Chapter 6. Connecting generic pedagogical knowledge with practice

Kathleen Stürmer
Technische Universität München
Tina Seidel
TUM School of Education, Marsstraße

In this chapter, we introduce the concept of professional vision to assess aspects of pre-service teachers’ knowledge referring to the contextualised and situated nature of real-world demands of the teaching profession. We use the concept to describe how pre-service teachers draw on their pedagogical, declarative-conceptual knowledge about effective teaching and learning to notice and interpret relevant features of classroom situations. In this chapter, we describe in a first section how the structure of pre-service teachers’ professional vision is modelled. Based on the theoretical assumed structure, we outline in section two how pre-service teachers’ professional vision is assessed by a standardised, formative approach. Finally, in section three we summarise findings with regard to the question how pre-service teachers change their professional vision within university-based teacher education.



Teachers’ knowledge as an aspect of their professional competencies is seen as essential for teaching quality in classrooms, and thus, for student achievement (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005; Seidel and Shavelson, 2007). In this regard, defining and measuring professional knowledge acquisition from the beginning of a professionalisation process and therefore already within initial teacher education is of particular importance. In the last decade, research made significant progress in the standardised assessment of teachers’ knowledge along the dimensions of content, pedagogical content and generic pedagogical knowledge. In using paper-pencil tests as an efficient and reliable way of formative assessment, evidence could be provided for the impact of professional preparation programmes on the acquisition of declarative-conceptual knowledge1 (i.e. Baumert et al., 2010). However, initial teacher education faces the challenge to overcome the gap between theoretical and practical learning and thus, to support the transformation of cognitive resources into teaching practice. The ability to apply professional knowledge about effective teaching to components of complex classroom practice goes beyond what traditional knowledge tests are able to capture. Therefore, context-dependent approaches and measures are required (Blömeke, Gustafson and Shavelson, 2015; Shavelson, 2012) that focus on the assessment of integrated, flexible knowledge connected to multiple contexts of practice (Seidel, Blomberg and Renkl, 2013).

In this chapter, we introduce the concept of professional vision to assess aspects of prospective teachers’ knowledge referring to the contextualised and situated nature of real-world job demands of the teaching profession. We use the concept to describe how prospective teachers draw on their generic pedagogical knowledge about effective teaching and learning to notice and interpret relevant features of classroom situations. In expertise research the ability to make sense of an observed situation in classroom is seen as indicator for the quality of knowledge representations. High abilities indicate differentiated and integrated knowledge with flexible applications to various teaching situations. Low abilities, in contrast, indicate fragmented and rather sparse knowledge structures without the ability to use this knowledge flexibly. In the last few years, the concept of professional vision has become an increasingly important element in describing the incipient processes of integrated knowledge acquisition within initial teacher education. We describe in a first section how the structure of prospective teachers’ professional vision is modeled. Based on the theoretical assumed structure, we outline in section two how to assess professional vision by a standardised, formative assessment approach as an example. In section three, we summarise findings with regard to the question of how prospective teachers change their professional vision within professional preparation programmes. Finally, we discuss in section four the strength in identifying professional vision in order to support future teachers theory-practice integrated learning within initial teacher education.

Model of teachers’ professional vision

Research in teacher education is still quite a young field (Grossman and McDonald, 2008). So far, only limited empirical research exists regarding the structure and development of teachers’ competencies over time as a necessary prerequisite to model professional learning processes in a superior way. Until now, teachers’ professional vision has been mainly studied by using qualitative approaches (Santagata and Angelici, 2010; van Es and Sherin, 2002). These findings have provided a valid basis for describing the quality of teacher knowledge and learning. In order to investigate learning processes within initial teacher education and to provide standardized instruments for formative assessment purposes, we model the structure of professional vision based on the findings of the previous qualitative research. This research highlights the key relevance of knowledge-based perceptual processes for teachers’ professional competencies. This concept points out the social organised way of seeing and understanding environmental events by describing how persons observe and interpret situations specific to their profession (Goodwin, 1994). Sherin and van Es translated the concept into the context of teaching practice and define teachers’ professional vision as the ability to notice and interpret relevant features of classroom events for student learning (Sherin, 2007; van Es and Sherin, 2002). The ability is informed by knowledge of what constitutes effective teaching and learning and requires integrated, flexible knowledge connected to the contexts of the observed situation (Seidel and Stürmer, 2014). Teachers’ professional vision entails two interconnected subcomponents, which we will introduce in the following part: the selective attention to classroom events (noticing), and the interpretation of classroom events (reasoning).

