Emphasizing the importance of content-specific knowledge

According to Lee Shulman, professor, Stanford University School of Education, the teaching styles and strategies teachers adopt in class differ from subject to subject. Shulman is a proponent of content-specific teacher training and he has been critical of generic training programs that are not grounded in a specific subject area. Increasingly, Shulman says, research is showing that learning and teaching are specific to subject areas and that there is little evidence that skills are transferred from one content area to another.

Shulman believes that those teachers who are most effective possess in-depth knowledge of the subjects they teach, as well as effective teaching strategies based on knowledge of the kinds of problems that arise when a particular subject is taught to a class of students. Knowing which concepts tend to be difficult for students as well as the common misunderstandings that arise, are crucial to successful teaching. He states that class lessons can be unsuccessful because a teacher is unable to come up with a clear analogy, explanation or example from the subject being studied.

Use of case studies

Shulman recommends that case studies that deal with issues specific to a subject area be developed and used on an ongoing basis in regular staff meetings, as well as in staff development programs. He believes that real case studies are helpful because they always deal with specific information on subject matter, strategies and characteristics of students. Also, the compelling narrative quality of a carefully-developed case study, Shulman adds, makes it a powerful teaching technique which can be more effective than simply describing the same ideas in abstract terms. He believes that teachers who regularly observe and occasionally present case studies, acquire the kinds of content-specific, problem-solving knowledge necessary for effective teaching.

“Merging Content Knowledge and Pedagogy: An Interview with Lee Shulman” Journal of Staff Development Volume 13, Number 1, pp. 14-17.

Published in ERN May/June 1992 Volume 5 Number 3

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