Group Issues Book on Teaching’s ‘Knowledge Base’

By Lynn Olson — March 15, 1989 5 min read

Anaheim, Calif--A prominent group of teacher educators has released the most comprehensive statement to date of what new teachers need to know and be able to do.

Knowledge Base for the Beginning Teacher, a 305-page volume of research and opinion written by more than 30 education scholars, was released here on March 3, during the 41st annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

The volume outlines the best consensus in the field regarding the information and skills needed by beginning teachers, said William E. Gardner, dean of the college of education at the University of Minnesota and past president of aacte.

He said the book represents the organization’s attempt to take a “leadership position in the movement to define and push for the identification of a knowledge base in teacher education.”

‘Specialized Knowledge’

Most people view the articulation of a special body of knowledge, whose possession distinguishes the expert from the layman, as the hallmark of any profession.

Its identification has become particularly crucial for teacher educators in recent years, as politicians have expressed deep skepticism4over whether individuals need any special knowledge in order to teach.

This distrust of teacher expertise is reflected in the growing number of programs that prepare individuals to teach with minimal professional training. Some states have also placed sharp limits on the amount of professional coursework required for licensure.

Until recently, said Frank B. Murray, dean of the college of education at the University of Delaware, “we never had a distinctive and, therefore, convincing statement of the knowledge base for teacher education.”

“It was always borrowed material from other disciplines,” he noted, “with not much change in the borrowing.”

The new volume, said Gary A. Griffin, dean of the college of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, presents a set of ideas about the “specialized knowledge” needed to teach that the “average citizen” is unlikely to possess.

These include the ability to translate content from academic disciplines into school subjects, to organize a classroom for student learning, and to put into practice a long-term curriculum for youngsters who are sharply different in many ways.

‘Reflective’ Decisionmakers

The book’s depiction of teaching departs markedly from the rote teaching and learning that have character8ized many workbooks and state competency tests for teachers to date.

Instead of viewing students as the passive recipients of knowledge, and teachers as empty vessels into which to pour research, the book portrays both groups as active participants in the learning process.

There is no “one best way” to solve a teaching problem, Mr. Gardner asserts in a preface to the book. “Knowledgeable teachers are not technicians, but professionals, worthy and able to make reflective decisions or judgments.”

Although teachers possess a common body of knowledge, skills, and understandings, Mr. Gardner writes, they constantly adapt that knowledge based on past experience, their particular teaching situation, and the specific group of students with whom they work.

To help beginning teachers make such informed judgments, the book suggests that they possess knowledge and skills in a number of fields, which are outlined in 24 separate chapters.

These areas include information about: classroom organization and management, assessment, child development, curriculum planning, the social and political contexts in which teachers work, the particular demands of students with special needs, and the legal and ethical responsibilities of the profession.

The book also lays to rest a longel10lstanding argument about whether subject-matter knowledge or pedagogical skill is more important for prospective teachers, arguing that both are of “equal value.”

And it includes several chapters on the rapidly growing field of “subject-specific pedagogy,” or the knowledge and skills that are needed to teach a particular subject well.

According to Mr. Gardner, the book represents the “state of the art’’ regarding research, theory, and practice about teaching.

Ongoing Process

Work on the book began more than a year ago, when aacte formed a nine-member committee on the professional knowledge base, chaired by Mr. Gardner.

The committee asked leading scholars in the field to prepare statements about what would be useful for new teachers to know. Those chapters were then reviewed by three to five scholars and practitioners, and revised accordingly.

While preparing the volume, aacte also held a number of regional conferences, during which it sought advice from those in the field.

The book does not claim to provide a final and definitive statement on what new teachers need to know and be able to do.

A major theme of the book is that “knowledge about teaching is mutable and always under reconsider4ation,” Mr. Griffin said last week.

“This is a start, it’s a beginning, it’s a first cut through a very complicated pie,” he argued.

‘Begin To Learn’

This month, aacte formed a new committee on the professional knowledge base, chaired by Mr. Murray, to critique the publication and revise it for re-release in 1993 or 1994.

Because the knowledge base is evolving so rapidly, the book’s authors assert, prospective teachers should prepare for a lifelong career as learners--one that just begins with the receipt of a diploma.

They also warn student teachers to remain skeptical regarding the competing claims advanced by educational theorists and researchers.

What teacher-preparation institutions really do, Mr. Griffin argued, is help future teachers “begin to learn to teach.”

The Exxon Education Foundation, which supported work on the volume, has funded a small number of projects to help universities implement aspects of the knowledge base described in the book.

In addition, Mr. Murray said his committee would attempt to translate the book’s abstract concepts into more practical suggestions for teacher-training programs.

Copies of Knowledge Base for the Beginning Teacher, edited by Maynard C. Reynolds, are available for $85 each from Pergamon Press Inc., Maxwell House, Fairview Park, Elmsford, N.Y. 10523.

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 1989 edition of Education Week as Group Issues Book on Teaching’s ‘Knowledge Base’