Innovation: Good for Business, Essential for Education

Check out this article from New York Times Magazine--highlighting Jump, a business specializing in finding innovative solutions for businesses.  As in education, these professionals find endless benefits from employing the principle of "Yes, and..." into their brainstorming processes.

I also believe that "Yes, and..." offers the key to stronger, more meaningful interpersonal relations--in school or in the workplace.  How has this principle influenced you?

Check out the article here:

Debriefing, Part Two: A Structure for Debriefing

Whether at the end of a stand-alone game, in the midst of an improv workshop, or after a series of activities, debriefing with the group is an essential component to integrating improvisational theater into the classroom.  While my last post addressed the reasons for processing with students, this section will outline the logistics involved in structuring these discussions.

Physical Structure
When I teach using improv, I always debrief sitting in a circle with nothing in-between us.  That's right--I feel strongly that having desks, books or folders in front of students obstruct them from directly connecting with their fellow players.  To develop a community of learners, an ensemble, I create an environment in which we are all sitting at the same level (all in chairs or all on the floor) and have no distractions or barriers between us.  In establishing this seating pattern as a routine step, my students know that Sitting on the Floor In a Circle = Processing Time.  Even 7th and 8th-graders can handle sitting on the floor; once you establish it as an expectation, they will embrace it as a part of your culture.

How Long to Debrief? 
Well, that all depends on the game(s) you're debriefing, your focus, and how long you'd like the conversation to run.  I've facilitated one-minute processing sessions, and I've guided and participated in 45-minute-long debriefing marathons.  It all depends on your goal as the teacher...and your class's focus and engagement as an ensemble.

Conceptual Structure*
Processing with your class will work best if you have a FOCUS, or objective, for your game or workshop.  Of course, any good teacher knows that an excellent lesson begins with a defined objective.  The same is true for improv--whether it's a class taught on the stage or an integrated lesson in the classroom.
Your learning objective (academic or social) will guide your facilitation of the processing discussion:
1) Ask the players to make observations-- "What did you notice?"  "What happened?"
2) Ask the players to personally react to the experience-- "How did it feel to...?"
3) Ask the players to make connections between the improv activity and another area of the curriculum, personal goals, or social interactions.  "How is this a metaphor for...?"  "How is this like...?"  "How can we use this experience to help us understand...?"
4) Ask the players how this activity might inspire change.  "What are you going to do differently next time?"

When teaching primary students, I often focus on the first two of these areas, and I certainly don't cover all of them for every workshop.  If it's a quick game, I'll often focus on observations or connections as a brief response.  However, I am consistently blown away by the insight and complexity of students' understanding when discussing the experiences, applications and impact of these games.  As much as our play brings smiles to our faces, our conversations about the meaning behind the play inspire deeper learning and stronger relationships.

Ever onward!

* Thanks to Cheryl Gould for her informative, engaging presentation about debriefing at the Applied Improv Network SF Bay Area Regional Meeting in December, 2010.  I've blended my approach and her ideas for this blog post...and for my future work in guiding sessions with students and teachers.

Up Next: Strategies for Supporting Equity in Debriefing Sessions

Debriefing, Part One: Why Debrief?

On Friday, I was lucky enough to attend the Applied Improv Network's SF Bay Area Regional one-day conference at BATS Improv in San Francisco.  Surrounded by like-minded folks, I was inspired to see how a wide variety of professionals are utilizing the principles and activities of improvisational theater to transform communities.  From business to college campuses, from the classroom to the board room, improv offers opportunities for both professional and personal growth.  However, as with hands-on learning strategies, it is not enough simply to DO.  It is in the REFLECTING and DISCUSSING that we are able to engage in transformative processes.  Debriefing is at the heart of applied improvisation.

Yes, yes.  That's all well and good.  But how do I do it?  And what if I mess it up? 
When discussing a recent in-class workshop in which I was modeling how to teach using improvisational theater methods, I made a grave mistake: A teacher mentioned the fact that she'd noticed the students who had participated in our debriefing/processing session were the ones who commonly spoke during class discussions.  As I felt pressured by time (and probably a bit embarrassed that this had happened--and didn't want to admit it to myself), I'm pretty darn sure I skirted the issue.  Really--we had SO much to discuss in our limited time together. 

Woo hoo!  What an absurd mistake, Carrie.  What else could be more important?  We're addressing issues of equity and engagement here.  If three kids are participating--are really "getting" it--what is going on for the rest of the class?*  I believe it's essential to not only provide an opportunity for the class to react and make meaningful connections, but that it is our responsibility as educational professionals to employ a variety of tactics to engage a range of learners in both thinking about and sharing lessons learned from these activities.

In the next three blog posts, I'd like to discuss not only WHY we should include time to debrief the games we play and activities through which we guide our students, but also HOW to structure processing discussions and some STRATEGIES for addressing equity in the classroom.

Why debrief?
Is it okay to play these games and not discuss them?  Sure, it is.  Anything to increase engagement in learning and enjoyment of life in the classroom is all right by me.  And many of our students will be able to make the connections between improv activities and learning in other areas (social interactions, collaborative decision-making, narrative structure...) without our guidance.

However, in taking time to think about the meaning of and connections between this play and other areas of life and learning, we develop conceptual links we may not have made had we just trudged on to the next moment in the day.  Whether our processing is individual (i.e. in writing or thinking) or collaborative, simply taking the TIME to consider questions about the meaning and extensions of the parts and the whole allows for greater learning.  Further, listening to others' connections inspires a broader understanding of the impact of a seemingly simple game.  Debriefing shouldn't take away the fun; it should add to the genuine learning and inspire deeper thinking.

The goals of debriefing are threefold: Processing allows for more complex conceptual connections, debriefing helps the group meet the objective of the workshop, and discussion supports individual learners in solidifying the learning they've just experienced.**

Coming next: HOW to debrief (The Structure of Debriefing Discussions...and Differentiating Questions Based on the Grade-Level and Needs of the Group)

 *Just because three students might be talking in a whole-class debriefing discussion, I do not mean to assume that they are the only ones who are understanding the applications of the activities.  Actively listening can be at least as powerful as verbally contributing to a conversation.  However, I'll discuss strategies for engaging all learners in discussions in Part Three of this series of posts.
**Thanks to Cheryl Gould for her excellent session at the AIN SF Bay Area conference about debriefing.  She was the inspiration for this series of posts, and I'll be borrowing/adapting some of her approaches to debriefing in these blog posts as well as in future workshops with my students and with other educators.  Thank you, thank you!