Content Knowledge for Teaching: What Makes It Special?

Dec. 21, 2008

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 59, No. 5, 389-407 (2008)

This paper reports the authors' efforts to develop a practice-based theory of content knowledge for teaching built on Shulman's (1986) notion of pedagogical content knowledge. As the concept of pedagogical content knowledge caught on, it was in need of theoretical development, analytic clarification, and empirical testing.
The goal of the study was to examine the nature of professionally oriented subject matter knowledge in mathematics. Therefore, the authors studied actual mathematics teaching and identified mathematical knowledge for teaching based on analyses of the mathematical problems that arise in teaching. In conjunction, measures of mathematical knowledge for teaching were developed.

These lines of research indicate at least two empirically discernable subdomains within pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and students and knowledge of content and teaching). They also indicate an important subdomain of "pure" content knowledge unique to the work of teaching, specialized content knowledge, which is distinct from the common content knowledge needed by teachers and nonteachers alike.
The paper concludes with a discussion of the next steps needed to develop a useful theory of content knowledge for teaching.


Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.


Updated: Jan. 28, 2009