Encyclopedia of Teacher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Pedagogical Knowledge in Teacher Education

  • Johannes KönigEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_174-1


When defining pedagogical knowledge as teacher professional knowledge that is valid across different school subjects (such as mathematics, science, or languages), the term “general pedagogical knowledge” (GPK) is used in order to demarcate it from “pedagogical content knowledge” (PCK), i.e., subject-specific pedagogical knowledge that is valid for a certain subject only (Shulman 1987). In the present entry, we use “pedagogical knowledge” as a synonym for “general pedagogical knowledge.” For further terms that refer to GPK and that are used in the literature (e.g., pedagogical-psychological knowledge) see, for more details, the international review of studies conducted for the OECD by König (2014).


Imagine a classroom situation in which a student is required to apply a grammar rule that he has just learned. In order to apply the rule correctly, the student needs the teacher to help him by reminding him what to do. Regarding the teacher in this situation, the challenges she has to face somehow appear to involve her subject-specific knowledge (e.g., the teacher’s linguistic knowledge about grammar) and her subject-specific pedagogical knowledge (e.g., the teacher’s knowledge about instructing the student how to apply the grammar rule). In addition to that, the teacher might also know that in this particular situation the student is working on his zone of proximal development according to Lev Semionovich Vygotsky. That means the situation might also address the teacher’s knowledge base that is relatively independent from her subject-specific knowledge, but that can be described as knowledge relevant for professional situations, in which the teacher is required to act as a knowledgeable and reflective pedagogue.

This entry will look at such knowledge more closely and define it as “pedagogical knowledge.” As such, pedagogical knowledge mainly appears as part of teacher professional knowledge and can be framed by models of teacher professional competence. Since in many countries worldwide teachers are required to acquire deliberately such knowledge in formal learning opportunities provided by teacher education, this entry also asks which role pedagogical knowledge plays in the context of teacher education.

Pedagogical Knowledge as Part of a Teacher Professional Knowledge Base

Broad agreement exist that teachers need a professional knowledge base in order to master central tasks of their profession successfully. In particular, research on teacher expertise conducted as early as in the 1980s and 1990s led to the assumption that professional teacher knowledge is a significant factor for effective teaching and thus promoting student attainment (e.g., Bromme 2001; Stigler and Miller 2018).

Scholars differentiate teacher knowledge into categories. The most well-known and frequently cited taxonomy of teacher knowledge was developed by Shulman (1987). Following his influential work, many researchers today identify and distinguish three domains of teacher knowledge: content knowledge (CK), pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), and general pedagogical knowledge (GPK).

CK is the knowledge of the specific subject and related to the content teachers are required to teach. CK is shaped by academic disciplines underlying the subject. A secondary mathematics teacher, for example, should be familiar with mathematical content knowledge comprising areas such as number, geometry, algebra, and data. A language teacher may be knowledgeable of literature and linguistics, but also historical and cultural knowledge closely related to the particular language. Regarding foreign language teaching, it still remains an open question whether teacher’s language proficiency is actually part of CK or belongs to a different category of teacher cognition.

PCK includes subject-specific knowledge for the purpose of teaching. According to Shulman (1987, p. 8) it serves as the “category most likely to distinguish the understanding of the content specialist from that of the pedagogue.” PCK may comprise teacher knowledge of a school subject’s curriculum and the knowledge of strategies and multiple representations that are relevant for teaching a particular subject. Moreover, teachers need subject-specific knowledge of learners, for example, about particular misconceptions learners of mathematic may have when they access a new topic or procedure. Imagine, for example, the typical situation in a mathematics classroom when a student adds the numerators and denominators of two fractions incorrectly (\( \frac{1}{2}+\frac{1}{2}=\frac{2}{4} \)) and then is told by the teacher to add only the numerators in case denominators are not different (\( \frac{1}{2}+\frac{1}{2}=\frac{2}{2} \)).

In contrast to CK and PCK that are defined as subject-specific categories of teacher knowledge, broad agreement exists that there is more general teacher knowledge underlying the subject-specific issues of the teacher professional knowledge base. For example, while the knowledge a mathematics teacher has about the misconception of common student error in learning how to add fractions is significant for teaching mathematics, such subject-specific pedagogical knowledge is not needed at all when teaching English as a foreign language. Instead, teacher knowledge about misconceptions in the area of how the first language has interference in the acquisition of English as a foreign language (EFL) may be very important. Very often, foreign language learners tend to transfer forms and meaning of their mother tongue to the foreign language, so that an EFL teacher is required to be familiar with typical, subject-specific student errors, which, in turn, are usually irrelevant in the mathematics classroom. However, the way a teacher may deal with such misconceptions, for example, how such misconceptions can be used for a fruitful teacher-student interaction where the teacher helps the student working on his or her zone of proximal development (see example in the introduction), is related to a more general level of the teacher’s professional knowledge base.

