Pedagogical Content Knowledge


Knowledge of Content

Your knowledge and beliefs about the purposes and goals for teaching in your content area form the backbone for your orientation to teaching the content. Although instructors have deep content knowledge in their fields, it isn’t certain that they’ve had the opportunity to develop the skills to teach this content to students who have far less background knowledge. Most likely your students will have an incomplete schema (mental map) to organize the content you are teaching. Helping your students to develop more complete schemas is crucial to helping them to effectively integrate and use new content knowledge.

As you plan your semester, consider how learning outcomes and other requirements mandated by accrediting or professional societies and your department may impact your course content. In particular, consider talking to others in your department to discuss how your course(s) fit into the sequence of other courses. The term vertical alignment refers to a thoughtful plan examining what is taught in a sequence and when, and how the fundamental knowledge for one semester supports the learning in future semesters. For more information on this aspect see the Teaching Effectiveness Framework domain Curriculum/Curricular Alignment.

Consider the contemporary issues in your field and how you might use these issues to motivate students’ learning. The relevance and connection of your content to the lives of all of your students will help determine students’ motivation. You can refer to the Teaching Effectiveness domains of Motivation and Inclusive Pedagogy to learn more about how to motivate students and help them recognize how your content relates to issues of interest to them.


Knowledge of Instructional Strategies

Components of PCK include orientation to teaching the content, knowledge of the content and the curriculum, knowledge of students, and knowledge and beliefs about instructional strategies. These components naturally lead instructors to consider the role of the course within the curriculum, use of the best instructional practices for a particular content area, the most common student misconceptions, and the most difficult concepts for students to grasp.

CSU professor in class teachingYour knowledge and beliefs about the purposes and goals for teaching in your content area form the backbone for your orientation to teaching the content. Your knowledge and beliefs drive the decisions you make about the curriculum, the ways in which you will assess student learning to give you the best information on student progress, and the decisions you make about the instructional practices you choose (Magnusson, Krajacik, and Borko, 1999). Contemporary education research has identified teaching best practices and assessment best practices that support student success. In some fields, particularly STEM, you can look to Discipline-Based Education Research Scholarship (DBER) in your field for current perspectives on how curriculum and instructional practices best support student learning. We encourage you to talk with colleagues in your department who teach the same course(s) to collectively consider the most effective approaches to teaching your content.

Unfortunately, being a content expert does not automatically translate into pedagogical content knowledge expertise: People don’t typically become expert teachers overnight. Doing so takes experience, reflection and training. However, you have a solid foundation from which to draw when making decisions about how to teach. Recent research shows that instructors make use of “their prior experiences as instructors, their experiences as students, their experiences as researchers, and . . . their non-academic roles (Oleson & Hora, 2013).” Reflecting on your prior experiences is an initial key to developing PCK. But, we recommend you seek out input from colleagues in order to expand your set of perspectives that may be represented in the diversity of students in your course. In addition to your wealth of starting points for instructional strategies, consider how your field grapples with complexities. Recognize that you may be the first to introduce your field to some of your students.