- 1875 – 2023: What happened to teacher knowledge?
1875 – 2023: What happened to teacher knowledge?
We know that knowledge is crucial to the learning and achievement of our students. This is true for our students, but it's also true for teachers. In the words of Lee Shulman, ‘no amount of intellectual skill or Mastery over cognitive strategies will overcome lacks in content knowledge'. We can't teach what we don't know.
Importantly, the more firmly a teacher has the core knowledge of their content chunked and automated in long-term memory, the more working memory space they free up to deal with the here and now of the classroom, to display the kind of ‘whithitness' that Jacob Kounin wrote about as far back as 1970.
Unfortunately, teacher knowledge has been on the decline.
Back in the late 1800s, primary school teachers in many US states had to take a formal examination to demonstrate their classroom readiness. For example, the 1875 California State Board examination from elementary school teachers covered the following topics:
History of the United States
Theory and Practice of Teaching
Natural Philosophy (Physics)
Constitution of the United States and California
School Law of California
Natural History (Biology)
Defining (Word Analysis and Vocabulary)
The full test contained 1000 points and the examination took a full day. Wow!
These headings alone give some insight into the kind of breadth of knowledge required of primary school teachers in 1875, but what about the depth? Let's look at a few questions.
And, just for good measure, here are two questions from Natural Philosophy (physics):
When I first read these examples in one of Lee Shulman's essays, I was flabbergasted. In fact, my note in the margin next to them is, quite simply, an expletive!
I knew intuitively that these knowledge requirements were far from what we expect of teachers in 2023c – in part because I'm a teacher in 2023 and I can't answer half of these questions – but I wanted to find out just how different they are, so I did a bit more digging.
To become a teacher in 2023 Australia, there is a knowledge-based test you need to pass. It's called LANTITE, which stands for the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education. The test has 65 literacy, and 65 numeracy questions (13 of which are non-calculator questions).
To compare the standard of LANTITE to its 1875 cousin, I had a look at a few of the sample questions. Here are a few examples:
The difference between the content difficulty between the 1875 and the 2023 teacher examination is self-evident.* But a bigger question, ‘What enable the knowledge bar for entrance into teaching to be so high in 1875, and what has forced it so low in 2023?'
I don't have the answers to this question, I only have guesses.
I'll share that guess… next week!
*There are also serious issues with the question design of this sample LANTITE paper. For example, in the second numeracy question above, both I and Craig Barton (who I shared this question with) were able to answer this question simply based upon the four options given, without even seeing the question!
Announcements and Opportunities
Last chance to book into the Instructional Coaching Intensive for next Friday (June 9th) with yours truly and Dr. Mark Dowley. I've put a phenomenal amount of planning and preparation into this day and I'm really looking forward to it. More deets here : )
This week in Ollie's Learning (Takeaways)
Reflecting on their mission increases preservice teachers’ growth mindsets a new paper out this week by Heyder and colleagues has found. An example of the prompt is, ‘Your teacher training at TU Dortmund University will prepare you for the teaching profession. What would you like to achieve through your future work as a teacher? Please take a moment and think about your wishes and goals as a teacher. Please then summarize your answer for us in bulletpoints.' (free access here)
It matters not only whether students are absent, but when they are absent: ‘unexcused absenteeism, sickness absenteeism and school exclusion all have a negative impact on student ’s academic achievement. In addition, the findings suggested that unexcused absenteeism is more harmful at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the school year. Sickness absenteeism seems also more harmful at the end of the school year.' From Keppens, G. (2023). School absenteeism and academic achievement: Does the timing of the absence matter? (free access here)
Have you heard of the fallacy of mood affiliation? It's when ‘ people … first choosing a mood or attitude, and then finding the disparate views which match to that mood and, to themselves, justifying those views by the mood.'. More on mood affiliation by Tyler Cowan here.
A cool writing strategy that I learnt about this week is ‘Synaesthesia'. This is the use of allusions to one sense to describe another. For example, ‘She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.' (vision -> smell) or even common terms such as ‘He played a blue note' (vision -> hearing) or ‘gravelly voice' (touch ->sound). (find out more in Mark Forsyth's Elements of Eloquence)