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  Prof. Bob Moon

 The International Development Centre
 Open University
 Milton Keynes
 MK7 6AA, UK

 Tel: +44(0)1908 653651



Thematic Seminar Series


Curriculum, Domain Knowledge and Pedagogy

Series Aims  Seminar Programme   Current Papers  Contact Us


Current Papers

Statement about the theoretical underpinning of the seminar:-


There is increasing interest in the relationship between domain knowledge (often referred to as content or subject knowledge), and teacher pedagogic effectiveness. A number of conceptual and political strands contribute to this including:

•  work in some developing communities of enquiry, particularly mathematics and science, on the nature of such disciplinary knowledge;

•  the attempts by some key thinkers to establish a stronger linkage between domain knowledge and pedagogic effectiveness: the work of Lee Shulman has been particularly influential in stimulating this are of enquiry;

•  the ongoing debate about the significance of ‘disciplines' in the school curriculum;

•  the attempts by various regulatory bodies, including governments, to place mandatory subject knowledge requirements at the point of teacher qualification credentialing: for example the now extensive use of ‘teacher tests' in the USA and the fluctuating requirements re. subject knowledge by England 's Teacher Development Agency.

The conference will address a number of key questions. How significant is domain knowledge for creative and effective teaching? What links can be made between a teacher's knowledge and the associated pedagogic strategies and practices to ensure successful learning? How important is the updating of a teacher's knowledge base? What form should this take?

These questions illustrate a theme in teacher education that is increasingly catching the attention of policy-makers. In England and Wales , for example, in the 1990s some regulatory requirements were placed on the first degree required for entry to a postgraduate teacher training course. Secondary teachers were required to have at least two years of their first degree in the subject they wished to teach. More recent legislation statutorily requires that all entrants to the teaching profession demonstrate very detailed requirements relating to a specialist subject both at primary and secondary level. Faced with an acute problem of teacher recruitment, a number of these requirements have been relaxed.

The question of content, subject or disciplinary knowledge can also easily become embroiled in some of the petulant political rhetoric around education. In the USA , as in other countries, there is a continuous polemic associated with the place of disciplines in school reform. Advocacy of this importance has become linked to a particular political stance as the debate surrounding Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987), a polemic against the contemporary curriculum of the universities. In England and Wales a traditionalist subject-based approach to the National Curriculum attracted widespread opposition (Haviland, 1988). In the 1990s the debate has continued, again with sometimes a confusing mixture of political, epistemological and pedagogic interpretations. The frequent revisions to the National Curriculum in England and Wales since 1987, and the recently increasingly vigorous debate about how to teach it, have been indicative of this.

The relationship between domain knowledge and pedagogy is, however, an important one and needs further exploration. Does a degree in archaeology provide a basis for teaching contemporary history? Is the high-flying physicist able to teach adequately the biology of a general science course? Can a primary teacher successfully work across the whole of the primary curriculum even though his or her subject expertise may lie in one or two areas? Does the phrase ‘the best way to learn is to teach' really underpin the teaching role?

In the two conferences proposed we want to explore these issues, to describe some of the debates and research taking place, to suggest a reconceptualization of the field. The aim is to stimulate debate around an important area, not least in providing a stronger theoretical framework against which policy and regulatory proposals can be described, analysed and critiqued.

The Subject Knowledge Debate

In debating these questions we have formulated a distinction between the terms knowledge, school knowledge and pedagogy. Our focus, therefore, is on the definitions and inter-relations of these three concerns for teacher education. We acknowledge the wider concerns that influence and constrain the manifestations of each within the development of teacher knowledge and expertise. We are sympathetic, for example, to Walter Doyle's (1983, p. 377) assertion that he ‘continues to be impressed by the extent to which classroom factors push the curriculum around'. The concern here, however, is with a specific focus on the relation of knowledge to pedagogy.

