The interplay between content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge illustrated in this chapter contradicts a commonly held misconception about teaching—that effective teaching consists of a set of general teaching strategies that apply to all content areas. This notion is erroneous, just as is the idea that expertise in a discipline is a general set of problem-solving skills that lack a content knowledge base to support them (see Chapter 2).
The outcomes of new approaches to teaching as reflected in the results of summative assessments are encouraging. Studies of students’ discussions in classrooms indicate that they learn to use the tools of systematic inquiry to think historically, mathematically, and scientifically. How these kinds of teaching strategies reveal themselves on typical standardized tests is another matter. In some cases there is evidence that teaching for understanding can increase scores on standardized measures (e.g., Resnick et al., 1991); in other cases, scores on standardized tests are unaffected, but the students show sizable advantages on assessments that are sensitive to their comprehension and understanding rather than reflecting sheer memorization (e.g., Carpenter et al., 1996; Secules et al., 1997).
It is noteworthy that none of the teachers discussed in this chapter felt that he or she was finished learning. Many discussed their work as involving a lifelong and continuing struggle to understand and improve. What opportunities do teachers have to improve their practice? The next chapter explores teachers’ chances to improve and advance their knowledge in order to function as effective professionals.