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For a teacher to be effective, subject content knowledge is paramount. According to Schulmans paper, effective teaching is heavily dependent on mastering in-depth knowledge of the subject being taught, (ii) pedagogical content development, and (iii) knowledge of curricular development
According to INTIME (2001), content knowledge encompasses what Bruner (as cited in Shulman, 1992) called the "structure of knowledge"-the theories, principles, and concepts of a particular discipline. Particularly important is content knowledge that deals with the teaching process, including the most useful forms of representing and communicating content and how students best learn the specific concepts and topics of a subject. "If beginning teachers are to be successful, they must wrestle simultaneously with issues of pedagogical content (or knowledge) as well as general pedagogy (or generic teaching principles)" (Grossman, as cited in Ornstein et al., 2000).
Shulman (1986, 1987, 1992) created a Model of Pedagogical Reasoning, which comprises a cycle of several activities that a teacher should complete for good teaching: comprehension, transformation, instruction, evaluation, reflection, and new comprehension (INTIME, 2001).
Therefore, I would define subject knowledge in this context as being the thorough and detailed understanding of the subjects contained in the National Curriculum and the guidelines for Personal, Social and Health Education and Citizenship, as well as how children learn, the ways in which they can be taught and how the teaching process can be developed further through observation and reflection of the effectiveness of the teaching methods being employed.
The results of a British research on primary numeracy (Askew et al., 2003) identified ten themes on which effective teaching of mathematics depends:
(i)Early introduction to numbers
(ii)From counting to number operations
(iv)The importance of meaning
(v)Physical representations and mental imagery
(vi)Calculators and computers
(ix) Teacher professional development
(x) Standards and government initiatives
Touching briefly on some of these themes, an effective mathematics teacher needs to recognise that children's experience of numbers is not always built upon when they come to school (Aubrey, 1997). Some children may have very little grasp of counting when they begin school Additionally, counting was identified as an effective basis for the early years number curriculum. The use of idiosyncratic symbols to record small quantities was found to be not as effective as the use of standard numerals in solving problems.
Effective teachers build upon the knowledge that children bring to school and they teach the children to count in a variety of social contexts (e.g Hughes (1986)).They also allow young children to feel free to use a variety of ways to assist simple problem solving. According to Askew et al. (2001), teaching children links between known and derived number facts is effective as well as is encouraging them to use more efficient counting procedures.
Understanding that each number operation can be associated with a variety of possible meanings is important for both calculation and application to the extent that early meanings can limit later understandings (Nunes and Bryant, 1996;Team and Hart, 1981). For instance in multiplication 10x3 could be said out as 10 multiplied by 3, 10 times 3Therefore careful use of language is important in developing the variety of meanings and an effective mathematics teacher needs to convey the experience of the variety of meanings that can be associated with calculation sentences. The children need to be encouraged to read calculations in a variety of ways and to select the reading that makes carrying out the calculation most efficient (Askew et al., 2001).
As children progress, there are differences in the mental images used by low and high attainers such that standard written algorithms , which can provide efficient methods when they are understood, lead to errors if children are unable to reconstruct them (Askew et al., 2001) . Therefore an effective teacher needs to be able to identify whether a child is auditory, visual or kinaesthetic. This will determine the most effective way for the child to reconstruct algorithms. However, some researchers are of the opinion that working in a structured and systematic way with a limited but effective set of representations may be more helpful than offering children a wide range of representations (Anghileri, 2001).
Initial teacher education can be successful in improving students' attitudes to mathematics but a deeper understanding of the mathematics in the primary curriculum is more important for effective teaching than higher mathematical qualifications (Askew and Education, 1997).
In order to be effective, initial teacher education and continuing professional development needs to be linked, sustained, and address broadening views about mathematics. A connected understanding of subject knowledge is important, together with links to applications, representations, classroom practices and children's learning (Ofsted, 2012a).
