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Subject Knowledge

TEAN Subject Knowledge seminar held at the University of Cumbria, Lancaster campus on Friday, January 14th 2011

TEAN would like to thank Helen Scott from Manchester Metropolitan University for the inspiration, setting up and chairing of this successful seminar. Links to the PowerPoint presentations and other links provided by the speakers are available below.

To start the day, Professor Martin Fautley from the Centre for Research in Education at Birmingham City University gave the thought-provoking keynote, looking for the connection between subject knowledge, assessment and the curriculum. He suggested that assessment drives what we do and that there is a very significant backwash from this. Significant questions to be asked are:

  • What subject knowledge is there to learn?
  • What should be learned?
  • What should be omitted?
  • Who makes these decisions?
  • Is it inappropriate assessment rather than assessment which is driving the curriculum?

The PowerPoint presentation: How Assessment drives Subject Knowledge is available here.

Breakout group sessions

Each breakout group had a note taker who captured the key issues or points discussed during the session:

"Is this a dagger I see before me?': The Power of Agency in the discussion and delivery of subject knowledge - Richard McGregor, University of Cumbria

  1. Identifying the power of agency and seeing its influence for good and ill across the range of what goes on in education. When you start to look, it is everywhere.
  2. Identifying the complexity of agency as multiple agents, some well-hidden, operate together or in conflict to influence education and teacher behaviour.
  3. The fixedness, or not, of subject knowledge over time. Is the nature of subject knowledge changing or is it just the context? (We decided it was both and the perception of subject knowledge.)
  4. The full version of the presentation is available here.

The role of Subject Knowledge and Motivating and Inspiring Learners - Hugh Smith, University of the West of Scotland and Helen Smith, University of Cumbria

  1. The nature of Subject Knowledge - What does having a lot of subject knowledge mean? Considering the notion of 'in-depth' knowledge. How students think about and conceptualise subject knowledge. In Helen's emerging research, 77% of students believed that poor subject knowledge leads to poor classroom management issues, but many E but were concerned about behaviour management.
  2. Motivation - Motivating learners requires strong subject knowledge - you can make it accessible, relevant and inspiring. You can probe understandings, challenge misconceptions. Children are more likely to respect you as a teacher - students respect you as a lecturer.
  3. Culture of Dumbing Down - Does assessment driving the learning and teaching mean that subject knowledge is dumbed down? We can't teach what is 'too hard' because we won't meet required percentage targets. What does our Education Culture say about what subject knowledge is for? 'Never mind about Assessment for Learning, more like Learning for Assessment.

Everything is available to access and download at the following link.

Subject Knowledge; assessing the ability of effective delivery - Dawne Bell, Edge Hill University

Discussion was also extended to be around the following questions:
Subject Knowledge; What constitutes a subject related degree? and how may one assess its effective delivery?

  1. How useful is a subject related degree? A Survey Monkey survey showed that the majority of secondary teachers were not teaching a subject that related directly to the subject degree. In school the range of subjects they are teaching doesn't always relate to their subject degree.
  2. The importance of distinguishing the ability between subject knowledge and the aptitude to deliver it. Defining subject knowledge per se and subject pedagogy - content and process, the what and the how. Should we value the one more than the other? What do we leave in and what do we take out?
    Recruitment criteria used Is it more desirable to accept a trainee with a lower class degree but who demonstrates an ability to relate to and motivate children, rather than the 1st class degree trainee who does not demonstrate this? Do trainees' experiences of education/culture impact on their ability to complete the English PGCE?

PowerPoint available here.

The Development of Appropriate Subject Knowledge for Teaching - Kathryn Fox, Ruth Hurst, University of Cumbria, Nigel Appleton, Bishop Grosseteste University College

  1. The presenters outlined the subject knowledge enhancement courses at the University of Cumbria - the 'lego' model. This is to show that each trainee has a block of subject knowledge learning as the base and then on top go things such as subject structure, subject processes and subject above and beyond the curriculum.
  2. Discussion throughout including the following points: Integration of pedagogy and subject - school knowledge, subject knowledge, pedagogic knowledge - personal subject construct
  3. To validate or not to validate - some universities give credit, others do not.

PowerPoint available here.

The Location of Subject Knowledge Development: institutional, professional or personal? - Mike Martin, Liverpool John Moores University

Subject Knowledge can be located in three areas to develop student teachers - Institutional, individual, professional context.

  1. Individual - brought by the trainees, personal desires but will need to be guided and monitored to ensure they access quality materials.
  2. Institutional - structures need to develop the way they audit at the beginning to 'map' and support. Working with the schools can ensure the fulfilling of students taking up their responsibility to develop their Subject Knowledge. We should use ITE, not ITT; student teacher not trainee.
  3. Professional context - to avoid the curriculum driving what Subject Knowledge is taught they need to know and take part in ITE and CPD teaching. Organised/timetabled 'cross-teaching' needs to develop.
  4. Good partnership between the HEI and the school means that subject knowledge develops well.

PowerPoint available here.

Developing the Role of the Subject Mentor in Enhancing Trainees' Pedagogic Subject Knowledge - Adrian Warhurst, Newman University College

Related to science but directly relevant to all subjects and phases

  1. Impressive work done as part of a funded project to investigate developing the role of subject mentor in the trainee's subject knowledge
  2. Analysis of comments on variety of lesson observation forms, awareness of methods for doing this.
  3. Debate about what kind of comments we can usefully make about subject knowledge (and how we define this - is it the TDA model?). Whose responsibility is it to follow this up? University tutor? Mentor? Student?

Link to website

PowerPoint available here.

Many thanks to all the note-takers: Nigel Appleton, Bishop Grosseteste University College and Adrian Copping, Ruth Harrison-Palmer, Sally Elton-Chalcraft, Diane Warner and Karen Lockney, University of Cumbria

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