Shulman Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.

Summary: In this essay, Shulman makes a case that teaching has a knowledge base. He argues that teaching requires knowledge of the content, knowledge of pedagogy, and knowledge of students. He claims that these compose what he calls pedagogical content knowledge, and in this article, he articles what teachers should “know, do, understand, or profess” (p.4), something previously assumed and unarticulated in the rhetoric of educational reformers regarding the knowledge base of teaching.

His research questions:

What are the courses of the knowledge base for teaching?

In what terms can these sources be conceptualized?

What are the processes of pedagogical reasoning and action?

What are the implications for teaching policy and educational reform?


“While many characteristics of effective teachers exist, most of these dwell on the teacher’s management of the classroom. We find few descriptions of analyses of teachers that give careful attention not only to the management of students in classrooms, but also to the management of ideas within classroom discourse” (p. 1). (MY THOUGHTS – Can we create these descriptions of PSTs and developing expertise? Or of supervisors who develop expertise?)


Definition of knowledge base: “The advocates of professional reform base their arguments on the belief that there exists a ‘knowledge base for teaching’ – a codified or codifiable aggregation of knowledge, skill, understanding, and technology, of ethics and disposition, of collective responsibility – as well as a means for representing and communicating it” (p.4).


“He (Piaget) discovered that he could learn a great deal about knowledge and its development from careful observation of the very young – those who were just beginning to develop and organize their intelligence. We are following his lead by studying those just learning to teach. Their development from students to teachers, from a state of expertise as learners through a novitiate a teachers exposes and highlights the complex bodies of knowledge and skill needed to function effectively as a teacher” (p. 4). (MY THOUGHTS – I could use that rationale for studying those who are learning to supervise.)


“But, as we have wrestled with our cases, we have repeatedly asked hat teachers knew (or failed to know) that permitted them to teach in a particular manner” (p.5).(MY THOUGHTS – I could write the paper on Helen and knowledge using this as a rationale).


“Critical features of teaching, such as the subject matter being taught, the classroom context, the physical and psychological characteristics of the students, or the accomplishment of purposes not readily assessed on standardized tests, are typically ignored in the quest for general principles of effective teaching” (p. 6). (MY THOUGHTS – Rationale for contextually-specific knowledge or cultural knowledge).

“Teaching processes were observed and evaluated without reference to the adequacy or accuracy of the ideas transmitted. In many cases, observers were not expected to have content expertise in the areas being observed, because it did not matter for the rating of teacher performance. Thus, what may have been an acceptable strategy for research became an unacceptable policy for teacher evaluation” (p. 7). (MY THOUGHTS – He is giving a rationale for content expertise for those who observe teaching practices.).


“The teacher can transform understanding, performance skills, or desired attitudes or values into pedagogical representations and actions. These are ways of talking, showing, enacting, or otherwise representing ideas so that the unknowing can come to know, those without understanding can comprehend and discern, and the unskilled can become adept. Thus, teaching necessarily begins with a teacher’s understanding of what is to be learned and how it is to be taught” (p. 7). (MY THOUGHTS – What composes pedagogy? + understanding)


Categories of the Knowledge Base:

Content knowledge

General pedagogical knowledge – “…the broad principles and strategies of classroom management and organization that appear to transcend subject matter” (p. 8)

Curriculum knowledge “… with particular grasp of the materials and programs that serve as ‘tools of the trade’ for teachers” (p. 8)

Pedagogical content knowledge “…that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding” (p. 8)

Knowledge of learners and their characteristics

Knowledge of educational contexts “…ranging from the workings of the group or classroom, the governance and financing of school districts, to the character of communities and cultures” (p. 8).

Knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values, and their philosophical and historical grounds (p. 8)

(MY THOUGHTS – I could use this as a framework for Helen!)

“Pedagogical content knowledge is the category most likely to distinguish the understanding of the content specialist from that of the pedagogue” (p. 8). (MY THOUGHTS – The scholar from the practitioner with the ideal blend in teacher education being scholarly practitioners?/ Blue Ribbon Panel Report requires teacher educators to be practitioners. (This could support the AACTE paper).

“To advance the aims of organized schooling, materials and structures for teaching and learning are created. These include : curricula with their scopes and sequences; tests and testing materials; institutions with their hierarchies, their explicit and implicit systems of rules and roles; professional teachers’ organizations with their functions of negotiation, social change, and mutual protection; government agencies from the district through the sstate and federal levels; and general mechanisms of governance and finance. Because teachers necessarily function within a matrix created by these elements, using and being used by them it stands to reason that the principles, policies, and facts of their function comprise a major source for the knowledge base” (p. 9). (MY THOUGHTS – What is the matrix for hybrids?)

“But if a teacher has to ‘know the territory’ of teaching, then it is the landscape of such materials, institutions, organizations, and mechanisms that which he or she must be familiar” (p. 9). (MY THOUGHTS – Relate to supervision and hybrids and Miller studies? )

“Perhaps the most enduring and powerful scholarly influences on teachers are those that enrich their images of the possible: their visions of what constitutes good education, ro what a well-educated youngster might look like if provided with appropriate opportunities and stimulation” (p. 10).

“Wisdom of practice. The final source of the knowledge base is the least codified of all. It is the wisdom of practice itself, the maxims that guide (or provide reflective rationalization for) the practices of able teachers. One of the more important tasks for the research community is to work with practitioners to develop codified representations of the practical pedagogical wisdom of able teachers” (p. 11). (MY THOUGHTS – This would be a change for clinical education.)

“One of the frustrations of teaching as an occupation and profession is its extensive individual and collective amnesia, the consistency with which the best creations of its practitioners are lost to both contemporary and future peers” (p. 11).

“Fenstermacher (1978, 1986) provides a useful framework for analysis. The goal of teacher education, he argues, is not to indoctrinate or train teachers to behave in prescribed ways, but to educate teachers to reason soundly about their teaching as well as to perform skillfully. Sound reasoning requires both a process of thinking about what they are doing and an adequate base of facts, principles, and experiences from which to reason. Teachers must learn to use their knowledge base to provide the grounds for choices and actions” (p. 13). (MY THOUGHTS – But!!! Time!!! Time must be there in order to think).

“Indeed, our exemplary teachers present ideas in order to provoke the constructive processes of their students and not to incur student dependence on teachers or to stimulate the flatteries of imitation” (pp. 13-14). This is or should be a goal fo supervision.)

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