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How Do I Improve My Subject Knowledge as a Teacher?

27 Mar 2020

In a poll on our Twitter account, we asked what CPD teachers most wanted during the School Closures, and 42.3% of teachers wanted Subject Knowledge.

OneStep CPD doesn’t offer subject-specific CPD - we are all about upskilling classroom practice. However, as a team full of ex-teachers, here are our advice to improve your subject knowledge.

Why do teachers need subject knowledge?

This may sound like an obvious answer, but if you don’t have detailed subject knowledge you will not be able to deliver valuable instruction to pupils.

Rosenshine also found that the most effective Maths teachers spent 23 minutes of a 40-minute lesson lecturing, demonstrating and going through examples. The least effective spent only 11 minutes doing this (reference can be found here).

In essence, if you don’t have good subject knowledge you will be a less effective teacher than someone with good subject knowledge. Being “one page ahead” is not enough.

How do I identify my gaps?

I was teaching History during the shift to 9-1 GCSEs and I found myself teaching two topics I had never taught before: the American West and the Norman Conquest. I taught Year 7s the Battle of Hastings but this was definitely not GCSE standard.

How did I approach upskilling myself?

  • I got the new curriculum and RAG rated myself - what did I already know enough about to lecture my students, what did I need to brush up on, and what had I never heard of. (For example, I was definitely green on what buffalo could be used for, and I was definitely red on the early migration to the plains.)
  • After this I read the textbook on the red bits so I could move up to amber, but still focussed on trying to get to green by supplementing this with 'extension' knowledge. What would make me more confident in explaining this to students and answering their questions?

How do I improve my gaps?

  • Join a subject association or subject-specific websites and talk to other teachers who are experts in particular areas:
  • FutureLearn has lots of online courses, some of them free. 
  • YouTube is your friend. There are so many lectures, explanations, 101s and talks on every subject under the sun. Check the source of the video, however. Only trust information in videos from a valid source. Whether this is a video on fractions, mnemonics for certain difficult words, or an “A*” or “Level 9” explanation on a particular curriculum topic.
  • Read books, listen to podcasts, or watch documentaries/films recommended by other teachers.
  • Apps - Duolingo is great for anyone needing to brush up on languages.
  • Twitter is great to get links to other subject specific things, from “GeogFlix” to 
  • When you are watching, listening, make a crib sheet of facts you want to remember. Like pupils, you can’t take everything in. So make a knowledge organiser for yourself, highlighting the key facts you want your pupils to know to extend their knowledge. Share this with students to show your growth mindset and that we aren’t the fountains of all knowledge but we definitely aspire to be.

My Recommendations for History

As a previous History teacher (and still History geek) I was keen to upskill my knowledge of any historical topic I was teaching or took an interest in. Here is what helped me:

Twitter

  • Set up a Twitter account and ask people for their advice.

Podcasts

Videos

  • History Flix” - this is not an actual streaming service, but a collection of recommended documentaries and films from History teachers. Type in “History Flix” on Twitter to see more.
  • Anything with Dan Snow.

Subject Organisations

Books

  • Google what books other teachers have read when doing your topic. For American West, I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee but I found this through just googling “books to read when teaching American West”.

Comments

OneStep CPD champions authors, teachers and pedagogists through our strategies, allowing everyone to test ideas and adopt what works. Our blog does the same, providing a platform for anyone with an interest in education to share good practice and great ideas.

All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily OneStep CPD.

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