Teachers In-Depth Content Knowledge: Definition & Checklist









"Pedagogical content knowledge identifies the distinctive bodies of knowledge for teaching. It represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems or issues are organized, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instruction. Pedagogical content knowledge is the category most likely to distinguish the understanding of the content specialist from that of the pedagogue" (Shulman, 1987, p. 4).

Checklist of Observable Behaviors

___ 1. Comprehension: To teach is to understand.

            ___ Purposes
            ___ Subject-matter structures
            ___ Ideas within and outside the discipline

___ 2. Transformation: Comprehended ideas must be transformed in
           some manner if they are to be taught.  Transformations
          require some combinations or ordering of the following

            ___ Preparation (of the given text material)
            ___ Representation of the ideas in the form of analogies,
            ___ Instructional selections from among an array of teaching
                   methods and models
            ___ Adaptation to the characteristics of the students
            ___ Tailoring the adaptations to the specific students in the

___ 3. Instruction:  The variety of teaching acts includes the following:

            ___ Management
            ___ Presentations
            ___ Interactions
            ___ Group work
            ___ Discipline
            ___ Humor
            ___ Questioning
            ___ Discovery and inquiry instruction

___ 4. Evaluation: This process ensures that the teacher checks for
           understanding and misunderstanding during interactive
           teaching. As a result, the teacher evaluates his or her
           own performance and makes adjustments for experience.

___5. Reflection: This process includes a series of steps, including
          reviewing, reconstructing, reenacting, and critically analyzing
          one’s teaching to improve.

___6. New comprehensions: The expectation is that through acts of
          teaching the teacher achieves a new understanding of purposes,
          subject matter, students, teaching, and self.


            Shulman,  L. ( 1987).  Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform.  Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.



To teach for understanding, a teacher needs to create a few central goals that are significant for both the teacher and the student. These goals need to be clear, stated explicitly, and posted in the classroom. For instance, a fifth grade teacher starts her lesson about friction, mass, and force by reminding her students what they studied last class to help them understand that they will add more information to their prior knowledge. The teacher tells the students that the first unit discussed was on motion and the second unit was on friction. Before introducing them to the third new unit about force, the teacher checks for students' understanding of the previous units. 


The same  fifth grade science teacher explains to her students the relationship between mass, force, and inertia. To demonstrate those concepts, the teacher provides the students with an analogy that transforms the idea into an example the students can understand.  She asks the students to determine if it would take more force to push her or a kindergarten student in a swing. She points out that it is easier to push someone once they are in motion.  The teacher then asks the students who would be easier to stop once they were in motion herself or the kindergarten student?  She relates their answers to the time it takes large trucks to stop; on a highway compared to compact cars.  Because several of the students are school crossing guards, the teacher personalizes her analogy by discussing what they learned in their crossing guard training about the force of different-sized vehicles.


For the same lesson, the teacher uses an instructional method that incorporates group work. The students are engaged in cooperative learning in groups of three, in which each of them has to take care of a physical component of an experiment. For instance, while doing the experiment, one student records the mass, the second one the distance, and the third one the force.  In this way, the teacher assures interaction between students, peer tutoring, and communication, which definitely increases students learning. 


The same teacher uses an ongoing strategy of evaluation and performance assessment. This assessment serves as an instructional tool to help teachers meet students’ needs.  Using the evaluation form, the teacher continually checks students' understanding of the subject matter.

The evaluation form includes a chart divided into two sections to assess problem solving and communication.  The students receive from 0-3 points for their efforts.  Here is how the teacher would assess student skills:


Problem solving



Totally misunderstood information

Explanation is not clear


Understanding of material not yet at appropriate level

Explanations have some clarity


Student understanding of task at appropriate level 

Explanations are mostly clear and logical


Beyond appropriate level of understanding and analyzing the task

Explanations are logical and appropriate


This example shows a student teacher’s inner thoughts and reflections on her experiences as a teacher.

My cooperating teacher has the gift of gab.  It seems that most of the other excellent teachers I have worked with also have this gift.  This gift can be very important in the classroom because it brings learning to the level of the children.  Connecting book facts to real life situations empowers kids and helps build true knowledge.  Stories or anecdotes relating to the topic of study help bridge the gap between school life and outside of school life.  Children begin to see that their daily experiences are important and have connections to what they learn in school.


 At this point in my teaching career, I stay right on track and often avoid branching out using stories related to the subject of study.  I do include further discussion and exploration of all subjects, but I have never been a storyteller.  This is something I suppose I will learn over time. As I have more and more experiences and as I see more and more connections between everyday life and the curriculum I am teaching I hope that I will begin to provide my students with a more personal learning experience through the use of stories which might help them see parallels in their lives and their learning (Naumann, 1997a).

New Comprehension

The following example shows how a teacher acquires new meanings from his teaching experiences to help in his future teaching career.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned is the importance of doing everything one step at a time, slowly.  Luckily, I learned this my first day on the job.  I was trying to help the fourth graders organize their binders according to classroom policy.  I whipped right through my directions and explanations.  The kids just didn’t get it.  It was at this time that I began to realize how the mind of a 9-year-old works so differently from my own 25-year-old mind.


Children can’t remember a list of directions. They must have them written down so they can go back and be able to reread them.  Often if children are told how to do something, they will be unable to complete the task unless they are shown how to do it.


Quickly, I learned that in order for these children to accomplish just about anything, it was necessary to provide them with very detailed instructions and often step-by-step guidance. It was a revelation for me to realize that these kids don’t use their minds to reason things through but rather they wait to be told how to do something.  Their world is very black and white. They often can only see one way of doing things, the right way. (Naumann, 1997b)


            Naumann, K.  (1997a).  Student teaching reflection: Real life is the best teacher of book knowledge [On-line].

            Naumann, K.  (1997b).  Student teaching reflection: They look so grown up but they’re not [On-line].