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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Over the years I have been asked on numerous occasions to give my position on content knowledge vs pedagogy  (i.e., the skills used to cause learning to happen) when it comes to teaching effectiveness.

Let me start off by saying that I ALWAYS prefer to employ and to be taught by a teacher that has both a masterful grasp of pedagogy AND a deep understanding of the content.

If you make me stake out a position on which is more important, then I contend that a deep understanding of pedagogy is really the trump card, if the desired outcome is student learning.  And, isn’t that what education is really about?  LEARNING!  

As educators, our job is to create the conditions in which learning is most likely to happen.  We must pique the curiosity of the learners in our charge, cause them to be more interested in a subject, trick them into digging more deeply into content matter, bait them into looking/asking/thinking more deeply about a particular discipline.  With the cheap and pervasive availability of content knowledge these days, few (if any) teachers possess a commensurate breadth or depth of pure knowledge about a subject.  Furthermore, only the rarest of teachers can compete with the freely available tools with regard to process attainment.

So, if you’re gonna make me pick one over the other, I’ll take a teacher who has great pedagogical knowledge over one who has great content knowledge. 

The very best teachers I know have substantive content and pedagogical knowledge.

Their ability to awaken students to a particular disciplinary pursuit is nothing less than magical.


  1. I will agree that having both would be ideal. However I have seen a big downward shift in the importance of content knowledge with so many teachers getting alternate certified. In math, I feel that it is extremely important to have the content knowledge necessary to teach any math course offered at the high school level. In my experience, the ones without a good base content knowledge are uncomfortable teaching higher level concepts and also use short cuts and tricks in the lower level causing students to miss out on a good foundation of mathematics. I agree that pedagogy is important, but I feel that content must be there in the upper levels to be important.

    1. Good point, H. Deeper understanding of content is beneficial in the higher level math courses (or any other discipline, for that matter). I'll stick with my assertion, in general, that pedagogical prowess is the key to unlocking new learning for students.

    2. I agree to that. Student learning is key!


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