GPK is therefore the knowledge which is not subject-matter related, but assumed to be valid across school subjects. According to Shulman (1987, p. 8), GPK involves “those broad principles and strategies of classroom management and organization that appear to transcend subject matter” as well as knowledge about learners and learning, assessment, and educational contexts and purposes. That means pedagogical knowledge appears to be relevant in combination with subject-specific knowledge, but it is also significant even without its direct link to subject-specific issues, since it comprises knowledge of pedagogical concepts, principles and techniques that are not necessarily bound by topic or subject matter. A good example is classroom management. Although classroom management can be regarded as a basic requirement for subject-specific teaching, its challenges for teacher behavior, categories for describing teacher-student interaction, and purposes can be seen as more universal for all subjects in many respects.

Disciplinary and Professional Orientation Towards Pedagogical Knowledge

Pedagogical knowledge as a scientific term still needs clarification. Besides the phenomenological approaches and more or less specific descriptions provided in the literature (e.g., Shulman 1987; König 2014), a single and clear-cut theory of teacher pedagogical knowledge does not seem to exist in the literature. However, at least two orientations can be recognized that scholars have been using to proliferate important relevant scientific knowledge about teacher pedagogical knowledge, which may signal the directions also for future theoretical development in the area of pedagogical knowledge.

The first orientation relates to general pedagogy or educational studies that form a core component of many teacher education programs and systems worldwide. As such, this orientation highlights the disciplinary character of general pedagogy institutionalized at universities or teacher training institutions. It suggests an understanding that reflects pedagogical knowledge of preservice teachers as being closely aligned to a corresponding curriculum, standards, or a set of competencies that preservice teachers are expected to acquire. However, a term like general pedagogy is not necessarily be used in all countries or at least not in the same way. In the USA, for example, two broad labels “educational foundations” and “teaching methods” are needed to cover what may be labeled as “general pedagogy” in another country. In yet another country, such as Germany, the theoretical underpinnings of education may be provided by educational psychology, sociology of education or history of education. The opportunities to learn implemented in a core component of teacher education related to general pedagogy or educational studies may be very diverse, too, not only within one country, e.g., in the USA, but also across countries. The shape of general pedagogy is strongly influenced by cultural perspectives on the objectives of schooling and on the role of teachers. However, there might be some communality due to the nature of teaching: In many countries worldwide, teachers are expected to get prepared in general pedagogy coursework for core challenges of teaching they have to master when entering the profession.

The second strand is related to the discussion of teacher competence and teacher performance and not necessarily linked to teacher education, although of course it can not be completely separated from teacher training. The major focus is on the contribution of a professional teacher’s pedagogical knowledge on his or her performance in class, what influences exist on the provision of high quality opportunities to learn to his or her students and the subsequent learning progress of the students. This strand has a particular focus on challenges of teaching such as classroom management, but may even go beyond that and therefore be related to school improvement, teacher wellbeing or professional development. The discourse is related to school effectiveness research and research on instructional quality and which role the professional teacher and his or her pedagogical knowledge play in the school context of processes of learning and instruction.

Whereas the first orientation is disciplinary and aligned to the curriculum of teacher education, the second one tends towards the professional demands posed on teachers. Presumably, the two orientations have intersections, but also discrepancies. For example, a teacher is expected to acquire pedagogical knowledge during teacher education coursework which he or she afterwards is required to apply during teaching in the classroom. However, not every pedagogical concept can be directly applied by teachers and there are professional demands posed on teachers only loosely related to the academic discourse of general pedagogy.

Classification of Content in Pedagogical Knowledge

There are different approaches to determine and classify the content of pedagogical knowledge. Approaches may use teacher education program documents outlining the intended curriculum, descriptions of standards, and competences preservice teachers are expected to acquire. A literature review revealed that two tasks of teachers can be regarded as core tasks in almost all countries: instruction and classroom management (König et al. 2011). Generic theories and methods of instruction and learning as well as of classroom management can therefore be defined as essential parts of pedagogical knowledge. Less agreement exists as to what extent and what kind of knowledge about counselling and nurturing students’ social and moral development or knowledge about school management should be included in the area of general pedagogy. This might also be due to a possible lack of consensus of the aims of education.