An effective English teacher demonstrates mastery of the English language theory and practice, has good communication and leadership skills, is fair and motivates students. This teacher can also identify he language skills levels of the individual students and can find ways to ensure that no-one is left behind with respect to the low attainers. Furthermore, an effective English teacher gives a lot of thought to ways of encouraging the love of reading, writing and spelling.
Ofsted reports on English in schools show that there is outstanding provision and effective practice in schools. However, standards are not yet high enough for all pupils and there has been too little improvement in primary schools (moving English forward). The Ofsted report (Ofsted, 2012) found that attainment in English has risen in secondary schools since 2008 but there has been no improvement overall in attainment in English in primary school. According to the report, the quality of teaching was good o outstanding in 10 of the lessons seen, In these lessons, teaching plans were clear about the key learning for pupils, teaching was flexible and responded to pupils' needs as the lesson developed, and tasks were meaningful, giving pupils real audiences and contexts where possible.
As noted by Ofsted (2012) in their report, the quality of pupils' learning was hampered in weaker lessons by a number of misconceptions about what constitutes a good lesson. The factors that were found to most commonly limit learning included: an excessive pace; an overloading of activities; inflexible planning; and limited time for pupils to work independently. Learning was also found to be constrained in schools here teachers concentrated too much or too early on a narrow range of test or examination skills. This can be interpreted as lack of content knowledge whereby teachers try to cover up for their shortcomings by piling up excessive work on students so that there is no time for a one-on-one exchange with the students.
Ofsted (2012) goes on further to say that in the majority of inspected schools that were found to be performing well; their English curricular were evaluated as being good or outstanding. The best schools were those that had identified the specific needs if their students and designed a specialised curriculum to meet those needs. The report concludes that more secondary than primary schools had outstanding leadership and management. It links this with the lack of subject specialists in primary schools and suggests that this is one of the reasons for slower improvement in English in primary schools.
Mathematics, Modern Foreign languages and Literacy are three different curriculum subjects all of which have distinct separate body of knowledge. The current Coalition government in the United Kingdom is placing particular emphasis on the importance of teachers having 'subject knowledge'. It is not enough to suggest that outstanding teachers have secure subject knowledge and therefore are better teachers. Without a question of a doubt, having subject knowledge is essential, however this knowledge is of little value if educators cannot communicate this knowledge to their students (Grigg, 2010). I will reflect on my experiences in teaching these three subjects (mathematics, modern foreign languages, and literacy) in the following sections of this essay.
Prior to my placement, my lack of subject knowledge for teaching mathematics inhibited me from confidently teaching the subject. I often felt a feeling of intense anxiety and frustration when I had to teach complicated mathematical concepts. I developed my own mathematical skills and subject pedagogy by attending workshops and extensive reading. The internet has also been an extremely valuable resource for increasing my knowledge and understanding of the Primary Mathematics Framework, understanding of mathematics across the seven strands of the framework for teaching. I am now beginning to understand the source of common misconceptions. Consequently, I have become a more confident teacher, who is more able to link different areas in mathematics and who can help her students making learning meaningful and transfer the skills and strategies learnt to other subjects.
Research suggests that great teachers of mathematics draw on ShulmanÂ´s three forms of knowledge in order to teach effectively. The first is having profound knowledge and feeling confident in your own knowledge. The second is having an understanding of the curriculum, which means being able to help facilitate understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures. Lastly, it is important to understand which are the most feasible and appropriate strategies and activities to learners of varying needs and ages (Cotton, 2010).
The recent legislation, Every Child Matters: change for children (2004) and Excellence and Enjoyment: learning teaching in the primary school, which is embedded in the Primary Framework for Literacy and Mathematics (2006) aims to ensure all children are taught well and receive real equality of opportunity by learning in ways that maximise their learning potential and consequently their chances of success.
