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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Literacy


Professional responsibility to literacy


Professional responsibility to be current

One of the findings from the UKLA project (see sub-topic ‘5.3: Every teacher a reader: building reading communities’) was that teachers became more aware of their professional responsibility to develop and sustain subject knowledge. A way of considering this point is to divide subject knowledge into two areas.

Technical language of literacy Pedagogy of teaching literacy
For example, the knowledge and understanding associated with:
  • systematic synthetic phonics
  • grammar
  • spelling and punctuation conventions
  • text level features, including text types
  • poetic terms
  • genre
  • the language of film
  • visual and multi-modal literacy.
For example, the current recommended pedagogy for teaching:

  • speaking and listening
  • collaborative group work
  •  decoding text
  • comprehension
  • shared reading
  • guided reading
  • scaffolded to independent reading
  • shared writing
  • talk for writing
  • extended writing.

One long-standing debate between subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge has been the idea of understanding something at a personal level and enabling others to reach a similar understanding. Shulman (1986) describes it as:

. . . the ways of representing the subject which makes it comprehensible to others.

Shulman, L. (1986) 'Those who understand: knowledge growth in teaching'. Educational Researcher 15(2) (pp. 4–14)

In summary, it is the ability to transform your own subject knowledge into something that engages the learner and allows effective teaching and learning to take place.

Activity 5.8

Critically read this article (external link) about teaching. The context is mathematics but the skills are transferrable.

How do the stages of the quartet relate to your own teaching? Are there times where you can be contingent and other times where this is not the case? Can you identify any gaps in your own subject knowledge?

As an individual or as a staff team, you may like to consider a process of auditing staff subject knowledge relating to teaching literacy. This can help inform your continuing professional development (CPD) programme, in-house training and setting personal targets.

This example of a staff audit can easily be adapted to suit your own learning environment.

Pedagogical knowledge

One problem with pedagogical knowledge is that in a fast-paced, ever-changing classroom, new initiatives can often be introduced without giving due attention to the evidence which underpins the approach. This means that the principles of teaching a certain aspect of literacy can be become somewhat detached from the original recommendations. For example, consider this activity about guided reading. The full text can be found in this Guided Reading Approach document (external link).

Activity 5.9

Consider the quotes below on the teaching of guided reading.

The reading is done silently (or "quietly, to yourself" if the student is an emergent reader). Discussion of the text before, after, and sometimes during the reading is central to the approach because the fundamental purpose is to enhance each student's understanding of what they are reading.

Biddulph, J. (2002) The Guided Reading Approach, Learning Media Ltd: NZ.

Individual pupils read the text to themselves and out loud to the teacher and the group using strategies they know. The teacher reinforces and extends these strategies, helping pupils to understand the text fully.

A strategy and guidance for inspecting literacy for pupils aged 3 to 18 years, Estyn

Does this match your experience in the classroom? Do the learners read quietly to themselves until the teacher or assistant 'drops-in' on their reading or do they read aloud in a round-robin approach? Has the theory which underpinned guided reading become diluted in any way?

There are numerous websites, books, journals and articles on the importance of teachers' subject knowledge and the ability to transform that knowledge into meaningful learning experiences in the classroom.

For texts that are more related to pedagogical knowledge and delivering best practice, you may like to refer to:


In this sub-topic you have begun to consider the relationship between personal subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge and the need to remain current in both aspects. You have also looked at how classroom practice can potentially become distanced from the original research and you have begun to develop an awareness of how this impacts on learning and teaching.

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