It may be assumed, that subject-specific content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge go hand-in-hand, in that subject-specific content knowledge is a prerequisite for the ability to teach it. For this reason, it’s not only necessary to investigate pedagogical content knowledge, but also subject-specific technical knowledge beforehand. In other words: teachers must first understand what should be taught before studies can examine how it should be taught.
In the study of English, these reflections are first used to analyze how specialized competences can be empirically and reliably gathered. For this purpose, measures used to assess competences of teacher candidates are structured in such a way to also allow the assessment of the development of such competences. The primary focus is reading comprehension, based on the following basic underlying assumptions:
- Reading comprehension is key for all linguistic subjects and thus of vast importance (in comparison to word problems in math)
- In order to understand a text, certain skills are required.
- The complexity of a text and difficulties with its comprehension can be divided into definite sub-aspects.
To begin, we will not focus on the classification of texts, but on individual text features from which sub-skills and facets of reading comprehension can be derived. Examples of such features include ambiguity and irony.
Both ambiguity and irony are present in all forms of linguistic communication. Ambiguity is a phenomenon of language, and is often utilized strategically in writing. In order to recognize ambiguity, a reader must possess a general proficiency in the language and in reading comprehension itself. Irony can be found in the media or commentary; to understand irony requires the ability to recognize attitudes towards and assessments of a certain topic. Additionally, these skills are essential for text comprehension.
Among students, the ability to recognize and understand stylistic devices (such as irony) in certain excerpts of a text was shown to contribute to the understanding of the text in its entirety. Common excerpts from texts written in English – especially novels – went hand in hand with better performance in the comprehension test. Students from bilingual classrooms tended to perform stronger in the test as well.
The study showed that experienced teachers tend to possess considerable background knowledge surrounding the topic, which aided reading comprehension. They also have the ability to name various rhetorical devices (in addition to identifying them) and have a strong ability to reflect upon their comprehension of the text.
Various questions and next steps to the study include:
- How do teachers employ their technical skills in the classroom? What implication do these skills have for the teachers’ ability to teach the applicable content?
- How can the appropriate skills pertaining to teaching subject-specific content be acquired?
The project was first focused on students majoring in English. School-based modeling and subject-specific teaching application will follow in a future phase of the study.