Content Knowledge in Teacher Education: Where Professionalisation Lies

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Content Knowledge in Teacher Education: Where Professionalisation Lies
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   Vol. 12 Winter 2009  44 CONTENT KNOWLEDGE IN TEACHER EDUCATION: WHEREPROFESSIONALISATION LIES  Darío Luis Banegas Introduction   One fundamental approach to investigateteachers and their practices is to begin by assessing the impact of initial languageteacher education (ILTE). Therefore, thepurpose of this study is to understand whichfoundations in initial language teachereducation (ILTE) programmes in Chubut, Argentina, should improved by investigating the perceptions a group of teachers from this province had as regardsthe programmes they completed, theirimpact in their professional life, and how they perceived programmes could beimproved. The knowledge base in ILTE In two seminal articles, Shulman (1986,1987) proposes the knowledge base inteacher education based on how knowledgeof pedagogy and content evolve in theminds of novice teachers. Shulman arguesthat understanding of this knowledge basecannot be founded only on research oneffective teaching (Freeman and Johnson1998a: 399) or on a view of teaching whichsees the teacher as able to understand whatneeds to be taught and how it is to be taught(Shulman 1987: 7). Therefore he proposesthree main categories: content knowledge,general pedagogical knowledge, i.e.pedagogical knowledge informed by Psychology, Pedagogy, Philosophy among others. He also proposes pedagogicalcontent knowledge, that is, pedagogicalknowledge applied to, in our field, ELT. Inthis paper, I will focus on contentknowledge as it was the component which received most participants’ attention.   Content knowledge  Content knowledge refers to the amountand organisation of knowledge per se in themind of the teacher (Shulman 1986:9;1987:9). As regards teachers of EFL,Roberts (1998: 105) points out that having content knowledge means that teachersshow knowledge of the systems of the targetlanguage and competence in it. This meansthat teachers should have declarativeknowledge of the language (Bailey et al.2001: 23; Day 1990:43), i.e. knowledgeabout English grammar and phonetics, forinstance, and be simultaneously proficientand confident users of it as they will becomelanguage models for their learners (Barnes2002:199). Although it is asserted that well foundedcontent knowledge provides ground forauthority and supports the idea that teaching is a profession (Ball 2008:404), it is essentialthat we acknowledge the fact that in ELT,English may be a foreign language taught asa subject (Widdowson 2002: 67-68). Thismeans that teachers will present apedagogical construct of the language as areal entity, which should not be equated tothe language as experienced by its nativespeakers. Therefore, we might suggest thenthat teachers in Argentina, for example,should not be expected to know English asif it were their L1. Such an expectation would fail to recognise the numerouscontextual features which might go againstthis goal in language teacher education. Sources of content knowledge   The sources for this type of knowledge willcome from, as Shulman (1987: 8-9) states,scholarship content disciplines related toEnglish as a system. However, when werefer, as has been advanced above, tocontent knowledge, we mean not only knowledge about the language but also thedevelopment of the different componentsof communicative competence. Needless tosay, some of the sources, such asLinguistics, Phonetics, and Grammar, willenhance the linguistic competence of prospective teachers. With reference toLinguistics, Bartels (1999: 46-56) adopts acautious stance. He believes that linguisticknowledge will become meaningful tostudent-teachers provided it shows themhow this knowledge can be used forlanguage teaching. Linguistic teaching,Bartels continues, should be for developing knowledge of interlanguage analysis, anddeveloping skills in analysing secondlanguage learning in specific students.On the other hand, it is also claimed thatcommunicative competence will be best   Vol. 12 Winter 2009  45 achieved if intercultural understanding (Woodgate-Jones 2008:2-3), i.e.,understanding which might be connected with sociopragmatic competence, isincluded in the programme. Within thissame line of thought, though emphasising the social aspect, Byram (1999: 73) suggeststhat another vital source in contentknowledge should come from interculturalcommunication so as to help textualinterpretation and critical cultural awarenessto be passed on to learners. Also, Davies(2002: 63) states that a social component inthe shape of sociolinguistics offers ILTEboth knowledge about the complexities of speech communities found in the Englishlanguage, and skills which will informcurriculum