Noticing: Selective attention to important classroom events

Noticing involves identifying classroom situations that, from a professional perspective, are decisive in effective instructional practice (Seidel and Stürmer, 2014). Teachers need to develop the ability to recognize the components of effective classroom teaching that support students’ learning processes. In classroom teaching, numerous teaching and learning acts occur. Some are particularly important for student learning, others are not. In this vein, the situations to which teachers direct their attention while observing a classroom action serve as the first indicator of underlying knowledge (Sherin, Jacobs and Randolph, 2011). When it comes to defining situations that are relevant for teaching and learning, different knowledge foci that provide a frame for capturing knowledge application can be used. In our research we focus on the knowledge of the principles of teaching and learning as an aspect of generic pedagogical knowledge (Shulman, 1987), which represents a basic component of initial teacher education (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond and Shulman, 2002). Research on teaching effectiveness is based on knowledge about teaching and learning as an element of generic pedagogical knowledge. In the last decade, a substantial number of empirical studies have investigated the effects of teaching on student learning.

In understanding teaching as a process of creating and fostering learning environments in which students are supported in activities that have a good chance of improving learning, in their meta-analysis Seidel and Shavelson (2007) make the common results of those studies explicit by integrating the variety of effective teaching variables into the five teaching and learning (TL) components of a cognitive process-oriented teaching and learning model (Bolhuis, 2003). These TL components are: goal setting, orientation, execution of learning activities, evaluation of learning processes and teacher guidance and support (regulation). All TL components could be regarded as principles of teaching that show positive and differential effects on the cognitive and motivational-affective aspects of students’ learning (Fraser et al. 1987; Hattie, 2009; Seidel and Shavelson, 2007).

Goal setting−referring to teacher’s clarification of short- and long-term goals of the lesson−for example, has been shown to be an important condition for students’ experience of their competence, autonomy and social relatedness (i.e. Kunter, Baumert and Köller, 2007). The component orientation focuses on the transition from goals to the execution of learning activities. This includes transparency as to how the goals will be achieved (e.g. mentioning the learning activities that will take place) and how the lesson will be structured. Execution of learning activities includes the social, cognitive, and motivational stimulation of the learners. It is characterised by teachers’ support of social interactions between learners and teachers’ provision of opportunities for processing information. Regulation refers to the monitoring of students’ learning processes. It includes teachers’ feedback on learning outcomes, and their support in choosing the appropriate learning strategies and prompting self-regulated learning situations. Finally, evaluation includes a retrospective look at students’ progress towards the learning goals, as well as the learning processes that took place within the lesson.

Reasoning: Interpretation of important classroom events

The second subcomponent of professional vision describes teachers’ reasoning about classroom events. This subcomponent captures the ability to process and interpret the situations noticed, based on knowledge of principles of teaching and learning (Borko, 2004; van Es and Sherin, 2002). The ability to take a reasoned approach to noticed situations in the classroom provides insights into the quality of the teachers’ mental representations of generic pedagogical knowledge (Borko et al. 2008). In conceptualising teachers’ reasoning, researchers distinguish among qualitatively different aspects (i.e. Berliner, 2001), which we have termed as follows: (a) description; (b) explanation; and (c) prediction (Seidel and Stürmer, 2014). Description reflects the ability to differentiate the relevant aspects of a noticed teaching and learning component (i.e. goal setting: the teacher refers to what the students should learn) without making additional judgments. Explanation refers to the ability to use conceptual knowledge about effective teaching to reason about a situation. This means classifying and accounting the situations according to the terms and concepts of the TL component involved. Prediction refers to the ability to predict the consequences of observed events in terms of student learning. It draws on broad knowledge about teaching and student learning as well as its application to classroom practice.

