Tinkering with the The TPACK Framework – Thinking Skills Knowledge

15 May


TPACK (Technological Pedagogical And Content Knowledge) represents an attempt to provide a framework for understanding the domains of teacher knowledge, and integration of technology within teaching practice. The model builds on Shulman’s work on Pedagogical Content knowledge. The TPACK framework has been theorized by Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra and built on by others. It currently represents a much cited and popular schema for assessing teacher competencies required in the 21st Century.

Very briefly it describes three distinct domains of knowledge which teachers need to possess. Firstly there is the subject content knowledge (CK). In order to teach Mathematics effectively, a Maths teacher needs to understand the discipline of Mathematics, its central concerns and ways of thinking. A hundred years ago this was the central concern when licensing teachers. To become a teacher, subject knowledge was pretty much all you needed.

Secondly there is Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) – knowledge of learning theories and teaching methods. Current teacher education programmes stress this domain, often at the expense of subject content. Some pedagogical knowledge is based on current learning theories and research into teaching practices, but much of what a teacher knows can be condensed into short principles which teachers draw upon in the classroom, and much is drawn from experience of what works for that teacher for certain students and is highly contextual and idiosyncratic. A teacher may draw on the principle of wait time, for example. The longer you wait after asking a question before accepting an answer, the more students will be forced into formulating a response of their own. Teachers utilize these kinds of insights in their practice, seldom referencing the research or theoretical positions behind them – it’s all a little bit like a pick-n-mix. Procedures like Think-Pair-Share or fish-bowl exercises all fall into this category.

At the intersection of these two domains lies Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) or knowledge of how to teach the central concepts and skills of Mathematics, for example, which might be very different from the pedagogical content knowledge of an English teacher. How concepts may be sequenced to best aid comprehension of algebra falls into this category. PCK is a complex and messy domain.

Thirdly lies Technological Knowledge (TK) or knowledge of analogue and digital technologies. The advent of computer technologies, and the affordances for education which were quickly perceived has led to an explosion of expectation that teachers will integrate ICTs into their classrooms. This expectation has often not been met. In order to introduce new digital technologies into the classroom requires knowledge of these technologies, and for many teachers this has proved a bridge too far. Most teachers have, however, slowly started to adopt new technologies to some extent or the other.

At the intersections with Pedagogical knowledge lies Technological Pedagogical knowledge (TPK) – how to use technology to teach, and at the intersection with Content Knowledge lies Technological Content Knowledge ((TCK), or how technology applies to particular content independently of how it is taught. A microscope in Biology springs to mind as an example. Right in the centre of this framework of course is the central integration of Technical Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) or how to use technology to teach a subject discipline effectively – how one might use a microscope or virtual microscope software program to teach Biology.

All well and good, but there is another domain of knowledge which has been growing in importance, and that is the field of Thinking Skills – Thinking Skills Knowledge (TSK). Increasingly teachers are concerned not just with teaching their subject content, or how to teach it, or even how to teach it with technology, but with teaching students how to think. Increasingly teachers are using Habits Of Mind, de Bono’s Thinking Hats, the CoRT skills, or David Hyerle’s Thinking Maps to develop thinking skills in their students. This forms a domain of knowledge in its own right, and suggests that we need to tinker with the TPACK framework to include this concern. I have mentioned only a few of the approaches within Thinking Skills and Cognitive Education – there are many others.

Does Thinking Skills form a domain separate from Pedagogical Concerns? In other words, do we need to add another circle to the diagrammatic representation of the framework? Does TPACK need to become TPTACK where the second T stands for Thinking Skills Knowledge? Or can we add this new Thinking Skills Knowledge to Pedagogical Knowledge? Is Cognitive Education just an over-arching pedagogical concern? Can we simply see this new body of knowledge as an extension of a teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge, Pedagogical & Cognitive Knowledge?

I have to say that the thought of devising a set of four intersecting domains is quite daunting in itself, as is the thought of all the new acronyms it throws up, and what it does to the handy TPACK acronym is unspeakable, but we should not be swayed by petty concerns such as these. If Thinking Skills presents itself as a discrete domain of teacher knowledge, we will need to bite this bullet.

My initial thought is that certainly as I experience the new focus on Cognitive Education as a teacher, it presents itself as a separate domain of knowledge. We have had to learn a new vocabulary and how we integrate this concern into our teaching practice has been one of infusing new procedures and concerns into our practice. Teachers find this every bit as hard as integrating Technology into their lessons.

While it has implications for pedagogy, it is not just one amongst many pedagogical approaches. It is not reducible to particular teaching methods or procedures, and it does not depend on particular learning theories. Nor is it separate content. It is not a discrete subject in the curriculum, and is not bound to particular disciplines. All teachers are encouraged to teach Thinking Skills, and while a Biology teacher may focus on teaching students how to think like a Biologist, they draw on a discourse and knowledge which is cross-curricular. Thinking Skills go beyond education too, and so is logically not reducible to pedagogy. De Bono, for example is used extensively in the business world for running meetings and solving problems. The laws of logic and how arguments are constructed, the use of graphic organizers, procedures to throw up new ideas, all these have implications and use beyond the walls of the schoolroom.

core competenciesOn the face of it TPACK needs a revision to include the growing focus of teachers on Cognitive Education and Thinking Skills.

To my mind it makes sense to speak of knowing how (PK) to teach some content (CK) critically (TSK) to someone using technology (TK). There is a heuristic value too. If adding Technological Knowledge as a domain forces teachers to think about how they integrate technology into their classes, the addition of Thinking Skills as a domain sets a clear expectation that all teachers will teach thinking, and this is a good thing!


7 responses to “Tinkering with the The TPACK Framework – Thinking Skills Knowledge

  1. Antoinette

    May 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I understand. I do believe that it is critical to incorporate Thinking skills in every aspect of teaching and learning but how do you suppose (propose) they can be added TPACK? 🙂


  2. Antoinette

    May 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Dorian my question is: “To my mind it makes sense to speak of knowing how (PK) to teach some content (CK) critically (TSK) to someone using technology (TK)”. In knowing how (PK)- are we not then applying Thinking skills by integrating affordances such as Collaborative tools, Chat rooms etc?

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    Dorian Love Dorian Love


    • Dorian Love

      May 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      I would see this as part of the overlap between Pedagogy, Technology and Thinking Skills (PTTK) ?

      As I say I am rather tentative about this idea. It seems to me the logical next step in terms of what is happening in schools at the moment.



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