There are a variety of learning theories that have guided my teaching and learning career. I strongly believe in the use of active learning. Resnick (1989) believes that knowledge is central to behaviour and thinking and that experiential learning helps children acquire vital skills, challenge their thinking and develop a positive attitude towards learning. Cognitivists such as Piaget and Vygotsky's (1978) emphasize that knowledge is not passively received but is constructed through "dialectical process firmly grounded in a social context". During my placements, I often used engaging and practical activities. As students manipulated the materials (iPads, Smartboard activities, blocks, numicon and various multi-sensory activities) in groups or in pairs, they learnt to understand and remember complex concepts. We also explored mathematical ideas through exploration. In Geography, volunteers were asked to collect and weigh the entire classroom waste at the end of the school day and estimated how much the content weighed before weighing it and recording the information. At the end of two weeks, the class drew a line graph from the data using the laptop (ICT). This unit offered various other exciting opportunities that developed student's knowledge and skills. For example: students wrote a letter to the headmaster suggesting their ideas for improving the school environment and reducing the amount of rubbish (literacy) and in art the students designed a poster that encourages their peers to be mindful of our environment. The links between the subjects helped children make meaning of what they were learning.
Much academic literature addresses the specific knowledge bases in the area of literacy, such as EyresÂ´s (2007) English for Primary and Early Years: Developing Subject Knowledge, which compiles the basic information that educators need to know before teaching literacy. The book helped me understand the literacy and linguistic knowledge required by the National Curriculum and by the Literacy Framework of the Primary National Strategy. More important to me it discussed the recent development and informative background knowledge about synthetic phonics. I found this book to be very useful for two reasons. The primary reason being, it solidified any pre-existing knowledge I had about the `doÂ´s and donÂ´ts` of grammar and synthetic phonics. Secondly, the in-depth self- assessment activity included at the back flagged up gaps in my knowledge and skills. I acknowledged my lack of knowledge and addressed it by: studying how the English language works, this helped me further my understanding; attending English sessions at University; talking to the Literacy co-ordinator at school; observing other professionals teach and attending Teacher training sessions. Some areas of improvement included knowing how to teach poetry, grammar and phonics. I feel that the process of self-reflection, also known as the metacognitive learning, has enabled me to get a critical awareness of my limitations and abilities and of my teaching practice. Heywood (2007) considers improving "problematizing subject knowledge" (areas that are extremely difficult to grasp) through the use of self-directed change and learning "a productive way of turning a deficit model of teacher subject knowledge into a positive experience with considerable potential for the development of pedagogy." (Heywood, 2007:519). My developing subject knowledge has boosted my confidence and consequently improved my teaching skills and overall teaching.
The "Three Wise Men" report (Alexander, Rose & Woodhead, 1992 cited Medwell, 1998), proposes the idea that "subject knowledge is a critical process at every point in the teaching process: in planning, assessing and diagnosing, task setting, questioning, explaining and giving feedback". Subject knowledge includes content knowledge, knowledge about how students learn and knowing how to make ideas accessible to students (Shulman, 1987). Knowledge of content in literacy includes skills and knowledge (e.g. knowledge of the linguistic system, knowledge of literature). The curriculum promotes four strands of language namely: writing listening speaking reading. (Rose Review, 2006). Success in literacy is measured by the literacy skills students learn and what they do with these (Medwell et al, 1998). However, Medwell et al. (1998) state that students struggle to apply these skills and concepts to alternative contexts. In their opinion, knowledge of content in literacy should, therefore, also include knowledge of how writing and reading are used as tools for learning.
Every teacherÂ´s goal should be to get to know each individual student on a personal and academic level. Children learn in different ways. By understanding children's preferred learning style (Gardner, 1991) and understanding the prerequisite skills for writing and reading teachers can help build a sound foundation for students to be successful. A great teacher not only knows the content well and how to explain it but also knows what the students are capable of. With this knowledge a highly effective teacher can to help students write, read and use their literacy skills and can effectively teach it.
Glatthorn (1990) believes that learning is more effective when teachers link new content to childrenÂ´s prior knowledge. This helps motivate them and wakes learnerÂ´s curiosity and makes instruction more meaningful. This links in with VygotskyÂ´s (1978) concept of the zone of proximal development, which agrees with Glatthorn learning should be meaningful to the learner beyond the classroom and in addition he states that children operate best when faced by tasks that offer optimal challenge levels.