In seeking a stronger theoretical foundation to this work we have been working with three clusters of ideas: the curriculum-orientated work of Shulman (1986), the cognitive approach of Gardner (1983; 1991) and the inter-related tradition of didactics and pedagogy in continental Europe (Verret, 1975; Chevellard, 1991). Having identified key areas of professional knowledge, we have also considered how a teacher's professional development is also centrally formed by the ‘community of practice' of schools and subject communities.

The Curriculum Perspective

Since the mid-1980s there has been a growing body of research into the complex relationship between subject knowledge and pedagogy (Shulman, 1986; Shulman and Sykes, 1986; Wilson et al., 1987; MacNamara, 1991). Shulman's original work in this field has been an obvious starting point, arising from the pertinent question: ‘how does the successful college student transform his or her expertise into the subject matter form that high school students can comprehend?' (Shulman, 1986, p. 5). His conceptual framework is based on the now well-known distinction between subject content knowledge, curricular knowledge and the category of pedagogic content knowledge. This complex analysis has spawned a plethora of subject-specific research (e.g. Leinhardt and Smith, 1985; Wilson and Wineberg, 1988; Grossman et al., 1989; McDiarmid et al., 1989).

Whilst our exploration of professional knowledge has acknowledged Shulman's analysis as an important and fruitful starting point, it has offered only partial insight into the complex nature of subject expertise or teaching. We are critical in particular of Shulman's implicit emphasis on professional knowledge as a static body of content somehow lodged in the mind of the teacher. Shulman's work, we would argue, is informed by an essentially objectivist epistemology. In this tradition academic scholars search for ultimate truths, whilst teachers ‘merely seek to make that privileged representation accessible to ordinary mortals' (McKewan and Bull, 1991). Pedagogical content knowledge, as defined by Shulman (1986, p. 6), requires the subject specialist to know ‘the most useful forms of analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations - in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject in order to make it comprehensible to others'. From this perspective, Shulman's work leans on a theory of cognition that views knowledge as a contained, fixed and external body of information but also on a teacher-centred pedagogy which focuses primarily on the skills and knowledge that the teacher possesses, rather than on the process of learning:

The key to distinguishing the knowledge base of teaching lies at the intersection of content and pedagogy, in the capacity of a teacher to transform the content knowledge he/she possesses into forms that are pedagogically powerful and yet adaptive to the variations in ability and background presented by the students.

(Shulman, 1987, p. 15, emphasis in the original)

The Learner Perspective

Gardner 's (1983) work by contrast provides us with a perspective on professional knowledge which is rooted in a fundamental reconceptualization of knowledge and intelligence. His theory of multiple intelligences, centrally informed by the sociocultural psychology of Bruner (1986; 1996), encourages a perspective on pedagogy that places emphasis on student understanding. The focus shifts from teachers' knowledge to learners' under-standings, from techniques to purposes. The five entry points which Gardner (1991) proposes for approaching any key concept, narrational, logical-quantitative, foundation, experiential and aesthetic, do not simply represent a rich and varied way of mediating a subject. Rather they emphasize the process of pedagogy and a practice which seeks to promote the highest level of understanding possible (Gardner and Boix-Mansilla, 1994). At the same time, Gardner 's work places discipline and domain at the core of pedagogy. Gardner's work, although now much critiqued (White, 2006), is interesting in respect of domain knowledge and pedagogy in that he draws extensively on the work of John Dewey, not an authority that those who advance the need for disciplinary knowledge in more political contexts would expect to be referenced. Gardner draws extensively on Dewey in arguing that: ‘organised subject matter represents the ripe fruitage of experiences. . . it does not represent perfection or infallible vision; but it is the best at command to further new experiences which may, in some respects at least, surpass the achievements embodied in existing knowledge and works of art' ( ibid ., p. 198). Gardner 's espousal of disciplinary knowledge has, in earlier exchanges, been criticized. Gardner, says Egan (1992, p. 403), seems to offer progressive programmes to achieve traditionalist aims, and he goes on ( ibid ., p. 405) to argue that Gardner's solution

appears to assume that effective human thinking is properly more disciplined, more coherent and more consistent than seems to me to be the case. This is not an argument on behalf of greater in-discipline, incoherence and inconsistency, but a speculation that human thinking operates very effectively with a considerable degree of those characteristics, and that attempting to reduce them to greater conformity with what seems like rules of disciplinary understanding - whose provisionalness and unclarity should not be underestimated - will more likely reduce our humanity or enhance it.