Because knowledge-based reasoning is an indicator of the quality of the knowledge representation, in initial teacher education the investigation of the reasoning ability regarding noticed TL components is seen as indicator for the incipient acquisition of theory-practice integrated knowledge (Seidel and Stürmer, 2014; Stürmer and Seidel, 2015). Previous research has shown that novice teachers are capable of describing classroom situations. In contrast, their ability to explain and predict the consequences and outcomes of those situations lags behind that of experienced in-service teachers (Seidel and Prenzel, 2007). However, little empirical research has systematically explored the interrelation of the three aspects of reasoning. For example, the ability might be regarded as one-dimensional so that the three aspects cannot clearly be separated; it might also be that the three aspects have to be seen as distinctive but highly interrelated. Taking into account the higher-order knowledge application processes involved and the results of previous studies, it also seems possible that explaining and predicting are so closely related that they can be treated as one aspect (i.e. as integration). Knowledge about the structure, however, serves to advance the field, especially when it comes to designing learning environments in initial teacher education. If the three aspects of reasoning are highly interrelated and represent distinctive dimensions of increasing difficulty, teacher educators could draw on this knowledge in order to structure and sequence programmes and courses on teaching and learning.

Assessment of professional vision within initial teacher education

Taking into account the contextual nature of professional vision, measurements capturing the initial acquisition of integrated knowledge have to be devised that go beyond traditional knowledge tests. In this respect, the use of video has been shown to be a suitable methodological approach to describing and investigating the phenomenon of professional vision. The use of video has been applied to groups of teachers with diverse kinds of expertise, ranging from pre-service teachers in initial university-based teacher education to experienced in-service teachers. Video is typically used to prompt the application of professional knowledge. Noticing and reasoning abilities are then assessed by open questions that are analysed qualitatively. Those approaches are prominent in professional vision research. They have helped identify sub-processes and dimensions of professional vision. However, they are limited with regard to investigating larger samples. To test the structure of professional vision and to evaluate developments of prospective teachers over time, standardised measures that are suitable for formative assessment in the long term are helpful. They provide a valid and reliable indicator of the major achievement of objectives in initial teacher education programs (e.g. applicable and integrated knowledge about teaching and learning). In this section, we introduce the Observer research tool (Seidel, Blomberg and Stürmer, 2010a) as the first video-based tool that assesses prospective teachers’ professional vision in a standardised yet contextualised way. We show how we combined video clips recorded from real classroom situations with standardised ratings to assess prospective teachers description, explanation, and prediction abilities with regard to effective TL components.

The Observer Research Tool

In the six-year project Observe (Seidel et al. forthcoming), a version of the Observer Research Tool was developed, which focuses on knowledge application regarding three TL components: goal clarity, teacher support, and learning climate. Since it was a first attempt of the project to create a standardised yet contextualised measure in order to investigate learning processes targeting initial integrated knowledge acquisition within university-based teacher education, the three components were selected because they represented a balanced knowledge base, integrating the TL components of the cognitive process-oriented teaching and learning model described in section one. Goal clarity served as an indicator of the successful preparation for learning, which includes the aspects of goal setting and orientation. Teacher support served as a guiding process involved in the execution and regulation of learning activities, and learning climate served as an indicator of the motivational-affective classroom context.

In the research tool, videotaped real classroom situations were combined with rating items (see Figure 6.1). Each video represents two TL components (e.g. teacher support and learning climate). The videos were selected based on the following criteria: authenticity of the selected classroom situations, activation of participants’ knowledge, and particular relevance for student learning. Based on the application of these criteria, twelve videos were selected. A pilot study with N = 40 pre-service teachers showed that all twelve videos were perceived as authentic and cognitively activating (Seidel, Blomberg and Stürmer, 2010b). We also investigated the extent to which the twelve selected videos represent the three focused TL components (i.e. goal clarity, teacher support, and learning climate) and serve as “prompts” to elicit participants’ knowledge. In a study with N = 119 pre-service teachers, two test versions were implemented in which videos were systematically rotated and varied with respect to the subject shown and the teaching and learning components represented (Seidel and Stürmer, 2014). The mean agreements between participants and the judgment of the research team were 66.9 % for goal clarity, 80.4 % for teacher support, and 75.8 % for learning climate.

Figure 6.1. Assessment of professional vision in the Observer and the Observer Extended Research Tool

Seidel, T. and K. Stürmer (2014), “Modelling and measuring the structure of professional vision in pre-service teachers, American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 51/4,, p. 56.

