Understanding Teachers' Knowledge: A Case Study in Brazil

By Moreira, Herivelto | International Journal of Education, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Understanding Teachers' Knowledge: A Case Study in Brazil


Moreira, Herivelto, International Journal of Education


Abstract

The main objective of this exploratory study was to verify how high school teachers acquire and use knowledge in the classroom context. The methodological approach was qualitative. The techniques used to collect data were semi-structured individual interview and participant observation. The participants of the study were three high school teachers from a public school at Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. Findings showed that although teachers emphasize the importance of their professional development, they face two serious problems related to the acquisition of knowledge. The first is related to financial conditions. They affirm that the courses are very expensive and their salaries are very low. The other is directly related to the nature of the teacherswork itself and the school organization. The school is not structured to provide a continuing education based on teachers' interests and needs. The pedagogical content knowledge is very important for them, but they use a very traditional conception of teaching and learning, that is; transfer of information through lectures, trying to teach students the most important concepts of their subject matter.

Keywords: High school teachers, Pedagogical content knowledge, Personal practical knowledge, Subject content knowledge, Qualitative research methodology

1. Introduction

The research on teachers' knowledge in Brazil became an important area, in the extent that it investigates which is the professional knowledge (knowledge, competences, abilities, etc.) that teachers need to develop the teaching/learning process. However, there is a shortage of empirical studies in Brazil that allow a better understanding of how teachers acquire and use knowledge in classroom. In this sense, it is necessary to conduct more research in this area in order to understand the process by which teachers integrate knowledge of different sources in their conceptual model that guides their practical actions.

What kinds of knowledge do teachers need to have in order to facilitate the teaching/learning process? What teachers need to know about the subject matter they teach? What kinds of experience do teachers need to have in order to develop these kinds of knowledge? Several versions of these questions have long interested practitioners, policymakers, and researchers alike.

This study is part of a project which started in 2003 sponsored by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) (Note 1), on the acquisition and use of teachers' professional knowledge in the public high schools in Curitiba, Paraná - Brazil. Besides largely corroborating the results obtained in previous studies (see Moreira, 2006a, 2006b), it advances other important issues in this area of research. Therefore, the main objective of the present study is to verify how high school teachers acquire and use knowledge in the classroom context.

2. The nature of teachers' work and knowledge

Teachers' work is complex and composed of several activities not very visible socially. According to Vasconcelos (2002, p.310), the experience constitutes the expression of professional learning and, through the daily contact with students and colleagues, teachers acquire professional competences that are translated into teacher's profile.

In Tardif's opinion (2002, p.123-125), to teach is to pursue ends, purposes, that is; to use certain means to reach certain purposes. Teachers work with human beings in schools and the objectives of teaching are ambiguous, general and ambitious, heterogeneous and in long term.

The nature of the object of teachers' work is the human being, the individual and the social. This human being is active and capable of offering resistance, it has an indetermination portion and self-determination (freedom), it is complex (cannot be analyzed nor can be reduced to its functional components). The nature and the typical components of the teachers' relationship with the object are multidimensional, professional, personal, juridical, emotional and normative. …

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