choices among varieties of English. This sociolinguistic source withincontent knowledge applies to both subjectmatter knowledge, the language as a system,and cultural awareness. To speak aboutcommunities of practice in this matrix is toinclude information about World Englishesas another source for knowledge-base whose srcin is not American or European(Brown 2002: 446).Even though subject matter could beisolated within content knowledge (James2001: 5) there is still another area whichneeds to be considered, that of the socialcomponent of language. This componentcannot be separated from culturalcompetence, i.e., knowledge of the complexrepresentations of society. Theserepresentations can be grouped under what we might call general cultural knowledge whose sources could be History, Geography and Literature among others which seelanguage in society, such as Sociolinguisticsor Intercultural Communication. Therefore we can make a distinction between subject-matter knowledge, i.e., knowledge of thelanguage connected with linguisticcompetence, and general culturalknowledge, which aims at expanding thecultural capital of student-teachers in theirILTE. This distinction is seen as vitalcomponents in ILTE programmes in Argentina. Language as subject matter development  Initially, we might consider the fact thatonce a certain level of proficiency has beenachieved, it may be necessary to improve it.For instance, Berry (1990:97-98) asserts thatthis language improvement can be achievedif two components are solidly shaped inLTE programmes: content knowledge andlanguage improvement. Both Berry (1990)and Cullen (1994: 164-165) stress that thisemphasis in language improvement ismostly felt in EFL contexts where teachersdo not have many opportunities of interaction with speakers whose English istheir L1. Berry (1990), for instance,conducted a study in Poland where teachers were asked to rank Methodology, Theory (theories of language and teaching) andLanguage Improvement in order of importance according to their needs.Language Improvement was ranked firstfollowed by Methodology. Theory did poorly in participants’ ranking as they felt they had had enough of it. Another example of the impact of language improvement comes from a study in which supervisors from MATESOLprogrammes in the US and Canada wereinterviewed. Llurda (2006) concludes thatthere is a strong belief that NNS teachers with a high language proficiency level will bebetter prepared to teach in more contextsand all levels, as language proficiency isthought to be closely linked with self confidence in a teaching situation. Thisexpected degree of knowledge depends onthe type of ELT model advocated, sincesome might focus on linguistic competence while others will emphasise languageawareness (Woodgate-Jones 2008:2).In contexts such as Argentina, wherethere has been a movement towardscommunicative language teaching, teachersare under greater pressure as regardslanguage proficiency (Zappa-Hollman, 2007:621-622). They are expected to use Englishnaturally and spontaneously and be able tointroduce in their lessons more semi-authentic or authentic material which willhopefully trigger authentic responses fromlearners. When some programmes need tointroduce changes in their components toenhance the content knowledge of prospective teachers, there are somesuggestions to follow. First, language can beimproved if most components of aprogramme are taught through the mediumof English. Second, both language andmethodology components can be integratedif the concept of loop input (DelliCarpini   Vol. 12 Winter 2009  46 2009) is explored as it will combine content with communicative strategies at the sametime. In a nutshell, loop input refers to thecombination of content of what is to belearnt with the process on how to learnabout it, i.e., an alignment of content andprocess (Woodward 2003: 301). Forinstance, if trainers need to introduce theconcept of dictogloss, they can use the very same technique to present its proceduresand the benefits of it. As regards the myriad of aspectsconsidered within content knowledge, wemight agree with Widdowson (2002: 80) who summarises his position by saying thatsubject knowledge means knowing aboutthe language and how this can be managedin a such a way that learners are induced tolearn. The study Fifteen teachers graduated at highereducation institutions in Chubut wererandomly contacted via e-mail. They hadcompleted a four-year ILTE programmeand had around 10 years of experience.In March, 2009, they were submitted aquestionnaire (appendix 1) in which they  were asked to mention positive and negativeaspects of their ILTE programme. Inaddition, they were also asked to assess theimpact of the different strands orcomponents which represent the knowledgebase proposed by Shulman (1986; 1987). Inthis paper, I will only report on thosequestions and responses which wereconnected with the impact of contentknowledge in ILTE. Results In question 3 of the questionnaire, theparticipants were asked: What was positive and/or negative inyour programme as a whole? List 3 atleast. Feel free to add others and/orexplain. Content knowledge: positive and negative aspects  Figure 1 below shows the number of positive responses under categories whichgroup the answers collected. 