Consequently, the twelve videos can be regarded as valid examples of the three TL components. The videos were embedded in rating items with a four-point Likert-scale ranging from “1” (disagree) to “4” (agree). Rating items were developed to target the three reasoning aspects equally: describe (e.g. the teacher clarifies what the students are supposed to learn); explain (e.g. the students have the opportunity to activate their prior knowledge of the topic); and predict (e.g. the students will be able to align their learning process to the learning objective). Because the research on teaching effectiveness does not provide right or wrong answers regarding the quality of videos, we used an expert norm as a reference. To establish this norm, three expert researchers—each with 100 to 400 hours of experience in observing classroom situations—independently rated all developed rating items in connection with the selected videos (Seidel, Blomberg and Stürmer 2010b). The data were recoded according to the agreement with the expert rating: “1” (hit expert rating) and “0” (miss expert rating). This strict recoding proved to be superior to a less strict version that took tendency into account (Seidel and Stürmer, 2014).

The Observer Research Tool is presented as a series of HTML pages. It starts with general instructions and short introductions of the three TL components: goal clarity, teacher support and learning climate. Brief contextual information about the class is provided before each video is presented. Participants have the opportunity to watch the videos a second time before responding to the rating items (see Figure 6.2). In order to limit the completion time of the tool and to reach a balanced ratio between the represented subjects and the teaching and learning components, participants are presented six of the twelve videos showing secondary classroom instruction in physics, maths, French and history. In this form, the completion time of the instrument is about 90 minutes.

Figure 6.2. The Observer Research Tool

Source: Seidel, T. and K. Stürmer (2014), “Modelling and measuring the structure of professional vision in pre-service teachers, American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 51/4,, p. 15.

In the context of university-based teacher education, we investigated whether the measurement was stable over time. Evidence for this re-test reliability could be provided (Seidel and Stürmer 2014). Furthermore, the Observer Research Tool was processed under different conditions (“online” versus “on-site” processing and “voluntary” versus “compulsory” participation). Thus, we ensured that assessment of pre-service teachers’ professional vision was not affected by different assessment conditions (Jahn et al. 2011). Regarding the assessment of generic pedagogical knowledge application, a further study shows no dependencies between the subject background of pre-service teachers (i.e. maths) and the subject shown in the videos (Blomberg, Stürmer and Seidel, 2011).

In the project BilWiss “Role of Broad Educational Knowledge and the Acquisition of Professional Competence of Teacher Candidates for Career Entry” (Stürmer and Seidel, 2015), we extended the Observer Research Tool by expanding the facets of knowledge that the measurement of professional vision is based on by drawing on all TL components of the process-oriented teaching and learning model. In order to track prospective teachers’ learning trajectories in different consecutive phases of initial teacher education, we aimed with the extension to capture professional vision of different subpopulation (pre-service teachers who start initial teacher education with up to five years theory-based learning at universities followed by practice-based learning in a two year induction phase as teacher candidate).

Therefore, two video clips per TL component (in sum ten) were reassigned to goal setting, orientation, execution of learning activities, evaluation of learning processes, and teacher guidance and support (regulation). At the same time the item battery was shortened to reach an economical completion time of 60 minutes (see Figure 6.1). Similar to the procedure with the original Observer Research Tool, we investigated the extent to which the ten selected videos represent the five focused TL components. In a study with N = 317 pre-service teachers and teacher candidates the mean agreements between participants and the judgment of the research team were satisfying (67.5 % for goal setting, 61.5 % for orientation, 71.0 % for execution of learning activities, 65.5 % for regulation, and 63.5 % for evaluation). Furthermore, we tested that the Observer Extended Research Tool provides a reliable measure of professional vision for different subpopulations in initial teacher education (Stürmer and Seidel, 2015).

Interrelation between the three reasoning dimensions

In scrutinising the assumptions of different models regarding the structure of professional vision, we conducted scaling studies with the two versions of the Observer Research Tool. Analyses of the psychometric properties of the instrument based on item response theory have confirmed that the Observer tool provides a valid and reliable assessment of professional vision (Jahn et al. 2014; Seidel and Stürmer, 2014; Stürmer and Seidel, 2015). In these studies of more than 1,000 pre-service teachers and teacher candidates, different measures and models that describe the structure of professional vision were applied, and fit indices were compared. We tested a one-dimensional (reasoning as one overall ability) and a two-dimensional model (describe and integrate including explain and predict) against the theoretically postulated three-dimensional model (describe, explain and predict) (see Figure 6.3).

