Active Reviewing Tips 5.2 Reviewing with Ropes
~ 1 ~ EDITOR: ''LOW TECH'' OR ''HIGH TECH''?
I always carry ropes with me because they are an amazingly
versatile reviewing aid. (And as a semi-retired rock climber I
quite like having ropes around - even if my reviewing ropes are
now no thicker than a shoe lace.)
Whether you work indoors or outdoors I hope you will be wanting
to put a few ropes in your bag of resources after reading
''Reviewing with Ropes'' - the main article below. For an easy to
print version go to: http://reviewing.co.uk/articles/ropes.htm
In a world of high technology, ropes may seem very 'Low Tech'.
I once attended a seminar about presentation technology where
I learned that high technology tends to discourage participation
(think 'couch potato'):
''HIGH TECHNOLOGY = LOW PARTICIPATION''
The main message was that if you want high levels of
participation go 'low tech'. So I saved myself a lot of money.
Ever since that seminar I have been a fan of low technology and
high levels of participation.
''LOW TECHNOLOGY = HIGH PARTICIPATION''
I already know of at least one exception to the above rule. It is
called an email discussion list. The technology behind email will
forever be a mystery to me. But it is a technology that enables
participation - because it is so easy to use. And when discussion
is focused and facilitated it can be a very rewarding experience.
So (as promised in the last issue) I have set up an email
discussion list associated with this newsletter. The discussion
list (also hosted by Topica) is called 'Active Reviewing
Exchange'. It is a forum for readers of Active Reviewing Tips to
share, give feedback, discuss, ask, challenge, inform, exchange
ideas about reviewing and generally enjoy meeting people with
similar interests in this field. I invite you to join me in this
experiment. Unlike other discussion lists, this one will only be
open on special occasions - starting now! Details are in section
~ 2 ~ FEATURE ARTICLE: REVIEWING WITH ROPES
Old climbing ropes, washing lines or brightly coloured nylon line
make excellent reviewing aids. For some of the methods described
below you can draw lines with pen and paper. But in most
situations where you have enough space (indoors or outdoors) you
and your learners will soon discover that ropes were made for
reviewing! The principles are highly adaptable, but I would take
a lot of persuading to let go of my ropes!
2.1 OBJECTIVE LINE
Recommended use: for reviewing progress against a goal
Each individual lays their rope on the ground. The near end
represents their starting point (now) and the far end represents
their goal (e.g. for the next activity, for the programme or for
the transfer of learning). Ask each person to walk slowly along
their line into the future towards their goal, pausing for
thought in a few places along the way. Ask them to think about
what would be happening at each point and how they would be
feeling. Once everyone has completed their journey to their goal
on their own, ask them to find a partner and talk through their
anticipated journey as they walk along the line. Partners then
swap roles so that each can do their own ''walk'n'talk'' into the
So far this exercise has been an 'active preview'. But once there
has been an opportunity for participants to make progress towards
their goal, they return to their objective lines (with or without
partners) and 'measure' their progress by choosing where to stand
on their line. In just one move (to a point on a line) each
person is making a self-assessment, and is doing so in a way that
is instantly visible to others. Once everyone is in place you can
ask questions to help people reflect on their own position, or to
encourage them to notice the positions of others. In these
scattered positions it may be difficult to facilitate a group
discussion, but talking to a partner can work well.
Tip: Draw attention to ''distance travelled'' as well as to
''distance to go''. For example: ask ''What factors have helped
you on your journey so far?'' and ''Will any of these helping
forces also be useful later on in your journey?''
Variation: Encourage people to shape their lines to represent the
journey being taken (e.g. direct or U-turn or meandering) and to
add objects along the way to represent points in their journey.
Variation: Tie a knot a few paces before the end of the rope to
represent the goal. This makes a bit of extra rope available just
in case anyone exceeds their goal and wants to show this.
Recommended use: for reviewing progress against group-related
This is a variation of 'Objective Line'. Each rope is laid on the
ground to make the spokes of a wheel. The outer end of each spoke
is the starting point and the centre is the goal. This can be
used for individually different goals, but is particularly
suitable when looking at goals which have a group dimension or
goals that are shared by everyone in the group. For example, the
spokes can all be 'listening' spokes. Each person assesses the
quality of their own listening during the event being reviewed
and then looks around at where others are standing. You could do
the same for 'talking', 'supporting others', 'providing
leadership', 'speaking up', 'clear thinking' etc.
