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Reviewing - Kristof Geysemans

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Some say that the reviewing or reflecting makes the difference between a regular outdoor activity and a learning outdoor activity. I think there are more factors, but it illustrates the importance or the place of reviewing in an experiential learning program.

What is it?

The word reviewing or reflecting says it already. It is looking back at experiences, like looking in a rear view mirror.
In EL programs we want to increase the awareness of our participants. Awareness of one’s own inner world and interactions with others. We take our time for this. We want to become aware of the thoughts, feelings and desires you had during the activity and to ‘keep them company’ for a while. To prolong the inner experience, so we can have a clear view on these inner experiences and we can carefully investigate them and give meaning to these experiences.
Important in this process is to look back at how things are, without judging or valuing. Another important thing to keep in mind when facilitating reflections is to stay in the ‘here and now’ it is about this experience in this place. That keeps it concrete, clear and it helps people to stay focussed on their experience, and not to slip away in theorizing or some other protective behaviour.

When do we do it?

Reflecting can be done anytime. The most classic is to do it after each activity. Dough this is not necessary. It can also be done after a bundle of exercises, at the end of the day…
It is often very strong to do reflections during the activity. While a participant is climbing a rock and seems to be stuck and wants to come back down, you can ask him: ‘what is going on’. You might not get an immediate answer, but it helps the participant at that moment to become aware of what he is feeling and thinking, what he is really afraid of.
It can also be useful to have a moment of reflection before the action. It helps people to become aware of what is going on at that moment of excitement. This moment can also be used to remind people of their intentions or ‘experiments’; i.e.: “I wanted to do this ropes course exercise while staying in touch with myself, and to respect my own limits, not those of what I believe are the desirable limits”.
Important is to provide time and comfort to do bigger debriefs. When being on an expedition in rain for a few days, you might want to spend some time indoor, in a safe, comfortable environment. On the other hand you don’t want to be too far away from the action to do debrief.

How do we do it?

There are many different techniques you can apply to give shape to a reflection (procedure). You can find books and web pages for that. But there are a few lines that come back.

  1. Ask open questions. Give people the space to come with their own personal story. (Sometimes it helps to start with a more closed question, just to get started. It is important that you also provide space to give the chance to give more than only an answer to your question)
  2. Ask for the people’s experience. Keep the focus on how it was/is, here and now.
  3. Do not judge or value any experience (this is the difference with evaluating).
  4. Check if you understand clearly what the person is saying.
  5. Search for methodologies that fit the group you are working with. A therapy group that is used to reflecting is not the same as a group of high school students.
  6. Use your group as a tool. Encourage interaction. Sometimes individual reflection works well, but when working with a group, it is important to bring back to the group what belongs to the group.

Active reviewing:

Active reviewing is a term witch is used to describe all different kinds of reflecting techniques witch are active, in contrast to passive (sitting and talking). Examples of active reviewing: to make a creative expression of your experiences (painting, land-art, comics, collage,), to do active replay (to replay the action in a safe setting), thumbs up or down …
When creating your own methodology for debriefing, the following guidelines may be interesting.
There are 4 steps in a reflection. The emphasis will vary during the program: the more the group and the participants develop, you will move along the following scheme.

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