Exploring the content knowledge of experienced geography teachers

Rod Lane

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    This study investigated the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of ten experienced Geography teachers as they taught a unit on tropical cyclones to Stage 5 (Year 9/10) students. It examines how this knowledge is used to inform classroom practice and how it might assist in the development of an ‘accomplished’ standard for Geography teaching. Method - The study consisted of three phases: collection of baseline data about student preconceptions (n=380); semi-structured interviews with ten teachers to assess their existing knowledge, beliefs and practices; and a lesson observation and video stimulated recall interview with the teachers after they had received feedback regarding the students’ preconceptions. Data were analysed to produce prototypical descriptions of the teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and use of PCK to inform instruction. Results - Two clusters were identified by mapping the teachers’ substantive content knowledge and PCK of students’ ideas. Cluster 1 consisted of four teachers with integrated, relational understandings and sound content knowledge. All of the teachers held academic majors in Geography/Environmental Science; they understood the constructed and robust nature of students’ ideas and were able to provide examples of common student beliefs. Participants used a range of evidence-based strategies to intentionally diagnose and address alternative conceptions during instruction. These included: promoting the expression of naive ideas and alternative theories; probing beyond ‘correct’ answers to identify students’ explanations; using formative assessment approaches; reflecting on their practice and adapting their instructional approach as required. Participants responded to the feedback regarding students’ preconceptions by either making limited changes to their pedagogy (because they felt the data validated their existing knowledge and practice) or using the data sheet to supplement their knowledge of students’ ideas and fine-tune their instructional approach. Cluster 2 consisted of three teachers with pre-structural or uni-structural understandings and relatively low levels of factual and conceptual knowledge. Two of the teachers held undergraduate majors in Geography. Like Cluster 1, these teachers used a range of strategies that had the potential to be effective in diagnosing and addressing students’ preconceptions. The rationale for their instructional approach was, however, focused overwhelmingly on student engagement, classroom management issues and the need to cover content for exams. They demonstrated little understanding of the constructed and robust nature of alternative conceptions and did not use either their own PCK or the feedback provided by the researcher to inform their teaching practice. Implications and conclusion - The teachers differed in their knowledge of common student preconceptions and in their ability to use such information to inform classroom practice. The accomplished teachers had well-developed knowledge of the subject content; constructivist epistemologies; a range of evidence-based strategies designed to diagnose and address alternative conceptions; and assessment practices for supporting student learning. They also exhibited the qualities of reflective practitioners and the ability to think flexibly about students, content and pedagogy. Options for recognising, rewarding and encouraging quality-teaching practices in this area will be explored.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    EventInstitute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference - Sydney
    Duration: 2 Jul 20124 Jul 2012


    ConferenceInstitute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference


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