Content vs Pedagogy

moc Jul 03, 2021

Component 1 of the Maintenance of Certification process asks you to write about the ways you have acquired and deepened content and pedagogical knowledge in your NBPTS certificate area (rubric bullet #2) during the renewal period. Oftentimes, terms like content versus pedagogy confuse teachers, but there is a really clear difference (and link) between the two. Let’s unpack them in this blog.

Question #3 in Component 1 of the Maintenance of Certification Process asks: In the context of your PGE, explain how you have acquired and deepened your certificate area–specific content knowledge and/or your pedagogical knowledge and skills to remain current, including use of research and/or use of other professional activities.



First, content knowledge - it refers to the knowledge, subject-matter, content, concepts, information, curriculum, ideas, and principles you teach students each day. It is what students are expected to KNOW and BE ABLE TO DO or LEARN within your classroom. 

Second, pedagogy is “how you go about teaching something” or your overall instructional approach. So, drill-and-practice, problem-based learning, game-based learning, inquiry-based learning, constructivist practices would all be considered pedagogy.  Your pedagogy focuses on helping students acquire the skills to develop ideas (content), in a constructive way. Therefore, pedagogy is also seen as the relationship between learning techniques and classroom culture. In a nutshell, pedagogy is the study of HOW to present different types of content. It requires meaningful classroom interactions between you and your students. 

Pedagogy is “the art of teaching students.”

Content knowledge is generally seen as the WHAT to the pedagogies HOW students will learn. In other words, content knowledge signifies the KNOWLEDGE while pedagogy is the vehicle that develops the SKILLS students use to showcase mastery of the content.

With all of that being said, how can we think of them in an isolated manner? I argue that in reality we don’t separate them while instructing our students, but we do naturally outline them differently while planning for the instruction.  For example, how is a student supposed to be able to learn to write well if they don’t have any content knowledge to write about? Even if we taught them every strategy and technique for the development of paragraphs, sentence structure, organization, etc… They must begin with the ideas of WHAT they know and can write about.  

You are in this position right now.  Through the Maintenance of Certification process you must first use the IDEAS and UNDERSTANDINGS you have developed over time to then write a clear, concise and convincing portfolio meeting the score rubric for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Content cannot matter more than anything else. In fact, if a teacher ends up with sophisticated levels of knowledge and simplistic instructional methods (pedagogy), the “cart” would then be more important than the proverbial “horse.” Pedagogy can improve the quality of your teaching and the way (and the depth at which) students learn if you take the time to create cooperative learning environments that invite complex learning processes like analysis, evaluation, and creation. Students will be supported in gaining a deeper understanding of subject matter while you help them apply their knowledge to their own personal experiences outside the classroom.

What we teach (content) and how we teach (pedagogy) are intricately dependent on one another and a teacher’s development of both are crucial to the continued impact he/she has on students in the classroom. 

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