Knowledge for Teaching

Knowledge for Teaching

To be an effective teacher demands, among other things, a deep knowledge of one’s subject matter, or content, as well as deep understanding of how best to teach that content.

Knowledge of one’s subject matter is referred to in the scholarly literature of teaching and learning as disciplinary content knowledge. Disciplinary content knowledge includes an understanding of subject matter concepts and how those concepts relate to one another to form the larger body of knowledge.

Understanding how best to teach particular subject matter is referred to as pedagogical content knowledge. Pedagogical content knowledge includes an understanding of the most useful ways of representing and explaining the subject that make it comprehensible to others. Additionally, it takes into account what makes learning the subject easy or difficult, the conceptions and preconceptions about the subject that students are likely to bring to their learning, and the strategies most likely to help them reorganize their understanding (Shulman, 1986).

An extension of pedagogical content knowledge is the concept of signature pedagogies – the teaching techniques that may be unique to a discipline and foster disciplinary ways of thinking and habits of practice. These ways of thinking and doing are meant to reflect the ways that practitioners and experts in the discipline perform. Signature pedagogies are built on the idea that disciplines vary in their ways of thinking, knowing, doing, and what they value, and these pedagogies “encourage students ‘to do, think, and value what practitioners in the field are doing, thinking, and valuing’” (Chick, Haynie, Gurung, 2009). 

While one’s own experiences as a scholar in a discipline can often elucidate the topics and concepts most relevant to teach in that discipline, information about how to best teach those topics to support student learning may be less intuitive. The following resources may be helpful in developing your pedagogical content knowledge and an understanding of the signature pedagogies in your discipline:

  • Discipline-based pedagogical periodicals such as the Journal of Chemical Education, Journal of Engineering Education, Teaching Psychology, Teaching Sociology, Teaching Language, The History Teacher, Teaching Philosophy and many more. Some journals are freely available online, while other require subscription. You may search the Dartmouth Library journals collection for access using your Dartmouth credentials.
  • Cross-disciplinary pedagogical periodicals such as College Teaching, Journal of Excellence in College Teaching, Innovative Higher Education, Journal of College Science Teaching and many more.
  • The book Exploring Signature Pedagogies, cited below, contains chapters on the signature pedagogies in a variety of disciplines, from math to fine arts. It is available from the DCAL Lending Library.
  • Dartmouth’s Learning Designers and pedagogical consultants have teaching experience and are trained in the pedagogical strategies relevant to your discipline. Contact us to connect.

Chick N.L., Haynie, A. Gurgin R.A.R. (2009). Chapter 1: From Generic to Signature Pedagogies in Regen A.R. Gurung, Nancy L. Chick, Aeron Hayne (Ed.) From Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind (pp. 1-16). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Gurung, R. A. R, Chick, N.L., & Haynie, A. (Eds.) (2009). Exploring signature pedagogies: Approaches to teaching disciplinary habits of mind. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.