IST663 Module 3: Pedagogical Content Knowledge

After diving into Lee Shulman’s work a little more deeply, one particular quotation struck a chord with me. In the article “How and what teachers learn: a shifting perspective”, Shulman and Shulman (2004) wrote,

Theory begins in wonder

I love this idea because it helps me express why theories are useful — theories always begin with a question about how something works and a quest to find an explanation that will help us understand consistent processes more easily. Over his long career, Lee Shulman has championed many theories of teacher learning and professional knowledge.  The one for which he is most often cited is his reframing of teacher knowledge as the “content” of the profession.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

This construct was developed by Shulman in 1986 and outlined the fact that teachers create a body of professional knowledge beyond things like classroom management. That, in fact, teachers have nuanced techniques in their trade that help to make them effective teachers. Moreover, teachers who teach different subjects would tailor their teaching techniques in order to optimally deliver the given subject. In other words, the best practices of a math teacher would likely not apply to social studies.

Shulman also outlined major categories of teaching knowledge, summarized in Ball et all (2008):

  • General pedagogical knowledge, with special reference to those broad principles and strategies of classroom management and organization that appear to transcend subject matter
  • ƒKnowledge of learners and their characteristics
  • Knowledge of educational contexts, ranging from workings of the group or classroom, the governance and financing of school districts, to the character of communities and cultures
  • ƒKnowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values, and their philosophical and historical grounds
  • Content knowledge
  • ƒCurriculum knowledge, with particular grasp of the materials and programs that serve as “tools of the trade” for teachers
  • Pedagogical content knowledge, that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding

These ideas were unique for their time since at the time, teacher technique ended with classroom management and planning skills. Shulman’s work helped to reshape how people thought about the profession of teaching (Ball et all, 2008).

Though there are even newer teacher education theories developed by Shulman and by others, this  framing of the teacher profession is still used as a foundation and referenced in teacher training today. In 2011, the 2011 Praxis Client conference outlined the above seven categories of teacher knowledge as the foundation for the “next generation of teaching assessments.”

There is so much more to say, but I’ll have to save it for next time, because I’m way out of my word limit.


Ball, D. L., M. H. Thames, & G. Phelps (2008). Content Knowledge for Teaching: What Makes It Special? Journal of Teacher Education 59(5), 389-407 DOI: 10.1177/0022487108324554

Content Knowledge for Teaching: Innovations for the Next Generation of Teaching Assessments (2011). [PDF Document] Retrieved from Educational Testing Service online website:

Shulman, L. S., & Shulman, J. H. (2004). How and what teachers learn: a shifting perspective. Journal Of Curriculum Studies36(2), 257-271. doi:10.1080/0022027032000148298

Featured image via Flickr user toddwendy, used with permission under Creative Commons license.


2 responses to “IST663 Module 3: Pedagogical Content Knowledge

  1. Ruth, I’m really enjoying learning about Lee Shulman through your blog posts. I was not familiar with his work so this has been enlightening. I was particularly interested in the notion of teacher content knowledge and the vast array of information and experience encompassed therein. I was reading a document on global standards for education recently and it talked about the fact that in many nations with highly successful education systems, the teacher’s schedule is split 50/50 between classroom time and other time. The “other” time is the time that the teacher is planning, grading, giving feedback, meeting with parents, collaborating with other teachers, engaging in professional development, studying educational theories, etc. The idea is that the teacher is afforded time to learn and grow in all aspects of teaching, not just in the skills of classroom management. Your blog post here has helped me to put this idea into better context. It’s so important to remember all of the pieces that go into great teaching; it’s so easy to focus only on the classroom time but without those other enriching and knowledge-building endeavors, classroom time is bound to suffer and grow stale and students are bound to get less out of it. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  2. Ruth,
    It sounds like this is the foundation for National Board Certification categories of assessing teacher skills. I wonder what the content tests for National Boards are for librarians. In my previous school district several of my colleagues worked and gained national board certification and it was a really fulfilling experience and they get a yearly stipend for accomplishing this. It was tough though in social studies with all the social sciences being tested.

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