Figure 6.3. Model comparison for identifying the structure of professional vision

The results of the scaling studies show that all three models reliably assessed reasoning, but the three-dimensional model explained the most variance. Moreover, the three-dimensional model fit the data best. However, bivariate latent correlations of the person ability scores of pre-service teachers showed that the components describe, explain and predict were interrelated and highly correlated with the overall score of reasoning. Moreover, the structure of reasoning proved to be comparable to that of pre-service teachers in different teacher education tracks such as primary, secondary and vocational education (Jahn et al., 2014) as well as between pre-service teachers and teacher candidates (Stürmer and Seidel, 2015). Thus, the Observer tool provided a reliable and valid measure of prospective teachers’ professional vision and their sub-abilities of describing, explaining and predicting classroom situations in initial teacher education.

Changes in professional vision within initial teacher education

Based on the measurement approach outlined in section two, we present and discuss studies focusing on the role and design of formal and informal learning opportunities within initial teacher education as sources for knowledge acquisition. We summarise findings of studies using the Observer Research Tool as formative assessment tool. We show how the acquisition of declarative-conceptual knowledge, particularly in a situated contextualised way, support positive changes of professional vision and how changes are related to individual characteristics of prospective teachers.

The role of formal and informal opportunity-to-learn (OTL)

Regarding prospective teachers’ formal learning, first findings indicated that teacher preparation programmes in general fostered a continuous and accumulative acquisition of declarative-conceptual professional knowledge (i.e. Kleickmann et al., 2013). In one study we investigated the relationship between important capacities students at university already gathered, such as interest in topics of teaching and learning, pre-experience in university courses on teaching and learning, as well as practical pre-experience and level of professional vision (Stürmer, Könings and Seidel, 2014). It was shown that the number of attended university courses on teaching and learning and the level of interest in this field are systematically related to higher levels of professional vision.

In particular, these two factors were positively associated with the subscales explanation and prediction, which indicated higher-order learning and knowledge integration. Furthermore, the factor of interest in topics of teaching and learning has been proven not only to be a strong predictor for theory-based learning at university, but also for the practice-based learning of teacher candidates in their induction phase (Stürmer, Seidel and Kunina-Habenicht, 2015). Regarding the question of what content of generic pedagogical knowledge supports positive changes in professional vision, in a further study, the Observer Research Tool was used as a pre- and post-test measure within three courses on the topic of teaching and learning principles at university (Stürmer, Könings and Seidel, 2013).

The three courses included: (a) a very specific video-based course directly targeting effective TL components; (b) a course focusing on important principles of learning and learner characteristics connected to principles of teaching and (c) a broad course on “hot topics in instruction”, dealing partly with TL components but accompanied by other topics, such as relevance of homework or assessment. For all three courses, positive changes in three professional vision abilities were shown. Regarding the gains in description, explanation and predication, differential effects occurred. The two content-specific courses on TL components showed the highest increases in explaining and predicting and seem to support the integration of knowledge about TL components and student learning. The general course showed the highest increases in describing. These findings indicated that the Observer Research Tool is sensitive to specific learning effects that might occur because of different course objectives and learning goals in university courses.

In addition to formal OTL, informal learning, such as practical experiences in teaching, is seen as essential in acquiring integrated knowledge structures. It has been argued that well-defined and integrated knowledge can only be developed when it is applied to practice through contextualised generalisation over long periods of time (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005). Consequently, different forms of internships and praxis elements have been implemented in initial, university-based, teacher education programmes. In this context, we examined the impact of practical experience (in the form of a praxis semester) accompanied by video-based courses at university on pre-service teachers’ changes in professional vision (Stürmer, Seidel and Schäfer, 2013). The findings revealed overall positive changes, with a special benefit for students who started the semester with low abilities in professional vision. Because the students’ practical experiences were guided by video-based courses at university, the study underlined the attempt to combine formal and informal OTL in order to foster the development of integrated knowledge in the domain of generic pedagogical knowledge.

