and start off on a learning journey. Sometimes we fall short of our goal. Sometimes we reach our goal, but most times we exceed these goals—we learn more than we initially expected” (personal communication).

At the end of an investigation, Barb Johnson works with the students to help them see how their investigations relate to conventional subject-matter areas. They create a chart on which they tally experiences in language and literacy, mathematics, science, social studies and history, music, and art. Students often are surprised at how much and how varied their learning is. Says one student, “I just thought we were having fun. I didn’t realize we were learning, too!”

Barb Johnson’s teaching is extraordinary. It requires a wide range of disciplinary knowledge because she begins with students’ questions rather than with a fixed curriculum. Because of her extensive knowledge, she can map students’ questions onto important principles of relevant disciplines. It would not work to simply arm new teachers with general strategies that mirror how she teaches and encourage them to use this approach in their classrooms. Unless they have the relevant disciplinary knowledge, the teachers and the classes would quickly become lost. At the same time, disciplinary knowledge without knowledge about how students learn (i.e., principles consistent with developmental and learning psychology) and how to lead the processes of learning (i.e., pedagogical knowledge) would not yield the kind of learning seen in Barb Johnson’s classes (Anderson and Smith, 1987).

In the remainder of this chapter, we present illustrations and discussions of exemplary teaching in history, mathematics, and science. The three examples of history, mathematics, and science are designed to convey a sense of the pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge (Shulman, 1987) that underlie expert teaching. They should help to clarify why effective teaching requires much more than a set of “general teaching skills.”


Most people have had quite similar experiences with history courses: they learned the facts and dates that the teacher and the text deemed relevant. This view of history is radically different from the way that historians see their work. Students who think that history is about facts and dates miss exciting opportunities to understand how history is a discipline that is guided by particular rules of evidence and how particular analytical skills can be relevant for understanding events in their lives (see Ravitch and Finn, 1987). Unfortunately, many teachers do not present an exciting approach to history, perhaps because they, too, were taught in the dates-facts method.

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