He further states: ‘the danger of letting disciplinary understanding call the educational tune was, for Dewey, no less than an attack on democracy itself. It inevitably led to an aristocracy, or meritocracy, and so to the kinds of social divisions America was founded to prevent' ( ibid .).

Gardner (1992, p.198) is quick to retort and, in return, also quotes extensively from Dewey to back up his claim for the pre-eminence of understanding through disciplinary knowledge in reforming teaching and schooling: ‘Organised subject matter represents the ripe fruitage of experiences . . . it does not represent perfection or infallible vision; but it is the best at command to further new experiences which may, in some respects at least, surpass the achievements embodied in existing knowledge and works of art.'

Gardner 's espousal of disciplines and exploration of curricula which are rooted in, but which move beyond, disciplines into ‘generative themes' has given rise to some important work (Project Zero - Sizer, 1992; Gardner, 1983). However it has little epistemological analytical underpinning. And it fails to address the issue of rapid and radical changes in domain knowledge.

The Pedagogical Perspective

For this perspective we have turned to the work of Verret (1975) and Chevellard (1991). The concept of didactic transposition, a process by which subject knowledge is transformed into school knowledge, an analytical category in its own right, permits us both to understand and question the process by which disciplinary transformations take place. The range of historical examples in Verret's work also provides for the social and ideological dimensions of the construction of knowledge. ‘La transposition didactique' of Chevellard is defined as a process of change, alteration and restructuring which the subject-matter must undergo if it is to become teachable and accessible to novices or children. As this work is less known and less accessible to English-speaking discourse we will give a little more space to explanation. Verret's original thesis was that school knowledge, in the way it grows out of any general body of knowledge, is inevitably codified, partial, formalized and ritualized. Learning in that context is assumed to be programmable, defined in the form of a text, syllabus or national curriculum, with a conception of learning that implies a beginning and an end, an initial state and a final state. Verret argues that knowledge in general cannot be sequenced in the same way as school knowledge and that generally learning is far from being linear. Such a model, he suggests, in ways that predate Gardner , lacks cognitive validity as it does not take into account the schemes, constructed representations and personal constructs of the learner.

Verret's thesis is illustrated by a range of historical examples. He describes, for instance, the transformation of literature and divinatory magic into the scholastic forms of Confucian schooling and of Christian metaphysics into school and university philosophy. He looks in detail at the version of Latin that was constructed for the French schools of the seventeenth century and the way this evolved didactically in the centuries that follow.

For Chevellard, as with Verret, ‘didactic objects', which we have termed school knowledge, are under constant interpretation and reinterpretation, a process which operates at a number of different levels. Didactic transformation of knowledge, therefore, becomes for Tochan and Munby (1993, pp. 206-7):

a progressive selection of relevant knowledge, a sequential transmission involving a past and a future, and a routine memory of evolutionary models of knowledge. Because didactics is a diachronic anticipation of contents to be taught it is essentially prepositional. It names teaching experience in propositional networks and so involves a mediation of time.

The process of didactics is carefully distinguished from pedagogy ( ibid .):

Some research on novice teaching suggests that they have abilities to plan but encounter problems during immediate interactions. They seem to identify their role as a mainly didactic one. Their way of organising time has no flexibility; it is not synchronic. . . Though action research and reflection reveals the existence of basic principles underlying practical classroom experience, no matter what rules might be inferred pedagogy still remains an adventure.