The design of formal and informal OTL

To support prospective teachers in acquiring knowledge and applying it to real classroom situations, the constant monitoring of course instruction and activities is necessary for creating effective OTLs within initial teacher education preparation programmes (Hierbert et al. 2007). Research on the design of OTLs has outlined the advantage of videos as a learning tool that guides the acquisition, activation and application of teachers’ knowledge in a meaningful way. However, videos must be implemented with clear objectives in mind. Because relatively little research has empirically investigated the effect of different video-based designs using different instructional strategies on prospective teachers’ learning, Seidel et al. (2013) examined the impact of two instructional strategies embedded in video-based courses on pre-service teachers’ learning at university.

Rule-example (firstly, theoretical knowledge about TL components is provided, followed by students analysis of video clips regarding TL components) vs. example-rule (firstly, students analyse video clips regarding effective teaching, followed by a theoretical summary provided by the lecture referring to TL components). The results revealed that pre-service teachers who were taught by the rule-example strategy scored higher on reproducing declarative knowledge about relevant TL components and on professional vision, whereas pre-service teachers in the example-rule group scored higher on lesson planning, particularly in identifying possible occurring challenges in a situated way.

Furthermore, distinct differences in the capacities of pre-service teachers to reflect about teaching were shown. The rule-example approach facilitated reasoning abilities in observing videotaped classroom situations, whereas the example-rule teaching approach fostered pre-service teachers’ long-term reflection skills about own learning in a learning journal. These findings underlined the importance of choosing an appropriate instructional approach in the design of video-based formal OTLs, depending on specific learning goals (Blomberg et al. 2013). In addition, OTLs in teacher education should have clear learning goals, and they should take into account the heterogeneity of the target group (Stürmer et al. 2013).

Identifying professional vision within initial teacher education: Implications for practice

Initial teacher education faces the challenge to overcome the gap between theoretical-based and practical-based learning. In this respect, the investigation of students’ professional vision could be regarded as a necessary link between the acquisition of declarative-conceptual knowledge about effective teaching as well as the ability to apply this knowledge to components of real practice. In the current understanding of what constitute professional competencies, next to cognitive and motivational factors, situation specific skills such as the interpretation of the event in which the protagonist is required to act, determines successful job performance (Blömeke, Gustafson and Shavelson, 2015). Thus, the ability to notice and interpret relevant features of classroom events for student learning is seen as an important prerequisite for effective teaching practice. First studies show that the ability to make sense of an observed situation, which is relevant for student learning, relates to teaching quality (i.e. Kersting et al. 2010). In this vein, regarding prospective teachers’ learning, the concept constitutes a promising approach for capturing knowledge acquisition that is relevant for future teaching practice.

In initiating competence development for successful job performance, initial teacher education is required to bring teaching practice into their preparation programmes and to provide opportunities to connect professional knowledge acquisition with the essential elements of the real-job demands. Because classroom teaching is a highly complex, dynamic process, the learning for effective teaching performance is determined by a myriad of factors that interrelates and build up on each other. The acquisition of professional practice is not characterised by simply increasing the quantity of classroom teaching. Rather, it is characterised by the context-based, reflective interplay of professional knowledge acquisition as well as the organisation and integration of this knowledge. Therefore, the pedagogy of practice within formal learning settings (Grossman et al., 2009) has to draw on authentic representations of practice, which illustrate relevant elements of the real job and enable students to link their knowledge to multiple contexts of practice. It has to decompose the complexity of teaching practice in crucial parts in order to help students in understanding what constitutes effective teaching practice. In this regard, professional educators can help students learn first to attend the essential elements of practice and then to enact them, for example, by a series of approximations to practice (i.e. role plays) that increase in complexity (Grossman, 2009).

By describing students’ ability to apply their generic pedagogical knowledge about effective TL components while observing classroom situations, the approach of professional vision focuses on how prospective teachers build up an understanding of essential elements of the teaching profession. The use of authentic representations of practice in the Observer Research Tool allows an assessment of the quality of integrated knowledge proximal to real teaching practice. In a further step, teacher educators can draw on that initial knowledge acquisition in enabling students to enact in the TL components within authentic but, decomposed teaching events regarding their representation of practice (Seidel et al. 2015).


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← 1. Declarative-conceptual knowledge describes theoretical, content-related knowledge representations referring to facts, principles, concepts and models as well as the deep understanding and connection among the representations.