Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Faculty of Education

First Supervisor

Professor Max Angus

Second Supervisor

Dr J Wicks

Third Supervisor

Dr B Louden


The work of scholars on pedagogical content knowledge has drawn attention to the importance of mastery of subject matter. Good teachers are able to make clever transitions between their knowledge of content and their pedagogy. The examples of these transitions in the literature usually assume that teachers have a large measure of control over the content: lessons are exploratory and concerned with understanding the deeper meanings and fundamental concepts that underpin the discipline base. The reality of most classrooms is otherwise; teachers are guided by syllabus statements, textbooks and end of year examinations. Sequence and pace of instruction are often implicitly or explicitly controlled. Teachers are required to make choices: either teach towards the examination or teach for deeper understanding and jeopardise the completion of the examinable content. The purpose of this study was to examine how experienced Year 12 history teachers in Western Australia managed the tension between content coverage and teaching for deeper understanding of the subject matter. To examine this question, four experienced history teachers in four high schools in Perth, Western Australia took part in the study. These teachers were observed teaching history in Year 12 during the 1994 school year and they were also interviewed on aspects of their teaching, the syllabus and the TEE examination. The students in these classrooms were also interviewed during the data collection period. The stories of these teachers are presented in four case studies. Evidence from this study indicates that the experienced Year 12 teachers have learned to make compromises in the way they teach and manage content coverage in such a way that they are able to achieve high levels of examination performance while maintaining a focus on conceptual learning. The teachers managed this balancing act by (a) representing high examination performance and conceptual understanding of the subject matter as a single objective rather than as two objectives in opposition, (b) ensuring that students had a broad conceptual understanding of the key issues contained in the examination syllabus so that the students could independently construct answers to the kinds of questions contained in examinations and (c) selectively emphasising and teaching in depth some parts of the syllabus though the whole syllabus was covered at least superficially. Though the teachers would have preferred more personal control over the selection of content and assessment procedures, they nevertheless saw the external examination to have merit; however, as this study has demonstrated, the external examination is clearly a fallible means of student evaluation.