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Ki te Aotūroa - Improving Inservice Teacher Educator Learning and Practice. Ministry of Education.

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What is knowledge?

There are many definitions of knowledge. A dictionary definition is “the facts, feelings or experiences known by a person or group of people” (Collins English Dictionary). Knowledge is derived from information but it is richer and more meaningful than information. It includes familiarity, awareness and understanding gained through experience or study, and results from making comparisons, identifying consequences, and making connections. Some experts include wisdom and insight in their definitions of knowledge. In organisational terms, knowledge is generally thought of as being “know how”, “applied information”, “information with judgement” or “the capacity for effective action”.

National Electronic Library for Health: Knowledge Management Glossary

An individual educator’s knowledge is made up of the understandings that inform his or her practice, helping the educator to solve problems and make decisions. As it is accumulated, this professional knowledge becomes part of his or her “knowledge base” 1 for practice.

Knowledge is not static: it grows and evolves as those who create and use it sift through new information to identify what is useful.

Information becomes knowledge when it is shaped, organised and embedded in some context that has a purpose, that leads one to understand something about the world (Postman, 1999).

Stoll, Fink, and Earl, 2003, page 6

This need to see knowledge as a resource that people develop in order to use it has led Gilbert (2005) to suggest that present-day New Zealanders need to use “knowledge”as a verb, not a noun – to perceive knowledge as something we do rather than something we have.

In Catching the Knowledge Wave? (2005)  Gilbert explores the changes schools need to make to prepare students to participate in the knowledge-based societies of the future. Read a summary of the book.

ISTEs’ knowledge includes the following components: 2

  • content knowledge: knowledge of the facts, concepts, theories, structures, practices, and beliefs about subjects, disciplines, or domains of learning
  • pedagogical knowledge: knowledge of the concepts, theories, and research concerning effective learning, learners, and the goals and processes of education
  • pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986): the interconnections between pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge (educators use this knowledge to make decisions about how to structure learning experiences, making knowledge accessible for specific groups of learners in ways that help develop deep understanding)
  • knowledge of learners: knowledge of learners as individuals, including the diverse and complex ways they use their knowledge, beliefs, personal theories, and experiences to make sense of new knowledge
  • knowledge of self: knowledge of the cognitive, social, and affective factors that influence the ways in which they themselves teach and learn
  • knowledge of context: knowledge of the ways in which the physical and social context may shape the potential for learning.

This is not an exhaustive list and, in practice, the components are interwoven. Together, they make up the ingrained, tacit knowledge that educators draw on to make spontaneous decisions about events as they happen (Schön, 1983). The ability to make such judgments, often in a split second, requires deep understanding and means that educators also need to know:

  • why something is important
  • what to do
  • how to do it
  • when to do it. (Waters, Marzano, and McNulty, 2003)

Effective teaching is complex. As the Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration says:

Effective teaching is much more than a set of prescribed behaviours; it is an activity that integrates a teacher’s existing cognitive structures (knowledge, beliefs and attitudes) and every aspect of the situation in which they practice.

Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, and Fung, 2007, page 201

If effective teaching is complex, then so too is effective ISTE practice. Indeed, Timperley et al. (2007) introduce the term “provider pedagogical content knowledge” to refer to the knowledge and skills of ISTEs. The term is defined in the glossary as follows:

What provider pedagogical content knowledge  do you bring to your practice?

How do you deepen your knowledge and extend your skills?

How do you decide whether new knowledge or skills are worth having?

Provider pedagogical content knowledge: The knowledge and skills that providers of teacher education need if they are to assist teachers to make a difference to students. This includes knowledge of the pedagogical changes teachers need to make in order to improve their practice, as well as knowledge of how to make the content meaningful to teachers and manageable within the context of teaching practice.

  • 1 The term “knowledge base” can also refer to the shared body of knowledge from which all members of a profession can draw. These materials use the term to refer to both individual and shared professional knowledge.
  • 2These components are more commonly used to describe the core knowledge needed to support effective teaching. Although the body of knowledge is different, the components themselves are equally applicable to ISTE knowledge.

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