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Sliwa, Stephen G. “Practicing History: A Case Study of the Professional Knowledge Base of a Novice History Teacher.” M.A. Thesis, Queen’s University, 2003.


The rationale for this study is grounded in discovering how teachers expand their knowledge base for teaching beyond what they establish during their pre-service education at a Faculty of Education. This study has three purposes: to discover the types of knowledge that a novice history teacher developed for teaching; to develop an understanding of the factors that influenced the development of a novice teacher’s professional knowledge base; and to explore effective practices for teaching history at a secondary school level.

This study used qualitative research methodology to gather data about how one novice teacher approached her instructional duties and what influenced her thinking about instruction. The participant in the study was Rayleen, a 25-year-old teacher who had graduated four months earlier from a teacher education program. Data were collected over a two-year period through the use of techniques that are associated with qualitative research: observation, in-depth interviews with the informant and an analysis of artifacts including lesson plans and the Teacher’s Day Book/Planner. During this time Rayleen was interviewed three times in Year One and three times in Year Two. The first was a formal, structured interview that sought to gather background information concerning personal experience and lesson planning. The second interview followed a classroom observation session to further the researcher’s understanding of the observation. The third interview focused on materials developed by Rayleen (such as a concept map, a student performance task designed by the informant or a particular lesson plan).

This study found that Rayleen’s professional knowledge base reflected many components of the professional knowledge base outlined by Shulman (1987) in his research: subject matter knowledge, knowledge of the curriculum, general pedagogical knowledge, knowledge of learners and their characteristics and knowledge that resembled aspects of what Shulman termed pedagogical content knowledge. She demonstrated the depth of her subject-matter knowledge in both Year One and Year Two by attending to the key facts relating to diverse events in Canadian history. By the mid-point of her second year of teaching, Rayleen had extended the application of her subject matter knowledge by teaching historical inquiry skills to her students, such as chronology and causation. By the end of her second year it was also found that she was developing a deeper understanding that the provincial history curriculum was composed of both content and skills-development components. This study also found that Rayleen’s intended purpose behind several classrooms activities was simply to engage students in the subject matter or to develop and awareness about an event, to “feel history” rather than to develop a deeper understanding of the content of concepts or to build on prior knowledge.

This study includes a discussion of: the literature regarding knowledge development and knowledge schemas relevant to the teaching of history; categories of teacher knowledge as defined by Shulman (1987); a comparison of Rayleen’s beliefs, thoughts, and judgments in Year One and Year Two; and defining an effective practice for teaching history.

This study highlighted the impact that mentoring relationships and collaborative inquiry has on a new member of the teaching profession. Additional study might focus on the impact that professional collaboration has on the growth and development of teacher knowledge. New research initiatives might also consider defining the role of the academic subject departments within secondary schools in supporting the development of new teachers or in fostering support of subject-specific teaching. This type of research would further understanding of factors that influence how teachers approach their instructional role or view effective teaching in relation to their subject or grade-level.

Mary Chaktsiris