Theoretical Perspectives

Horizontal and vertical discourses in knowledge construction

In our understanding of what is at risk in teacher education we are inspired by Basil Bernstein’s (2000) distinction between horizontal and vertical discourses in knowledge formation and his thinking about education as a balance between a potential reservoir of knowledge and strategies in a community and the individual repertoire as a single member of such a community.

To study and develop the relationship between repertoire and reservoir in teacher education, we have chosen to focus on what we describe as dynamic aspects of teacher education, crystallized in our choice of improvisation as an overarching and generic teaching quality. Dynamic aspects of teacher education are connected to situations where students prepare themselves by observing living classroom practice, are active and situated agents in teaching practice or in different situations in teacher education subjects, or are involved in reflective discussions about quality with teacher educators and mentors; in short, the active involvement in the common base where students are embedding a career and where they develop what Bernstein (2000) describes as pedagogic identities.

Disciplined improvisational performance as a generic teaching skill

We are interested in studying disciplined improvisation (Sawyer 2011 as a generic teaching skill in order to show how improvisation can be developed across different segments of teacher education as an example of a vertical knowledge structure in teacher education (Bernstein, 2000). The concept of improvisation is prevalent in music and the performing arts, but is also something we all do in our everyday life. Improvisation is crucial in the formation of new ideas in all aspects of human experience. Its scientific significance is connected to its role in knowledge production as well as its significance as a mirror of individual abilities in communicative situations and settings ( Eisner 1983), Bailey, 1992; Berliner, 1994; Nettl & Solis, 2009; Steinsholt & Sommerro, 2006, Sawyer 2011)

Improvisational performance as a generic teaching skill then, can be described as a learnable skill to respond, invent, control­–to and in–sequences of expressions and situations in educational contexts. As such improvisation gives the improviser the freedom to choose adequate responses and freedom to use and orchestrate one’s own repertoire in an informed and balanced way. Inspired by improvisation in the arts, e.g. music, we also believe that studying improvisational performance implies that we need to focus on the way the professional performer thinks and operates.

We believe, for example, that improvisation as a teaching skill can be observed in the way “examples” are used as a pedagogical means on a large scale. An important research aspect of such a view is to study the role and orchestration of examples in educational contexts and how their nature and use influence learning, interaction, as well as power relations (Foucault & Gordon, 1980).

The concept of “improvisation”, or rather improvisational performance, as an overarching concept for this project is also relevant for “feedback” in education. Teacher quality in this respect is connected to the ways teachers handle the learning dialogue spontaneously and to what extent the teacher is able to become aware of the pupils needs in their learning situation. (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Hattie, 2009).

Berk & Trieber (2009) links improvisation to 21st century teaching skills and claim that there are four major instructional reasons for using improvisation in the classroom:

Berk & Trieber (2009) links improvisation to 21st century teaching skills and claim that there are four major instructional reasons for using improvisation in the classroom:

(1) It is consistent with the characteristics of the current generation of students…(2) it taps into students’ multiple and emotional intelligences, particularly verbal/linguistic, visual/spatial, bodily/ kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal; (3) it fosters collaborative learning …(4) it promotes deep learning through the active engagement with new ideas, concepts, or problems. (Berk & Trieber, 2009 p. 33).

By studying, focusing on and developing this skill, we believe that a learning trajectory geared towards the formation of a vertical discourse and knowledge construction in teacher education can be developed, studied and implemented. Our hypothesis is that the acquisition of such knowledge and skills will influence student teacher motivation, thought processes, emotional states and patterns of behavior, in short their self regulation, and enhance their self- efficacy in terms of their beliefs about their professional teacher and teaching capabilities.