachers teach their content is very important. For example, how much thought did you put into the structure of your scope and sequence for your subject? It is always important for us to identify foundation concepts and teach these first as the underlying principals or foundation for knowledge to be built upon. Or maybe you found a recurring theme throughout and you focus on this at the beginning and keep coming back to it as you continue to learn new content and show students how it all connects together.

There are also many specific teaching practices that relate to only our subject area. For example, many subjects have a practical element to them (science, art, physical education etc) but how this is done and its purpose may vary. For example, when I teach a physical education lesson I know the importance of using my whistle if I have a large number of students in an open area, and will also know the importance of teaching specific aspects of certain skills, or simply focus on game sense and fun. This, I expect, is different in science or art. In science the focus of a practical is more on the scientific process, setting up experiments and validating or disproving theories, or simply discovering “worlds” unknown to the student previously. In art, the focus is more on the techniques used, the aesthetics of the finished product and the meaning conveyed in this product.

In addition to these, the standard also identifies teaching strategies that help to utilise information communication technology (ICT) to make the content more relevant and meaningful to the students. For example, in English you might use ICT to have students contact the author of a novel to further their knowledge of how certain themes influenced their writing process, or in science you may connect to the live feed from the NASA space station and have students discuss activities that they see.

What is your content area? How do you teach it? Let me know below in the comments.

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