We address these questions for each subject in turn, and we also examine what is known about how teachers are currently prepared in each of these fields. Chapters 5 through 7 describe our findings for reading, mathematics, and science, respectively. However, a number of issues apply across these (and other) subjects, and this chapter discusses these first as grounding for the discipline-specific discussions.

The first part of this chapter looks at the research on the role of content knowledge in teaching that is relevant across disciplines. The second part of the chapter discusses several key issues that complicate an examination of preparing teachers in specific subject areas.


Common sense suggests that one cannot teach what one does not know. Yet even a wonderfully prepared teacher cannot know everything that is relevant to the material he or she teaches in a given year. Given the practical limitations on the amount of preparation any teacher can reasonably acquire before entering the field, we looked for evidence about the knowledge and skills that are most valuable and should be given the highest priority in teacher preparation programs.

Teaching and Learning

We looked first to research on learning and cognition for insights about how specific material is learned and might best be taught. This field has blossomed in the last few decades as technological advances have expanded researchers’ tools for studying the way people think and learn, which in turn have offered valuable resources for the study of education. How People Learn (National Research Council, 2000a) summarizes this work and offers several points that are particularly relevant to teacher preparation. The book describes findings that have emerged from the increasingly multidisciplinary approach to investigating thinking and learning. The science of learning has been expanded by new methods for testing hypotheses about mental functioning (including sophisticated brain imaging technology), as well as strategies for integrating insights from anthropology, linguistics, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and other fields in order to develop richer models of the role of social and cultural contexts in learning. Although this field is still evolving, it has provided a detailed picture of aspects of cognition and learning (such as memory and the structure of knowledge), problem solving and reasoning, and metacognition, all of which have implications for education.2 Much of the research in this field


The first chapter of How People Learn provides a detailed discussion of the development of the science of learning and the research on which it is based.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement