ITT Subject Lead, Primary Maths
“Where reason gives us least assistance, emotion comes to our rescue and guides us. The astronomer may tell us something about the moon, but so too does the poet. The astronomer’s moon is everybody’s moon; the poet’s is very much his own and not everyone can share it.”
Subject specificity is the cornerstone of eQ training and refers to the distinct characteristics and requirements of each subject area. We recognise that teaching different subjects involves more than just content delivery; it involves understanding the subject’s distinct aims and understanding the way that they search for meaning.
“Each subject is… a product and an account of an ongoing truth quest, whether through empirical testing in science, argumentation in philosophy/history, logic in mathematics or beauty in the arts.” (Counsell, 2018)
Ruth Ashbee (2021) develops the analogy of disciplines as quests and examines the different categories of quests that subjects can be grouped within:
- Descriptive quests: These are subjects where the learner uses facts and distills, interprets, reduces or generalises the information to either confirm or replace accepted theory. Science, maths and some aspects of geography, history and RE form knowledge in this way.
- Interpretive quests: These are subjects where there is no single truth for example RE, history, creative literature, art and some aspects of geography. Developments in the subject come from discussion and it is accepted that there is diversity of thought.
- Expressive quests: Art, music, dance, literature, sport and parts of design fit this quest. They are all subjects where approval of the work is sought not just through the subject communities but to members of the public e.g. through art galleries, football matches, concerts etc.
- Solving-Producing quests: In these subjects we seek to find solutions to problems – design, engineering, food, languages and computing. Approval comes in the form of demand for a successful product.
Given that each of the subjects have a different way of producing knowledge it is important that our trainees understand this so that when they are teaching the subjects they know what it is to be a historian…scientist… artist etc. This knowledge is broken down into two different components: substantive and disciplinary.
Trainees need a good understanding of the substantive knowledge – or content specific information or facts – for each subject. For example, in biology, substantive knowledge would involve understanding concepts like cell structure or DNA. In the context of history, it involves a comprehensive understanding of events, historical dates, and prominent figures.
Trainees need a good understanding of the substantive knowledge – or content specific information or facts – for each subject.
For example, in biology, substantive knowledge would involve understanding concepts like cell structure or DNA.
In the context of history, it involves a comprehensive understanding of events, historical dates, and prominent figures.
Understanding each subject as a discipline means that the trainees know the methods, practices and ways of thinking that are specific to a particular subject.
For example, in the field of mathematics, disciplinary knowledge involves understanding mathematical reasoning, proof techniques and problem-solving strategies. In history, disciplinary knowledge involves understanding of past events, societies and cultures through the critical examination and interpretation of primary and secondary sources.
Our expert led Foundation training days help the trainees to deepen their understanding of each discipline through a subject specific discussion about how each subject creates meaning and how to plan effectively for each subject. We ask key questions about each subject in order to reach a greater understanding of each of the disciplines. This is supported by observations of expert colleagues back in their own school where they are able to identify the substantive and disciplinary knowledge being taught in their own school context.
We are aware that, for our primary trainees, there is a lot for them to learn as they are teachers of all curriculum subjects. It is for this reason that we have written the Foundation Subject Knowledge Guide. For each subject there is an overview of the components of the substantive and disciplinary knowledge as well as information on the disciplinary literacy of each subject and how each subject can be adapted to meet the needs of all learners.
The guide discusses some of the common misconceptions and threshold concepts within each subject. It considers the place of the EYFS in laying the foundations for each subject.
By gaining subject-specific knowledge and skills, our trainees are better prepared to meet the needs of their children in your schools and teach effective and engaging lessons.
References / links:
- Ashbee, R (2021) “Curriculum Theory, Culture and the Subject Specialisms” Routledge
- Counsell, C (2018) “Taking Curriculum Seriously” in Impact – Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching, 4:2018 available at: https://my.chartered.college/impact_article/taking-curriculum-seriously/