Since theoretical approaches are still fairly limited, empirical studies that aim at measuring pedagogical knowledge offer important insights into the structure of content and how pedagogical content is represented among preservice of in-service teachers. A systematic review recently conducted by the OECD (König 2014) has shown that a common aim across current research studies investigating teachers’ pedagogical knowledge empirically is to account for content related to three broader fields: knowledge of instructional process, student learning, and assessment (Fig. 1). By contrast, nonteaching tasks seem to be heterogeneous leaving open the question of how to identify consensus about such broader fields open to future research.
Fig. 1

Areas and content of teacher pedagogical knowledge

Classification of Cognitive Processes

Apart from a differentiation of content, scholars have suggested pedagogical knowledge comprises different cognitive processes or different types of knowledge. The state of research is not very homogeneous, though. A basic differentiation of teacher knowledge distinguishes between declarative knowledge (“knowing that…”) and procedural knowledge (“knowing how…”), both of which contributes to the expert teacher’s performance in the classroom (e.g., Bromme 2001; Stigler and Miller 2018). Standardized tests measuring the pedagogical knowledge of teachers refer to cognitive processes as suggested by Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (e.g., König et al. 2011). More recently, conceptualizations emphasizing the situation-specific nature of pedagogical knowledge and skills have been influenced by research on noticing and professional vision (König 2014).

Teacher Pedagogical Knowledge as an Outcome of Teacher Education

First evidence that pedagogical knowledge plays a role in teacher education has been provided by expert-novice comparisons in the 1980s and 1990s showing that student teachers or even teacher candidates not only need to accumulate knowledge in order to develop expertise in teaching. More importantly, they are required to structure their knowledge and learn to recall it, bring it into coherent understandings and develop cognitive schemes in order to elicit effectively their knowledge in relevant teaching situations. It takes several years (up to ten) to develop profound expertise in teaching.

During the last decade, several research groups have started to develop test instruments measuring teacher pedagogical knowledge and skills in a standardized way as an outcome of teacher education (see, for more details, König 2014). The idea is to directly test teacher knowledge rather than using self-reports or certification documents in order to evaluate the effectiveness of teacher education programs more precisely. One of the arguments is that decisions that are made in the context of reforms of teacher education should be built on evidence-based ground (e.g., König et al. 2011). Looking at initial teacher education programs and their variation across institutions, regions, and countries presumably policy makers, institutions, curriculum designers, teacher educators, and preservice teachers are in need of comparative data and of specific evaluative feedback. Beyond the function of evaluative information for educational practice, systematic empirical research using rigorous measures of pedagogical knowledge may significantly contribute towards a theory of pedagogical knowledge in teacher education.

Some of the key findings from empirical studies mentioned in the review by the OECD (König 2014) can be summarized as follows: First, on the level of basic research, findings from examining the nature of pedagogical knowledge show its multidimensionality both towards hypothesized content dimensions and hypothesized cognitive processes or types of knowledge that are intended to be measured. Pedagogical knowledge is more highly correlated with pedagogical content knowledge than with content knowledge. Second, evidence exist that preservice teachers from different teacher education programs and countries actually acquire (general) pedagogical knowledge. Learning opportunities during teacher education such as the type and amount of academic content provided or the practical activities they are required to perform contribute to the gain of pedagogical knowledge among preservice teachers. The level of knowledge reached at the end of teacher education may vary and may be lower than the expectations of the relevant teacher education program’s intended curriculum. Preservice teachers show inter-individual differences in the acquisition of pedagogical knowledge in teacher education. Differential development of pedagogical knowledge among preservice teachers is effected not only by their learning opportunities but also by their individual presuppositions such as grade point average (school-leaving grade), (intrinsic) teaching motivations, gender or experience in giving private lessons. Pedagogical knowledge gain is not limited to initial teacher education but continues with the transition into early career teaching, and this depends on further learning opportunities such as teacher reflection and professional development. The situation-specific nature of pedagogical knowledge in teacher education has also been reflected by innovative measures that are usually evaluated with video-based assessments. A number of training studies shows, for example, the positive effects of learning with video on preservice teachers’ classroom management knowledge and skills.

The Significance of Pedagogical Knowledge for In-Service Teaching

As has been outlined, pedagogical knowledge is considered a core constituent of a teacher’s professional knowledge base. Stepping into this terrain, empirical research has recently started to examine the link between teacher pedagogical knowledge and aspects of instructional quality provided by the teacher to his or her students. Although the number of studies is still limited, evidence exist that pedagogical knowledge affects specific aspects such as effective classroom management and teacher-student relationships. Moreover, in-service teachers seem to benefit from pedagogical knowledge when it comes to teacher well-being and burnout prevention.

Future Directions

The significant increase of empirical research on pedagogical knowledge in teacher education and also in-service teaching opens the perspective for developing a theory on teacher pedagogical knowledge. Future research might further demonstrate and systematize the effectiveness of learning opportunities on changing the teacher knowledge base, in particular with regards to new educational movements such as inclusion or the digital world. In the future, it will be a critical issue to see how pedagogical knowledge might become a lever for influencing innovation such as changing existing professional practice and traditional teaching styles and habits at school that usually are difficult to change.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CologneCologneGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jukka Husu
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TurkuTurkuFinland