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!


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