Self-regulation and pedagogical content knowledge

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Teaching is a complex activity, and research that sheds light on the nature of this complexity is valuable in informing initial teacher training and subsequent professional development. In a recent study published in Chemistry Education Research and Practice, Esen Uzuntiryaki-Kondakci and colleagues approached teaching complexity by probing the relationship between trainee teachers’ self-regulation (SR) and their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).

Self-regulation relates to the direction of thoughts, feelings and actions to achieve set goals, and the ability to engage in SR may be diagnostic of teacher effectiveness. However, the dynamic nature of teaching and the requirement to continually respond to the needs of students make it difficult for teachers to be self-regulated.

Pedagogical content knowledge can also be used to define effective instruction, and may be considered as ‘the knowledge that makes the difference between a chemist and a chemistry teacher.’ Teachers with developed PCK use strategies to make content more understandable, take learners’ difficulties into account and have good knowledge of the curriculum.

The research study involved five trainee teachers and considered their approaches to teaching gas laws. Lesson planning was captured using a tool for identifying PCK (Content Representation, or CoRe), and taught lessons were recorded. Analysis of the CoRes and the lesson recordings, followed by in-depth interviews, provided insight into the roles played by PCK and SR in determining different aspects of the trainees’ approaches to teaching. The authors propose an integrated PCK-teacher SR model that will be of interest to those involved in teacher training/development.

In short, the researchers found evidence that PCK is a factor that influences self-regulation, although the strength of the relationship may have been limited by the fact that the study involved trainees who lacked the experience required to fully utilise the principles of SR and PCK in their teaching. The authors suggest insufficient PCK prevented the trainees from using SR strategies during the planning, delivery and reflective phases, resulting in negative impacts on their teaching and their own development. In response, they suggest teacher education programmes should explicitly promote the development of PCK and SR, helping to prevent the adoption of ineffective strategies, while further work with experienced teachers will clarify the nature of interactions between the two constructs.