Confused.com (week 5)

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2011 at 3:10 AM

Delving deeper into the relm of teacher cognition I have found myself in a state of confusion…so I am going to talk you through my findings and opinions in the hope I become (or you can help me) become less confused!

A Brief(ish) History/Lit Review

Late 60s & early 70s – A change in perspective led to the development of teacher cognition (or teacher thinking) as an area. This change/the problem with educational research before the development I believe is summed up well by this quote from a paper by Shulman & Elstein (1975):

‘research typically sights the problem of how teachers think about their pupils and instructional problems; it concentrates instead on how teachers act or perform in the classroom’ (pg 3)

1980sShavelson & Stern (1981) provided a literature review on teacher pedagogical thoughts, judgements & decisions. They provided a diagrammatic overview (pg 461) which shows the way cognition and classroom performance was being conceptualised. It was no longer linear (as shown in previous research), but a cycle – showing a two-way interaction between thinking and classroom practice. Within this article they also outline the decision model approach (pg 472), something that instigated future concepts I am about to mention.

Elbaz (1981) practical knowledge: a case study and Elbaz previous work in education led her to argue that teachers are not merely a cog in the educational machine, they play a role in shaping the curricula. Practical knowledge research highlighted the inadequacies of previous decision making models. (for a more recent study on the area see Connelly, 1997)

Munby (1982) beliefs: another criticism of the decision making models was that it paid little attention to teachers beliefs. Munby was one of the first researchers to argue that beliefs should be given more attention. Drawing on previous research, he pointed out that beliefs, once established, can be highly resistant to change – even in the face of evidence.

ISATTInternational Study Association on Teachers and Teaching was founded in 1983 from the expansion of teacher cognition as an area of research. (No real point to be made here! Just adds to my point that the field was continuing to grow!)

In a literature review by Clark & Peterson (1986) teacher thinking research was seperated into 3 categories: (1) teacher planning, (2) teacher interactive thoughts & decisions,  and (3) teacher theories and beliefs. The review also critiqued previous research, outlining that most of it had been done using experienced teachers in the USA. It was suggested that future research be done longitudinally and with novice teachers as well.

Shulman (1986) – pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). It implies that teachers transform their subject knowledge into a form that lends itself to teaching and learning

1990s – research began to separate and review articles appeared. Below I have provided links to a few..

Subject Matter knowledge: McDiarmid (1990)

Beliefs: Pajares (1992)

Learning to teach: Carter (1990)

2000s onwards – research has mainly focused on subject specific teacher cognition, with language/grammar seeming to be most represented (see Simon Borg Website for an up to date bibliography on language related research)


Teacher cognition research wasn’t without its criticisms:

Pajares (1992) noted that the term belief was a ‘messy’ concept, that has been defined in many ways. Having looked further into the definition of concepts within the field, it appears that this rings true over other concepts in the area. Table 1.1 in Borg’s book Teacher cognition and language illustates this, showing various definition from papers all describing the same thing.


I think I became confused when researching this topic: firstly, by the amount of variation in language used to describe similar concepts and, secondly, by the thought of What do we want from this research? Is the goal to discover effective teaching? or are we just interested in simply obtaining knowledge about the cognitions involved in teaching? I believe that before we can discover effective teaching we need to have a deep knowledge of teacher cognition.

In terms of the language used, I do accept that there will be variation but I feel that the key terms need to be clearly identified in order aid comparisons between research in the area.

The Future

Teacher cognition is a vital area of research that is still developing (and still needs to).

I think the main question that arose from my research into this topic is how can we use the knowledge obtained over the past 40 years in education/to our advantage when planning curriculums?

Any thoughts?

References for the papers I could not link:

Clark, C. M., and Peterson, P. L. (1986). Teachers’ thought processes. In M. C. Wittrock (ed), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp. 255-96)

Shulman (1986). Paradigms and research programmes in the study of  teaching: A contemporary perspective. In M. C. Wittrock (ed), Handbook of Research on Teaching (pp. 3-36)

  1. […] previous blogs I have talked about Teacher Cognition, the concept that individual self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge about teaching changes […]

  2. […] In last years module I stumbled across the field of teacher cognition.It is an area interested in understanding what teachers think, know and believe. (Previous blogs: 1 and 2) […]

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