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Pedagogy – what is this thing?

Ever since I started my teacher training back in 2000, I’ve wondered what this pedagogy word really was. Everyone I was studying with appeared to have a good understanding of this word, but I didn’t. I was too shy to say so, and just kept on as if nothing was wrong.

Over the past 2 years I’ve been studying towards my PGDipEd while teaching. And this word that get’s bandied around by teachers, academics and the like, kept coming up. It wasn’t until I had to write something about pedagogy in an assignment that I actually stopped and asked my online class and lecturer what this word actually means. I had Googled it (like any studious person) and had come up with a range of definitions! After reading quite a few I decided on a definition:

Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching

I had a few responses from my online class, but was still a bit unsure. Actually I still am unsure!

Last week I attended an eLearning Futures conference and this word pedagogy was thrown around some more. Interestingly, most people attending this conference were from tertiary institutions. The reason I say this is interesting is that my Dad (also a teacher) pointed out to me that the ‘ped’ actually relates to a child! Pedagogy is about teaching children.

The Online Etymology Dictionary states that a Pedagogue is a teacher of children. Pedagogy relates to teaching children. So many people seem to mention pedagogy when they are referring to teaching adults!

I still don’t have a good definition of this word. I’m going to stick with mine for now and add a little bit:

Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching children.

I would really like to know how many people use this term without really understanding what it means. I have asked others what they think it means and I’ve struggled to get a good, straight, clear answer. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear from you to help expand my understanding of this well used educational term!

10 thoughts on “Pedagogy – what is this thing?

  1. Well, pedagogy is one thing, Nathaniel, but, andragogy is what I think the NZ Curriculum is about more. The concept of Ako is where we should be heading. The teacher is a teacher, learner and facilitator. Pedagogy has an implied meaning to me that teachers are the ones directing the learning, whereas andragogy implies that we are learning alongside the learners. That’s my ten cents worth.

    1. Hi Leigh
      Thanks for the comment. My understanding of andragogy is that it is more to do with the education of adults – how they learn and are ‘taught’. I think though, that what you have said is correct, as the NZC has brought in more self-directed (or student-directed) learning rather than relying on a teacher to teach. I would argue though, that this still fits into pedagogy, but might have it’s roots more in adult education. Perhaps this means that my definition needs some expansion to include the specifics of learning rather than only teaching. Most teachers/academics now I think would usually put teaching and learning together.

      Interesting discussion I think.


  2. Having studied at Vic for 4 years for the BA/BTeach, we had this word rammed down our throats for the first year.
    As I understanding it (and as you say – there are no definitive definitions) Pedagogy is more like the foundations and theory of they way you teach and how you teach, coupled with the basis upon which you teach and the children that you teach.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Al.
      It really amazes me how much this word gets bandied about with no real explanation as to what it is – particularly at universities. There seems to be an expectation that the meaning of the word is obvious to all, but I wonder if it’s actually obvious to anyone?!


      1. I actually don’t use it for that reason. I just don’t talk about it at all. Its amazing how many “Teaching” terms and vocab doesn’t have a proper firm grounding.

  3. If curriculum is the blueprint then pedagogy is the act of building – an art, a craft, a vocation and a science.
    If curriculum tells us what to teach, pedagogy is the decision making around how to teach it.
    The ped in pedagogy is referring to children. It may well be that Tertiary teachers use pedagogy because it had not occurred to anyone that teaching ANYONE is an art/craft/science/vocation.
    I agree that ako is a goal, but it is debatable that those who are setting curriculum believe that pedagogy is a valid study, let alone such “flaky” notions as co-construction of learning. Pedagogy is a vital concept to grasp, because within it the professional life of a teacher becomes a recognised academic endeavour. Without the word teachers are left open to the subtle undermining that happens when “back to basics”, “3R’s” and “one size fits all” become the agenda. It is too easy to portray teachers as a form of production workers if pedagogy is ignored.
    Keep grappling with pedagogy, because that is your place of strength.

    1. Thanks Andrew for the comments. I’m sure I will keep grappling with this term and trying to understand it better. I know some think I’m a bit strange for focusing on it so much but that’s okay.

      I do agree with you that teaching anyone is an art. Perhaps there needs to be a new term used. I guess pedagogy is being used as quite a generic term these days.


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