The applicants have already developed models that are derived from the above analysis, see for example, a concept of English teachers' professional knowledge set out below (Leach and Moon, 1999).

This model is now currently used in a range of teacher education programmes in the UK (Leach, 2006) and has formed the theoretical base of other investigations (for example, Loveless, 2003).


Bloom, A. (1987) The Closing of the American Mind. Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Bruner, J. S. (1986) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, Harvard University Press, London .

Bruner, J. S. (1996) The Culture of Education, Cambridge , Mass. , Harvard University Press.

Chevellard, Y. (1991) La Transposition Didactique: du savoir savant au savoir en-seignk, La Pensee Sauvage, Paris.

Doyle, W. (1983) Academic Work, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 53, no. 2. p.377.

Egan, K. (1992) An Exchange, Teachers' College Record, Vol. 94, no. 2. p.403.

Gardner , H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Basic

Gardner, H. (1991) The Unschooled Mind, Basic Books, New York .

Gardner, H. (1992) A Response, Teachers' College Record, Vol. 94, no. 2 pp. 407-413.

Gardner , H. and Boix-Mansilla, V. (1994) Teaching for understanding in the disciplines and beyond, Teachers' College Record, Vol. 96, no. 2.

Grossman, P. L., Wilson, S. M. and Shulman, L. S. (1989) Teachers of substance: subject matter knowledge for teaching, in Reynolds, M. C. (ed.) Knowledge Base for the Beginning Teacher, Pergamon Press, Oxford. 159-99. 94, no. 2, pp. 397413. Books, New York .

Haviland, J. (1988) Take Care, Mr Baker, Fourth Estate, London .

Leach, J. (2006) Teacher Education in Change: Contemporary Technologies, New Communities, Transforming Pedagogy , Unpublished PhD thesis, The Open University.

Leach, J. and Moon, R. (1999) Learners and Pedagogy, Paul Chapman Publishing, London .

Leinhardt, G. and Smith, D. (1985) Expertise in mathematical instruction: subject matter knowledge, Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 77, no. 3, pp. 247-71.

Loveless, A. (2003) ‘The interaction between primary teachers' perceptions of ICT and their pedagogy, Education and Information Technologies, Vol. 8, No. 4 pp. 313–326.

MacNamara, D. (1991) Subject knowledge and its application: problems and pos-sibilities for teacher educators, Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 17, no. 2 pp. 113-128.

McDiarmid, G., Ball, D. L. and Anderson, C.W. (1989) Why staying one chapter ahead doesn't really work: subject-specific pedagogy, in Reynolds, M. C. (ed.) Knowledge Base for the Beginning Teacher, Pergamon Press, Oxford .

McKewan, H. and Bull, B. (1991) The pedagogic nature of subject matter know-ledge, American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 319-34.

Shulman, L.S. (1986) Those who understand: knowledge growth in teaching, Educational Research Review, Vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 4-14,

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

Shulman, L. S. and Sykes, G. (1986) A National Board for Teaching? In Search of a Bold Standard. A Report for the Task Force an Teaching us a Profession, Carnegie Corporation, New York . pp. 113-28.

Sizer, T. R. (1992) Horace's School, Houghton Mifflin, New York .

Tochan, F. and Munby, H. (1993) Novice and expert teachers' time epistemology: a wave function from didactics to pedagogy. Teacher and Teacher Education, Vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 205-18.

Verret, M. (1975) Le temps des Crudes, Librarie Honor6 Champion, Paris.

White, J. (2006) Intellegence, Destiny and Education: The Ideological Roots of Intelligence Testing , Routeledge, London .

Wilson, S. M., Shulman, L. S. and Richert, A. (1987) 150 different ways of knowing: representations of knowledge in teaching, in Calderhead, J. (ed.) Exploring Teacher Thinking, Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, Eastbourne.

Wilson, S. M. and Wineberg, S. S. (1988) Peering at history through different lenses: the role of the disciplinary perspectives in teaching history, Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 89, no. 4, pp. 527-39.


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