The previous blog looked at the idea that teaching (and by this I don’t mean learning) is dependant on the cooperation engendered between the teacher and the student(s) and the manner in which they (the students) engage in deviant or non-deviant behaviour. It argued that (in terms of student compliance) the manner and rigor with which the teacher holds students’ accountable is directly related to students apparent engagement. However, it also warned that non-deviant behaviour does not equate to engagement in the task and could simply be a way of ‘hiding out’ from the teacher and the task.
This week’s blog explores research that originated in the US and France around teaching the content of physical education. It argues that there are so many ‘things’ involved in teaching and learning that many of the skills (for want of a better word) of the teacher remain implicit. It is only when we make these skills explicit that we begin to better understand what it takes to be a good teacher.
Volume 4: The curriculum and the subject matter of physical education
Amade-Escot, C. (2000/2012). “The Contribution of Two Research Programs on Teaching Content: "Pedagogical Content Knowledge" and "Didactics of Physical Education”” In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 6-34) London: Routledge.
My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice
When you look back on your teacher education or coaching programs what do you actually remember learning? With respect to my teachers (both at university and in my schools) I remember very little. Well not specifically that is. I remember doing sessions on my PGCE (eighteen years or so ago) on dance and health and athletics and hockey but do I remember what I was taught? No. Is there a chance that some of this knowledge is now so ingrained in my practice that I couldn’t articulate it or say when I learnt it – so to speak-? Yes. So what does this tell me about teacher education? That it is rubbish? I hope not because I am a teacher educator? That it makes the explicit, implicit? Maybe? That I/we need to take more care of the messages we are trying to put across? Almost definitely yes!
Some of my research is – and has for a number of years – explored my teaching from a reflective standpoint. To call it research though is a disservice to what I do. Part of my everyday practice is to reflect on my practice and to try and make explicit the implicit elements of my practice that I just can’t put my fingers on. I seek to ask and better understand why I make the decisions that I do and how I can articulate them so that others can learn from them. Call it what you want – practitioner research, autobiographical research, narrative inquiry, action research, and/or autoethnography – it is attempt to articulate practice from a personal perspective. Indeed one of the key messages to come out of this paper is that reflection of practice helps individuals to better develop their practice.
Now my reflections aren’t the idle musings at the end of the day or the blow-by-blow act of the specific actions we take as teachers. For example, “I started with a warm up and then we did a practice and all the students were engaged etc. etc.” Indeed, these don’t explain the–why. Why did you do that particular warm-up? Why did you choose the practice? What was it meant to achieve? What was the purpose? Why did you say something then and not say anything there? These are the questions I try to answer.
These questions and the engagement in reflective practice is the essence of teaching and is the focus of the huge body of research that has gone into this week’s review and yet real knowledge about these implicit or tacit actions and inactions (although by saying nothing that is still an action) is lacking. Given how many lessons are taught everyday – both in schools and universities – this is a big oversight but it is something we can do something about. Could you articulate those decisions, actions, words and say why they were significant? It’s not as easy at it looks but it is, in my opinion, one way of significantly better understanding the so call ‘art’ of teaching and learning i.e. pedagogy.
In this paper Amade-Escot explores Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), i.e. “research… based primarily on theory focusing on teachers’ cognition”, and didactics i.e. “research… based primarily on the structure of the content of the school discipline (physical education) as the decisive elements of the teaching process. It is important to note that the French word didactique does not translate well into English and is meant as a more holistic term for pedagogy. Amade-Escot defines the term as “the irreducible three-way relationship linking teacher, students, and knowledge taught”.
PCK, Amade-Escot argues, looks at teacher cognition i.e. their professional understanding, and represents the “configuration of specific knowledge (sometimes tacit) based on experience and strongly embedded in action.” In other words she suggests that teachers show their professional understanding through the ways that they teach and the way they structure the learning environment and the task. However, often this understanding is hard to verbalise and occurs in the moment, which leads very much to the idea that more experienced teachers are simply better teachers.
A key finding the paper presents is that experienced teachers were “more focused on the content to be acquired by students and better anticipated the transitions between activities.” In comparison novice teachers appeared to change activities on impulse and then appeared to have no objective reason for the change. Indeed, beginning teachers often misunderstand the lessons of their teacher education courses, they often struggle to structure and retain these lessons at the end of their course. Indeed Amade-Escot argues that novice teachers are often forced into a “curricular zone of safety” where they do enough to pass the course but no more.
Another key finding was that “experience modifies teachers’ conceptions of teaching….[and the] enrichment and diversification of PCK”. Significantly the role of school context and individual teacher characteristics were both important in the refinement of teachers’ approaches to teaching. When the context was favourable to enrichment and diversification then there were positive repercussions on professional knowledge.
Changing focus Amade-Escot then looked at the programme of didactics research (i.e. pedagogy), which she suggests is interested in the way in which content is structured in the school context. She explained that didactics took a macro, meso and micro focus.
At a macro level researchers’ explore curricula and the national and/or institutional ‘translation’ of subject matter from the “academic discipline” to the “school discipline”. At a meso level research has looked specifically at how knowledge is reshaped to make it accessible to students. At a micro level research has looked at the implementation of this transformed knowledge in the classroom; particularly in the situations and activities that make up physical education. This has resulted in the exploration of the ideas of “didactic transposition” and the “didactic contract”.
“Didactic transposition” (concerned with the “inevitable phenomena of transformation, elaboration, and reconstruction of the knowledge to be taught”) and “didactic contract” (“the set of negotiations, usually implicit, between teacher and students about the knowledge to be taught in a given situation”) are both actions on behalf of the teacher. They help us to better understand how the didactic system of physical education works. Transformation is key in the pedagogical process and shows how subject matter is divided and sequenced. The notion of contract speaks of the ways in which teaching and learning is positioned in a school and in specific classrooms.
Bringing these two ideas – PCK and Didactics - together allowed for comparisons to be made. Amade-Escot concluded by suggesting that while PCK research suggested that experience was important didactics research said that the content of physical education depends “less on experience than on specific competence in terms of didactic knowledge of the physical activity taught”. In other words, importance should be placed on how ideas are translated into action.
The question for me is “what do you think?” We all know colleagues who, regardless of their approach to teaching ‘knock the socks off’ the learner and others, despite their expertise or experience seem to lack the…well lack the spark needed to teach. But how much of teaching is implicit and tacit and how much can you teach teachers? When you have student teachers in your classroom or when you come across something new how do you find the best way to teach? Can you articulate it? Or like most people do you struggle to put into words what you do ‘naturally’?
What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).
Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.
Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?
Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.
I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence.