Toward jazzing society? improvisation as capability in inclusive education

SANTI, MARINA; ZORZI, ELEONORA (2018). 'Toward jazzing society? Improvisation as capability in inclusive education' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


In time of crisis, the quest for education becomes increasingly urgent and crucial, although doubts and pitfalls remain, and the meaning and aim of education need to be clarified. Nevertheless, an increasing number of national and international policies recognize the importance of educational processes for human development in a flourishing society, contrasting exclusion and marginalization of people and communities.

School remains a concrete conversion factor for children and youth evolving capabilities, especially in complex contexts such as urbanized cities, in which external capabilities are difficult to recognize and to be accessible for poor and marginalized people. As Community we have a duty to provide children with a set of capabilities enabling them to adapt to an increasingly diversified and complex environment, in which creativity, ability to innovate, entrepreneurship and a commitment to continue learning are just as important as the specific knowledge (EU, 2008). Adapting to changing contexts seems not to be enough to support human evolution in a generative way: exaptation (Gould & Vrba, 1982) is the missing capability in human evolution we need to improve, to overcome the disruptive aspects of nowadays crisis. It consists in a sort of “creative adaptation” to environment which involves escaping the “regular functions” toward unexplored and needless uses, developing serendipity in functioning. To this aim, schools, teachers and students need a major support to integrate new key competences and thinking, teaching and learning capabilities. It is needed also a reflection about schools and teachers’ ability to rethink their architectures and designs to transform themselves in real time, responding to the opportunities coming from context and society. New models of educational systems, oriented to well-being and well-becoming (Biggeri & Santi, 2012) are also needed, guided by the acknowledgement that instruction, like life, cannot always be planned, especially when students are being taught the skills for interacting with complexity of real-life situations and problems (Donmoyer, 1983).

Time for recognizing that education needs to be focused on new emerging capabilities is finally on its way: pedagogical improvisation, which asks open-ended view of curriculum and learning outcomes, should be considered one of these. It involves posing as condition of teaching the capacity to unlearn; to unknown not only the content, but also the way of being teachers and teaching. Questioning themselves allows teachers to unlearn the acquired knowledge and become ignorant enough to wonder at the world, and naive enough to invent or reinvent new ones, including diversities as opportunities. Jazz is proposed as metaphor of this inclusive process and the core capability of improvisation as generative way to transform the complexity of urbanized cities into an opportunities to humanize communities. A jazzing way to inclusive teaching is developed in the paper, articulating the proposal in a pragmatic dimension and proposing eight jazz features that embody education in the dimension of improvisation (Santi, 2017), opening teaching to the authentic experience of changing, implied in inclusion, and in which the stability of identities is always at risk. A jazzing way to inclusion is proposed also as an antidote to the risk of exclusion to which learnification of education and capitalization of human skills seem to expose our schools. A jazz framework for a new poor pedagogy (Masschelein, 2010) is proposed, in which the educational components present in improvisational process can be explicitly recognized (Santi & Zorzi, 2016).


A study is presented in which qualitative methodology was adopted to explore if and how improvisation could be considered as an emergent and evolutive human capability for a flourishing development of better societies. During an exploratory phase (Santi, Zorzi, 2014), 10 professional experts in improvisation were chosen as witnesses to inquire phenomenologically how improvisation can be considered a capability in creative processes. Because of the research emphasis on education and teaching, they were chosen for their experience as professional teachers of improvisation. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect data about: improvisational dimensions; being an improviser; teaching and learning improvisation. Content-analysis were conducted on the transcribed interviews’ (using Atlas-ti7), following the grounded theory coding-phases, to preserve the meaning of the interviewee as accurately as possible, to produce “an improviser capabilities profile map”. In the current research phase, 8 focus groups were conducted to discuss the teacher improviser profile emerged, with expert school teachers (48 participants: regular/support teachers from different school grades). The results of the focus groups were drawn by a content analysis (using Atlas-ti7) conducted on the transcriptions. Every focus group started from some general and exploratory questions: what do you think about improvisation in classroom? Do you think you improvise during your teaching? Do you think that being a teacher improviser could be useful in the teaching practice? In which ways? All the information collected, implemented, modified and enriched, the starting theoretical profile with a real school perspective, allowing to develop the features which should be considered as components in improvisation capability.
Teacher improviser profile emerges as a set of sub-capabilities from the previous exploratory research: s/he is able to relate improvisation elements to stimuli, seized as opportunities which promote the improvisational processes during the act of teaching and learning, in an inclusive perspective. Within this relation, improvisation is created every time: it emerges both as product and process of seizing opportunities and choices in the moment, during the educational process. Beliefs and practices, emerged from the FG, about improvisation as way of being and doing were compared with the theoretical map-profile, allowing to enrich and implement the teacher improviser profile in an inclusive dimension and functioning operationalization: understanding what does really work, and what does not. Some differences of individual functioning and educational agency among groups (ex. specific practices connected to the school grade; specific characteristics or attitude connected to the role) will be discussed. Teacher improviser profile in a Capability Approach horizon will be proposed. Improvising can be viewed as important educational framework and effective tool to realize not only teaching and learning achievements, but also the infinite possibilities of people life projects in a constant changing and improving scenario.

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