Ahhhh! It is springtime in New England, which means summer is just around the corner. I live in a city and even though my summer days and nights are filled with the sounds of the city, I often will tune out those noises and tune in to the sounds of nature in my backyard; the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves on the trees, birds chirping, the cicadas whirring, and the rhythmic sound of the crickets, who play reggae in my town neighborhood. While I love to get lost in the sounds of those crickets, I have also felt at a loss at times when working with groups who go silent upon questioning.
Have you ever had that group and it seemed as though they had a great learning experience, but when you ask the group a follow-up question or try to process the activity you are met with only silence and the sound of crickets?
In experiential learning, the reflective processing portion of the program is equally important as the experience or learning activity itself. Through focused reflection and facilitated processing, group leaders or facilitators of learning are able to unpack; what happened during the experience, why it happened, whether or not similar things occur anywhere else in people’s experiences, and then discuss how we can apply those new understandings to the other areas of school, life or work, effectively transferring that new knowledge and completing the experiential learning cycle.
Often when posed a question following a group experience, groups reply with silence and unless that is your desired outcome, the crickets can become deafening quickly, which can send even the most seasoned educators and facilitators into the panic zone. Even when Socratic questioning is going well, that type of processing often appeals only to a percentage of the group, and some group members are less inclined to share their thoughts.
I have found that coupling meaningful and relevant questions asked from a place of genuine curiosity and interest, and then inviting the group members to choose an item to metaphorically symbolize their answers and to be prepared to share out, is both an interesting and effective way to get rich responses from more people.
It has been my experience that people have an easier time sharing when they have the opportunity to connect their thoughts and ideas to an image on a card, postcard, clipart, or some sort of object and find that they are able to share with greater depth, creativity, and authenticity when they have some sort of tangible, visual symbol to represent their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
This approach also is a great way to ensure that everyone is heard from and will enable more input from the more introverted or quiet group members as well. It seems that when people are given the opportunity to share about themselves through the symbolic meaning of the object, they are more comfortable and become more open with fellow group members.
I have been doing this work for over twenty years and I am still in awe of what is shared in my groups by people. I recently worked with a group of clinicians from many different special education settings and they remarked that they were caught very off guard by how deeply they shared with each other having just met one another using this method to process. I basically gave each small group a four-foot segment of cord and asked them to use it to “draw” something to describe the biggest challenge or obstacle they felt they were facing in their work this year. The participants dove right in and the willingness to share their thoughts and feelings regarding a topic that taps into their vulnerability among professional peers was remarkable. Again, giving the tangible object the focus takes the person out of the spotlight and it becomes safer and easier to share.
There are lots of amazing resources and materials that you can use for this purpose. I have found that as with most things, variety is the spice of life, so varying the objects keeps it fresh and will keep your participants engaged and coming back to share more and more! I love to use Ubuntu Cards (made by High 5 Adventure Learning Center) or Chiji Processing Cards, however, I also use postcards that I have picked up along the way, or cut out and laminated clip art and other abstract images. I also use found objects such as old toys, tools, keys, buttons, trinkets, and random stuff from the junk drawer.
Try this: Assemble a bag or intriguing box of some kind filled with random junk; small toys that are sitting in the bottom of your kids closet, random things from your junk drawer such as a tape measure/ruler, piece of string, length of chain, unusual coins, skeleton keys, or that random key you have no clue as to what it unlocks anymore. Unveil your box of junk and display its contents so everyone can see all of the items.
Ask the group to each select an object that represents something that they will need from everyone else in the group in order for them to get the most value out of your time together.
I imagine, if your experience is like mine, that you will be pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of the responses you will hear. Notice the attention that is paid to everyone as they share because of the genuine curiosity to see what others have come up with for their objects and how deeply they are inclined to listen to the stories shared. Even the crickets stop and listen in.
For breakfast this morning, I listened to reggae, drank a few cups of delicious French Roast- black, and I ate two eggs over medium and an english muffin with strawberry jam… Hold the crickets.