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Is knowledge important?

Updated: Jun 27

There is a lot of debate at the moment about the purpose of knowledge in curriculum. Some have said that we have not been teaching knowledge in schools, in my experience I simply cannot see how this is the case. Rather than get caught in this rhetoric however I am concentrating on this question: What is the place of knowledge in our curriculum and is it important?


In short I believe that knowledge is important. We need to know stuff and in part learning can be described as what happens when we know more stuff. But, knowing stuff on it's own is not enough. There are many ways to define knowledge. Two types of knowledge that we can consider in this discussion are declarative and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge can be thought of as the facts we know whereas procedural knowledge is knowing the steps or requirements of a task. Years ago my dad bought me a set of old encyclopaedias, they were written in the early 1920s, they are fascinating to read as they capture the knowledge of the time. However, the knowledge in them, despite their age, is useless if they stay on the shelf gathering dust. We have to do something with the knowledge.


This is where skills come in. Skills enable us to put the knowledge to work. Skills are practical in nature. We need to practise and build basic skills using the knowledge that is important.

Together knowledge and skills allow our students to engage in surface learning. One without the other is like trying to clap with only one hand, it doesn't make a sound. This is where our students start to build conceptual knowledge and basic skills. This is an important foundational step for learning but it doesn't necessarily bring understanding.

Unfortunately, often with our time poor, heavy curriculum demands this is about where we stop. We do a quick formative assessment to see what the students remember and move on to the next concept, gotta get that curriculum covered, no time to waste! But this isn't enough. If we want our children to transfer their learning in meaningful ways we need to go deeper.


Where do we go next? The bridge to transferring the learning is to use the acquired skills and knowledge together to gain understanding through deep learning. This is where we work through misconceptions, where we help students apply their skills and knowledge to big problems, where we encourage them to examine biases and different perspectives. We apply and extend the surface skills and knowledge to build understanding. We encourage our students to make conceptual generalisations, consolidate knowledge and skills, and explore this across many contexts or disciplines. We have deep conversations and engage our students in tasks that require deep thinking where they wrestle with ideas to build understanding.









Once understanding has been acquired then transfer can occur. This is where students take their consolidated skills and knowledge which together have led to understanding and apply this across different scenarios and contexts. Basically they put their understanding to work. As they do this it is essential that we support them to reflect on their learning journey metacognitively. This is where we see what they know being applied, as a teacher this is where the magic is, when our students take what they have learned and do something amazing with it. They just need the time and our expertise in creating learning environments that allow for this process.

Back to my original question: what is the place of knowledge and is it important? I'd love to hear what you think.




My sincere thanks to Chic Foote who is a creative curriculum designer and has taught me so much so far (and I know I still have a long way to go, so you are not rid of me yet Chic!). I also acknowledge the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue who have informed this content. Thanks also to canva which is the app I used to create the images here.


Megan Gallagher, is a mum, teacher, coach, speaker, PLD facilitator and consultant. She weaves her teaching experience, intense interest and curiosity about the brain, and coaching skills together in all that she does.

One of her greatest pleasures in life is seeing others shining and this is the basis of the work she does. She specialises in coaching for children, families and educators, and shares her expertise in wellbeing, curriculum design, and impactful teaching and learning as a speaker and facilitator.

For more information please check out meggallagher.nz. You can contact her at meg@meggallagher.nz

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