The Role of Subject Knowledge in Primary Prospective Teachers’ Approaches to Teaching the Topic of Area

Jun. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Volume 15, No.3, June 2012, p. 187-206
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines how prospective teachers’ subject knowledge influences their approach to teaching the topic of area.

The participants were four primary prospective teachers, who had completed the taught university-based element of a 1-year post graduate certificate in education (PGCE) course and they were about to start their final teaching practice.
They had attended workshop seminars on the teaching of primary mathematics.
Clinical interviews were carried out with each of the prospective teachers to reveal underlying processes in their understanding.


The strengths and limitations of the participants' subject knowledge are examined, in relation to their selection of teaching activities.
The results suggest connections between these strengths and limitations, in relation to espoused teaching activities and pedagogical orientations.
Two of the prospective teachers, Simon and Hannah, appeared to take care in ensuring that the children would have the opportunity to carry out the measurements and count the squares on the grid.
In order to do this, the prospective teachers attempted to provide clear explanations, based on their own knowledge of the topic, to help children know the mathematics.
Hannah was less certain of her knowledge regarding a dynamic view of area and non-conservation between area and perimeter.
She was concerned that the children did not confuse area and perimeter.

On the other hand, Charlotte demonstrated more limited subject knowledge, but appeared to take an approach based on problem solving and enquiry.
Charlotte was the least confident prospective teacher, and her subject knowledge suggested limitations in her use of units and her definition of area.
However, Charlotte intended that children would find a way of measuring area using different units to support their own discovery of the concept.
Hence, she would have had further exposure to teaching approaches that were likely to suggest an enquiry-based approach.
In contrast, Alan felt confident about his subject knowledge in planning to teach the topic.
In this regard, he may not have had the same empathy with the children as learners.
He did not feel the need to research how to teach the topic, so would not have been exposed to other teaching approaches in the same way.

The three prospective teachers, who were confident in their mathematics, may have felt that it was sufficient for them to give clear explanations in relation to what they knew.
The prospective teacher, who lacked confidence in her mathematics, may not have seen it as important to explain her knowledge.
Although it has been possible to examine the intertwining and identify some connections between strengths and limitations in subject knowledge and espoused teaching, the study questions whether other factors are at play here, such as the exposure to pedagogical approaches that would support further knowledge of children as learners.

Updated: Aug. 19, 2015