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How do teachers develop their knowledge? Research offers unexpected answers

World Scientific

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IMAGE: This is the cover of "Investigating the Pedagogy of Mathematics: How Do Teachers Develop Their Knowledge? " view more

Credit: World Scientific, 2014

Over the last 20 years, general politicians, educational leaders, researchers and practitioners have increasingly realized the crucial importance of teachers' knowledge in improving the quality of classroom teaching and learning.

Accordingly, the issue how teachers gain or develop their knowledge has also been a hot topic in educational research and on-going debate. However, for many teachers, the critical link between practice and knowledge is implied rather than explicitly understood or expressed. This means it can be difficult to assess and thus develop teachers' professional knowledge.

Lianghuo Fan's latest book published by Imperial College Press (an imprint of World Scientific) is based on two studies, one of which was conducted in Chicago, USA ("the Chicago study") and the other in Singapore ("the Singapore study"), investigating how different sources contribute to the development of teachers' pedagogical knowledge. The book describes firstly how teachers' own teaching experience and reflection, and their daily exchanges with colleagues, are the most important sources of their pedagogical knowledge, secondly, how important in-service training and organized professional activities are, and thirdly, how teachers' previous experiences as students, their pre-service training and their reading of professional literature have less influence on their pedagogical knowledge.

The evidences shown by Fan in the book also challenge the commonly held belief that teachers teach the way they were taught. The research presented in the book has three major distinctions from other published work in the concerned area. More specifically, it directly addresses the question of how teachers develop their knowledge in the domain of pedagogy. More systematically, it takes into account the whole life of teachers, including their pre-service and in-service experiences, not just a special period of teachers' life or a special source of teachers' knowledge. More representatively, the research subjects consist of a substantial number of teachers with a wide range of experiences, and the selection of the sample in each study was random in the main stage.

The book consists of two main parts. Part I is devoted to the Chicago study in a relatively detailed way. It contains nine chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the background, the significance and the research questions of the study. Chapter 2 first presents epistemological background about the concept of knowledge for the study, and then provides a relatively broad review of the literature in the field of teacher knowledge. Chapter 3 establishes a conceptual framework to examine teachers' pedagogical knowledge and the possible different sources. Chapter 4 introduces the research design, instruments and procedures used for collecting and analysing the data. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 report the core findings, respectively, about how teachers develop their pedagogical curricular knowledge, their pedagogical content knowledge, and their pedagogical instructional knowledge. Chapter 8 reports other findings of the study, supplementing the three earlier chapters by looking at some other issues concerning the development of teachers' pedagogical knowledge. Chapter 9 provides a summary of the Chicago study and its main conclusions, discusses the implications of the findings for teacher educators, school administrators, and teachers themselves on how to effectively pursue the growth of teachers' pedagogical knowledge, and finally offers suggestions for further research concerning the development of teacher knowledge.

Part II of the book comprises Chapter 10 and Chapter 11. Chapter 10 presents the Singapore study, but in a more concise manner, as it is largely a replication of the Chicago study in terms of conceptualization and research methods. Chapter 11 juxtaposes the Singapore study with the Chicago one and compares the similarities and differences of the results as revealed in the two studies. Some concluding remarks are offered at the end of the chapter.

Both the Chicago and Singapore studies revealed that there are various sources from which teachers can develop their pedagogical knowledge. In particular, both studies consistently found that teachers' own teaching experience and reflection is the most important source for them to develop all the three components of pedagogical knowledge, and teachers' daily or informal exchanges with their colleagues is the second most important source for all the three components of their pedagogical knowledge. For the other sources, the studies revealed, to a greater or lesser degree, there exists different importance in teachers' developing one or more components of pedagogical knowledge. In addition, the teachers in Chicago reported that pre-service training is the least important source, while their Singapore counterparts viewed it as a secondarily important source, for the development of their pedagogical knowledge.

The Chicago study was originally completed as the author's doctoral thesis and, after translation into Chinese, first published in a book series in China in 2003. It has been cited 911 times in China (Source: http://www.cnki.net, as of 6 Dec. 2014) including more than 100 doctoral theses but excluding citations in books. In consideration of the demand from the readers, the publisher has decided to publish the second edition of the book in Chinese.

Professor Lianghuo Fan, the author, writes, "As a researcher and the author, I was heartened to know that the book has had positive impact on China's national policy about school-based teacher professional development, and was regarded by researchers, generously, as one of the most influential studies in this area, being widely used as a university graduate course book."

He said he was also delighted that the English version of the Chicago study, of which much original integrity is kept with some necessary changes, together with a follow-up study, the Singapore study, is now published by Imperial College Press. He hopes that the book can be of value not only to readers in the US and Singapore, but also to any educational policy makers and researchers, teacher educators, school administrators and teachers, and graduate students who are interested in the theme of teachers' knowledge development, since the issue how teachers gain their knowledge has general importance and communality in different countries and across different subject matters, and it is also internationally a common challenge to continuously improve teachers' professional knowledge

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The hardcover of the book retails for US$95 / £63. More information on the book can be found at: http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/p940.

About World Scientific Publishing

World Scientific Publishing is a leading independent publisher of books and journals for the scholarly, research and professional communities. The company publishes about 500 books annually and more than 120 journals in various fields. World Scientific collaborates with prestigious organisations like the Nobel Foundation, US National Academies Press, as well as its subsidiary, the Imperial College Press, amongst others, to bring high quality academic and professional content to researchers and academics worldwide. To find out more about World Scientific, please visit http://www.worldscientific.com.

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