ERG SES D 13, Teaching and Education
Nearly 30 years ago Shulman (1986, p. 8) highlighted a divide in the relationship between a teacher’s pedagogical practices and their content knowledge (CK), coining the term pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Initially Shulman (1986) categorised, PCK as a subcategory of content knowledge but then reconceptualised it as “the intersection of content and pedagogy” where teachers transform content knowledge into pedagogically powerful practices to meet the learning needs of the students (Shulman, 1987, p. 8). With a clearer understanding of CK and PCK, one would assume that research would be closer to bridging this divide.
In current research there is still a precipice around the importance of teacher CK in many areas of the curriculum, including reading. On one side of the divide is the view that teacher CK is an essential characteristic of quality teaching (Coe, Aloisi, Higgins & Major, 2014; Darling-Hammond, LaFors, & Snyder, 2001) and teachers require “explicit knowledge and skills beyond simple expertise” (Loewenberg Ball & Forzani, 2010, p. 41). However, on the other side of the divide, findings indicate a teacher’s CK, with effect sizes ranging from 0.09to 0.209, is similar to normal development (Duggar, 2006; Guimaraes, et al., 2013; Hattie, 2009; Piasta, Connor, Fishman & Morrison, 2009). In such research teacher’s knowledge of the content being taught has little influence on student learning. This research is further supported by findings from the recent ‘Measure of Effective Teaching’ (MET) project, where researchers found there was no validity in using CK or PCK to predict student achievement (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014).
While content knowledge can be described as the knowledge teachers need to know so they can teach it to students (Ball & Bass, 2000), we are reminded by Shulman (1986) that content knowledge must go beyond being superficial to a deeper, analytical understanding. There are strong arguments for deeper, more comprehensive understandings of content knowledge in areas of the curriculum, such as reading (Moats & Reid Lyon, 1996; Moats, 2014) and if we believe the old adage that ‘knowledge is power,’ then the importance of content knowledge in learning to read cannot be understated. While Moats’ (2009, p. 379) stresses teachers must have considerable knowledge of language structure, reading development, and pedagogy to teach reading effectively. Recent research conducted by Stark, Snow, Eadie and Goldfeld (2015, p. 16) found a gap between what teachers are ‘expected’ to know when teaching language and literacy, and their actual knowledge, as well as “limited and highly variable” content knowledge in language and literacy. They also found that most teachers are not confident with their language and literacy knowledge.
It is well known that reading is not a natural phenomenon and at its heart is the development of interpreting and comprehending text. Westwood (2001, p.27) clearly explains that the approaches used to teach reading, particularly in the beginning stages, is of paramount importance. While research has yet to identify a definitive list of knowledge, skills and processes needed for reading, it has identified that the components of phonological awareness particularly phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension contribute significantly to its development. It is these components that form the basis of a teacher’s reading content knowledge.
With this research in mind, this study aims to answer the research question: What is the relationship between teachers’ reading content knowledge, their level of confidence when teaching reading content, the importance of this content in the teaching of reading and how frequently they teach this content?
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