0246810121416ContentknowledgeTrainers PedagogicalcontentknowledgeMethodologicalaspects   Figure 1: Positive aspects in ILTE  The programmes’ interest in offering a solid base for content knowledge wasacknowledged by most participants. In theirresponses, it is clear the distinction betweensubject matter concerning knowledge of thelanguage, and cultural knowledge as a meansto language improvement (Berry 1990).Most participants expressed views whichcould be represented through these quotes:  ‘Learning Grammar and Phonetics’ (P1) 1    ‘Learning Linguistics’ (P3)    ‘Intens ive syllabi in English Language and Grammar’ (P6)    ‘Learning about English culture’ (P10)    ‘Learning about other countries throughLiterature and History’ (P11)    ‘Improving my language skills through   Literature’ (P12)    ‘ Learning about other cultures through Portuguese’ (P13)   It is clear from these quotes that teachers valued their exposure to different aspects of and about the target language. It was their view that mastering English was paramountin their professional education, a position  which is similar to Berry’s study (1990). This mastery was not only associated with thelanguage itself but also with the culturalaspects that entail learning a language that isto be taught as a subject in the educationalsystem in Chubut. One particular aspect toobserve is that some participants also valuedthe presence of an L3 in the programme, inthis case Portuguese. One participant whoexpanded on this positive aspect assertedthat 1 The P and number in brackets representparticipants in the study.   Vol. 12 Winter 2009  47 It was very enriching to our trainingsince we had the opportunity toexperience how learning a newlanguage feels on the side of thestudent. (P13)  The study of another language may havehelped participants reflect and experienceagain how a language may be learnt(Flowerdew 1998) and to some extent, share what their own learners may undergo in theprocess of learning a foreign language.However, when participants mentionednegative aspects of the programmes they had completed, they also referred to contentknowledge.Subject-matter knowledge was thoughtto be threatened by the fact that, according to some responses, there was not enoughfeedback on language improvement fromtrainers, and grammar and phonetics wereonly present as separate subjects in twoyears of the programme.  ‘No feedback for language improvement’   (P7)  ‘ I had Grammar and Phonetics inyears 1 and 2 only’ (P8)   It follows that participants would have likedto receive more L2 input not only throughthe general pedagogical subjects taught inEnglish but also by increasing theirexposure to studies about the Englishlanguage. So far we may say that participantsstressed the importance of subject-matterknowledge in their initial teacher education. This could be understood if we bear inmind that opportunities to use the targetlanguage are scarce and teachers usually believe their level is not good enough to beteachers of English in a foreign languagecontext. Although the programmes theparticipants attended did have contentknowledge as a priority in terms of hoursallocated to this strand, there is a need tohave this strand increased together with amore extended use of English as medium of instruction.Initially, it may be argued that the mostpositive aspect of ILTE programmes inChubut stems from the content knowledge strand. This attitude reveals participants’ adherence to a conception of teaching  where knowledge of the subject isparamount in their education. On the otherhand, trainers and pedagogical knowledgeappear to be more controversial than other aspects. First, teachers’ responses revealed that trainers were thought to be responsiblefor the success of a programme and thatthey were expected to show the connectionsthat there exist between theory and practicein teaching. When trainees cannot see suchlinks in theory-practice, the former may bediscarded, and reliance on the latter appearsto increase. Impact of content knowledge in   participants’ professional life   Question 4 (see appendix 1) askedparticipants to show their level of agreementon a number of items which represented thetypes of knowledge usually found inprogrammes. I will report here on contentknowledge only as it was the area whichreceived most of their concern.Regarding knowledge of language, thiscan be recovered from items a and b . Almost all participants