As teachers, we are one of the biggest contributing factors to student success in school. The quality of our instruction each day will have an impact on our students. So, what are some components of quality instruction?
Quality means a deep, accurate understanding of the subject area content. It also means a comprehensive knowledge of how your particular students learn and grow. The epitome of quality occurs when these two parts work simultaneously. Pedagogical content knowledge is knowing enough about the content and the students to plan the best approach to present new skills. It allows teachers to anticipate difficulties or roadblocks that their students will most likely encounter. It includes knowing where the skill has been and where it will ultimately go, as well as knowing where the student has been and where we ultimately want them to go. For math in particular, pedagogical content knowledge is critical. This ability to craft lessons with both skill and student in mind is what will have a lasting effect.
Imagine you are about to start a second grade unit on place value. What knowledge is required in order to effectively teach these concepts? As a second grade teacher, you need to understand what place value looked like in kindergarten and first grade. You need to have expertise on what place value looks like in second grade, as well as an understanding of where it will go in third, fourth and fifth grade. A quality teacher sees the real world application of place value for the students now and in the future. Just as important though, a teacher needs to understand the thinking of a second grader. This includes anticipating the confusion students will have with seeing ten ones as one group of ten. A second grade teacher with high pedagogical content knowledge will be prepared for this misunderstanding by providing manipulatives to make the learning concrete. Not just any manipulative will do, though. A quality teacher is completely aware that certain manipulatives such as play money are not appropriate at this stage and will only confuse the students more. A quality teacher will understand the specific needs of each student and how to address them appropriately.
How then do you gain this pedagogical content knowledge? This comes through continued learning, observation and reflection. If this is something you want to learn more about, please send a request through the Ask a Specialist tab at the top of this page. As a professional learning specialist, I can help guide and support you on your path to becoming a high quality math teacher.