The Example as an Improvisational Element in Teaching

Associate Professor Sissel Høisæter.


The project is aiming at describing and defining the process of making Examples as a way of teaching in order to give the students a specific understanding of general knowledge.This process of specifying through examples can be done in a number of ways, and Sissel Høisæter argues that it demands an improvisational approach.

The project is part of the IMTE-project with the overarching goal of introducing improvisation as a necessary skill for teacher students. In the case of Examples, Sissel says it is vital for the teacher in any subject, to be able to exemplify, individualize and specify what the general knowledge can mean in a specific context. It has to do with making the connection between the different levels of knowledge – and with different means of helping the student internalize this knowledge.

What is an Example?

Sissel describes three main categories of Examples:

  1. The concrete artifact: a building, a painting, an article of any kind. This can be said to be a concrete representation of the general verbal knowledge. For example: if the subject is religion, and the teacher wants to explain how worship is done, then the picture of – or example of a synagogue, a temple, a church or any other kind of building can be used as an Example. In many subjects, this is natural – as the nature of the subject can be quite concrete in itself. In other subjects these examples are more subtle and less easy to find.
  2. An activity connected to the subject. In creative subjects, this can be making music, dancing or painting, and in physical education, the Example is rather obvious too: running, climbing, playing ball etc. In Second Language Education the activity is talking or singing in the language, as well as writing – all of this will be an Example.
  3. A verbal representation – or a narrative – is the third type of Examples. This is the kind of Example that Sissel studied in her D. The Examples (making of stories) has to be contextual – that is, taking into account the students level of knowledge and understanding and meta-understanding. Som Examples can be “ready-made” stories, others has to be made “there and then”, either because of questions from the students or because the contexts requires a different approach than the one planned.

According to Sissel, one of the “golden moments” in teaching is when the students come up with a “Counter-example” – an example that is different from or contrary to the teacher’s example. In such a situation the dialog will appear, and the discussions around the theme or concept in focus will be on the students’ premise. Through this dialogue, the students will be more able to make the connection of the relation between the general level of knowledge and the specific Example, related to human actions, verbalizations or artifacts.

One of the conclusions in her Ph.d study is that the students need to reconstruct this connection in order to own the .

The present study

The present study is aimed at this situation; how and when does Examples appear in teaching, and is it possible to prepare and motivate teacher students for this skill? In what ways are improvisational skills necessary for the process of Examples in teaching? Can it be said that making Examples is an improvisational skill? If so, in what way can a student prepare for this – or be prepared for – and develop – such skills?