strongly agreed thatlearning English grammar and phonetics inthe first place and linguistics in the secondplace had a positive influence in theirteacher education. These results support what participants expressed as one of themost positive aspects of programmes as a whole. Therefore, the stress on subject-matter knowledge stands unchallenged by other components in the programme. Within content knowledge, culturalknowledge was also acknowledged aspositive. Learning Literature, and, to a lesserextent, learning Culture, History andGeography were seen as having a positiveimpact on teacher education.However, this positive attitude seemedto disperse along the intensity scale when itcame to evaluating the methodologiestrainers adopted to teach content. Eventhough all answers were located within thepositive side, participants tended to considerthis item differently. It follows that, one theone hand, participants reflected positively towards content but were able to draw adistinction between content andmethodology. This distinction in my opinion seems to be connected with someof the negative aspects highlighted above, mainly those concerning trainers’ ability to teach in this strand.So far we, we may assert that theteachers who took part in this study believed that the most salient aspects of theknowledge base in teacher education were   Vol. 12 Winter 2009  48 content knowledge for language proficiency,provided trainers in charge of it adoptmethodologies advocated in the ELTpedagogical knowledge strand, and anongoing dialogue between theory andpractice is reflected in the practicum. Balance in the knowledge base  Question 6 asked the participants todistribute 100% in four types of knowledgeaccording to their balance in the knowledgebase in ILTE programmes. The participants viewed that the balance should be as follows(Figure 2). Generalpedagogicalknowledge17%Subject matter knowledge35%General culturalknowlege21%ELTpedagogicalknowledge27%   Figure 2: Balance in the knowledge base Needless to say, content knowledge, both inthe form of language study and culturalknowledge for language improvement, isthought to be foundational in the base. Thistype of knowledge is followed by ELTpedagogical knowledge, i.e., pedagogicalcontent knowledge, and last, generalpedagogical knowledge, that is, pedagogicalknowledge regardless of any specificsubject-matter.Let us analyse and discuss here the twoaspects which can be seen under contentknowledge: subject matter and generalcultural knowledge. Content knowledge  Following the integration of both subject-matter knowledge (Shulman 1986; 1987) asstudy of the language, and culturalknowledge as an opportunity for languageimprovement as well as cultural knowledgeof English speaking countries (Brown 2002:446), results show that the percentageallocated to this strand in the knowledgebase is 56%. More than half of ILTEprogrammes, according to respondents of the questionnaire, should be devoted to thestudy of language, language improvementand cultural studies of the target language. This seems to confirm what the NationalCurricular Guidelines (2007) suggest, sincethey allocate between 50-60% to this type of knowledge in programmes. With specific reference to subject-matteras encompassing English Language,language skills, Linguistics and othersubjects devoted to the study of language,the participants believed it essential due tosome of the reasons quoted below:  ‘To lea rn how to use the language correctly’ (P1)    ‘You have to know what you’re teaching’   (P12)  ‘Mastery of the language is absolutely   necessary to be a model’ (P10)    ‘Basis of our teaching’ (P3)    ‘This is what we actually teach:   English’   (P13)  ‘Teachers should have a good command  of The l anguage because it’s our   specialisation’ (P6)    ‘Very important to know and handle  What we teach’ (P14)    These quotes reflect, following Robert(1998), that teachers must have knowledgeof the system of the English language andbe competent users of it since they will bemodels for their learners (Barnes 2002: 199).Some participants remarked knowledge of the language, aspect which shows theirconcern for professionalization, as Ball(2008: 404) and Widdowson (2002: 79-80)suggest, while others stressed languageproficiency. It is interesting to note,however, that none of the participantsreferred to both aspects as equally important.On the other hand, we also find culturalknowledge which was realised in theprogrammes respondents completed,through subjects such as English Literatureand English History among others. Most respondents’ justifications for the percentage allocated to this sub-strand orsource of knowledge could be groupedunder two categories: cultural knowledge,and language improvement. Thoseparticipants who emphasised the firstcategory expressed:
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