On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Classroom Observation Project
Understanding and Improving our Teaching using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP)
Cutting Edge > Classroom Observation Project > Creating a Student-Centered Classroom > Propositional Knowledge

Propositional Knowledge

What is propositional knowledge and how does it affect learning?

The Propositional Knowledge theme measures what the instructor knows in addition to how well it is organized and presented in a learner-oriented setting. By providing students with a coherent framework where fundamental concepts are introduced and promoted in a connected manner, students' learning can progress from the concrete to the abstract. Scaffolding this learning process and explicitly connecting this new knowledge to real world phenomena builds stronger ties on which the student can relate new understanding of what they already know. (Pilburn, Sawada, n.d.) Large bodies of topical information and teaching ideas have been developed by participants in On the Cutting Edge workshops over the past several years. This is a great place to start your search for scientifically and pedagogically sound teaching materials.

Characteristics/examples of classes with low and high propositional knowledge scores

This theme is the strongest of the five RTOP categories for most teachers regardless of their instructional style. This reflects the fact that most instructors have a solid grasp of the content and can put together a coherent lesson that presents fundamental concepts in a logical order. Where weakness creeps in is when instructors present information using text-heavy slides or scripted notes on the board and rarely incorporate images and representations of abstract phenomena (e.g., diagrams, equations). These classrooms may also feature content that is divorced from real-world phenomena or connections to other disciplines.

When a course incorporates propositional knowledge more thoroughly, it is likely to involve real world phenomena to illustrate concepts. These courses also have effective scaffolding to help students incorporate their new learning into a useful conceptual framework. High scoring classes often connect content to other disciplines with which the students may be familiar. Such efforts help generalize the new information and provide students with linkages that facilitate their conceptual understanding. Instructors of these courses may provide students with a framework in which to view new material that may help them rapidly recall terms and ideas rather than consigning them to a sea of separate facts. Construction of flow charts, concept maps, labeled sketches, and diagrams can help students organize new information into more straightforward representations.

Consider structuring your class so that it:

Tips and examples for improving propositional knowledge:

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