During my last placement we had been looking at Stories from other Culture. I invited children to share folktales from their culture. We also had an International Day within our classroom. Students brought in a national dish to share and wore traditional clothes. During "Show and Tell" they displayed their artefacts and explained to the class what and where they were from. This experience helped build a sense of belonging and community and showed children how their culture matters no matter where they are from.
My lessons comprised of short introductions, followed by collaborative learning activities (e.g. talking partners or group work) to maximise speaking and listening practice. I used a variety of material to support learning e.g. visuals (e.g. YouTube clips and images), differentiated instruction, role-play, games hands- on activities (discovery and inquiry science and maths), technology (e.g. animation in I.C.T; using PowerPoint in Literacy and making tables and graphs in Maths and Geography, Outdoor learning and learning through songs and dance ( Spanish). It was also important for me to find ways to inspire my class by making links to a number of subjects (art, maths, geography and literacy) using a theme or topic as a central core. For example, in Geography we looked at "Improving the Environment" including collecting and recording evidence to answer questions ( Literacy) scientific investigations, recognise patterns and use ICT to make graphs and present findings ( Mathematics), using recycled materials for art. The cross-curricular approach not only inspired the learners through establishing memorable experience but also provided children with skills which they can transfer and apply in the real world.
At the turn of the century, foreign language learning has been on the political agenda. As part of the Government's National Languages Strategy, Modern foreign languages (MFL) have been progressively introduced to primary schools across the country (Languages for All: Languages for Life, DfES 2002). Michael Gove proposed to that acquiring a second language should be compulsory for children from the ages of seven, - this law will be taking effect in 2014 (The Guardian, 2012). This decision was based on a study of foreign languages skills among adolescents in England who were ranked at the bottom of the table (in Europe). For that reason the government felt the need to prioritise the subject and boost standards in the subject. Schools are given the freedom to teach any one of seven foreign languages , Spanish, Mandarin German, Italian, Latin French and ancient Greek Elizabeth Truss Education Minister wants to ensure that every child a good grasp of a language by age eleven in order to be able to compete in a global jobs market.
My last placement had a Spanish specialist teach 30 minute lessons to all year groups. She used a lot of visual aids games and songs during those lessons. However, I have never seen her teaching grammar of the language. I ask myself how children are expected to develop an understanding of the language, speak using appropriate pronunciation, and express simple ideas as the Government hopes, if schools do not invest in training their staff to learn the language and also support the language learning. Spanish was a "stand alone" subject in my school. Because of lack of language skills teachers were unable to help children learn or link it to other subject areas. I was able to use my basic Spanish skills to take the register in the morning/afternoon, play games when they needed a brain break, applied their knowledge of numbers in Spanish during the input and giving them simple commands such as " sit down, stand up, close the door etc.
In concluding this essay I would say that teachers' subject knowledge is indeed important, especially if they hope to instil a sense of trust and confidence in their students, and in themselves too. A teacher with inadequate subject content knowledge cannot present themselves confidently in front of the student because of the fear of being unable to answer probing questions from students. However, mastering subject content knowledge is not as easy as the policymakers would like to make it out to be. This stems from the popular adage that "a Jack of all trades is a master of none". This rings true especially for primary school teachers who have to teach multiple subjects - it becomes harder to master everything because we all have our strengths and skills. In the Osted report (Ofsted, 2012a) on "Moving English Forward" that I wrote about in the earlier sections of this essay, Ofsted researchers discovered that secondary schools perform much better than primary schools and it was suggested that this could be due to the fact that secondary schools have teachers who are mostly specialised for only one subject (and in rare cases a second closely related subject). As a result these teachers can continuously improve themselves in their subject area much better than a primary school teacher who has to constantly juggle multiple subjects. It may be time that primary school teachers also got the opportunity to specialise in single subjects - food for thought for the educational policy makers.