Is practical subject matter knowledge still important?: Examining the Siedentopian perspective on the role of content knowledge in physical education teacher education

2016-07-18T10:49:13Z (GMT) by Frank Herold Michael J. Waring
Background: The role that content knowledge, an important component of practical subject matter knowledge, plays for pre-service teachers (PSTs) in physical education teacher education (PETE) remains contested and unclear. Whilst some researchers emphasise the facilitative nature of such knowledge, others criticise that too much focus on content knowledge has a negative effect on the development of pupil-centred and critical pedagogies. Despite of its seeming importance, specific research into this aspect of the knowledge base remains scarce. Purpose: This research set out to examine the effects that varying levels of content knowledge had on the development of PSTs in PETE. In doing so, it aimed to create an enhanced understanding of how this knowledge base influences the learning and development of PSTs in PETE. Methods and procedures: Shulman’s [1987. ‘Knowledge and Teaching: Foundation of the new Reform’. Harvard Educational Review 57 (1): 1–22] conceptualisation of the knowledge base for teaching was used to delineate the concept of content knowledge. Influenced by a constructivist approach to grounded theory, this study employed semi-structured interviews, lesson observations and post-lesson reflections as main instruments of data collection during three stages of a one-year PETE programme at a University in the UK. Using constant comparative analysis, data from 12 PSTs (6 female; 6 male) were analysed, following a 2-stage analysis procedure as outlined by Charmaz [2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage]. Main outcomes and results: Content knowledge limitations were found to have numerous effects on PSTs. Lack of teaching confidence, as well as adverse impact on enacted teaching knowledge (pedagogical content knowledge) highlighted that at least ‘adequacy’ of content knowledge is needed, if PSTs are to use more advanced pedagogical strategies with confidence. Content knowledge was seen to be context specific and contextualised within the curriculum delivered in the respective schools, where PSTs were placed. In-depth content knowledge was perceived to be an asset that could be used to design and teach lessons that were responsive to pupil need. Conclusions: In line with Siedentop’s [[1989] 2002. ‘Content Knowledge for Physical Education’. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education 21 (4): 368–377] critique of the academicisation of PETE, this study confirmed the facilitative role of content knowledge. Whilst such knowledge by itself does not guarantee good teaching, the debate about the wider role practical subject matter knowledge needs be re-visited. As universities and schools reposition and redefine their roles within a changing landscape of teacher education partnership models and the academic priorities and funding limitations at UK universities, the development of a range and depth of content knowledge represents an evolving challenge for all of those involved in PETE.