Tip: Ask people to decide their position for themselves and not
to be influenced by others. Once everyone is in position, you can
ask if anyone feels that anyone else's self-assessment is
inaccurate. Participants usually invite each other nearer to the
centre - which (depending on the topic) is likely to be a form of
positive feedback . (You must decide whether to allow the moving
of others away from the centre - as this may be a form of
criticism.) Encourage people to give specific reasons about why
they would like to move others.
Alternative: The spokes can be imaginary. Start off with everyone
standing in a circle facing the centre. Ask them to imagine they
are each standing half way along a spoke that leads into the
centre of the circle.
Issue and solution: It can be difficult for everyone to have eye
contact with each other once they are in position. This often
results in the people nearest the centre paying attention to each
other rather than to those further out. This tends to exaggerate
the dynamics of the group. Much better for all-round eye contact
and group discussion is to have people place an object on their
spoke to represent their position. This frees up everyone to
stand or sit in a circle around the spokes - making it easier to
see each other and the objects representing their positions.
Variation: For the end of the course or the end of a group,
reverse the polarity of the spokes, so that the inner end now
represents the starting point and the outer end represents future
goals. Each person walks into the future (simultaneously or one
at a time). Whenever someone turns round to look at their
starting point they are also looking back at the group - which
may be slowly dispersing as others leave.
Recommended use: for exposing and discussing different views
This reviewing method is a variation of a technique that goes
under many names including: 'spectrum', 'line-up', 'positions',
'diagonals' and 'silent statements'. The main difference is that
these other methods use straight lines, whereas the 'horseshoe'
is a curved line. In this method, you simply define the two ends
of the spectrum and ask everyone to stand at a point on the line
that represents their point of view. The benefit of the horseshoe
shape is that everyone is more likely to be in eye contact with
each other - which makes facilitating whole group discussion much
For example: One end represents ''We were a pretty good team
during that exercise'', the other end represents ''We were a
hopeless team during that exercise''. Everyone chooses their
point on the line and then talks to one or two neighbours to
check whether they need to adjust their own position on the line.
Once everyone is in position, encourage questions from
participants to each other. Everyone should have a chance to
explain their position, after which everyone should have a chance
to move to show whether or not their views on the issue have
Variation: It may be helpful to choose different points during
the activity. E.g. ''How would you each have rated this team
before the exercise started?'' ''What was the quality of teamwork
like up to the end of the initial planning?'' ... ''What is your
personal prediction for the quality of teamwork in the next
Variation: Arrange chairs in a horseshoe with the facilitator sat
in the gap. Have about twice as many chairs as there are people
to make movement easier and to allow for different patterns of
clusters and spaces to develop.
Variation: This is a useful tool for discussing any issues that
can be represented on a spectrum - so it can be used for
exploring moral issues or company values as well as for reviewing
2.4 GOLDFISH BOWL
Recommended use: for focusing attention on the reviewing process
Make a rope circle on the ground. Divide the group in two. One
half sits inside the circle and may talk. One half sits outside
the circle and may only observe and listen. People in the inner
circle review the previous exercise. After a few minutes the half
groups change places and the new inner group continue with the
review or comment on the review process they have just been
Variation: Anyone in the inner circle can leave at any time, but
the discussion does not continue until they have been replaced by
someone from the outer circle.
Variation: Everyone starts in the inner circle and sits out when
they have nothing they want to say. Anyone can move back into the
inner circle at any time they want to speak. The review finishes
when no-one is sitting inside the circle.
2.5 INDIVIDUAL HAPPY CHARTS
Recommended uses: for discovering the diversity of experiences
and for enabling the telling of experience-rich stories
Each person makes a line graph on the ground showing their ups
and downs (emotional highs and lows) during the experience being
reviewed. (It may resemble a temperature chart or a sales
forecast.) Ensure that there is no misunderstanding about which
way is up and which way is down. This is most easily achieved if
you happen to be on the side of a hill! Each person now tells
their story to a partner or to the whole group. 'Happy Chart' is
a useful communication aid that helps people to express
themselves emotionally and that brings out the richness of an
experience. It is much harder to learn from experiences when they
are not expressed and shared.
Variation: Encourage participants to add (symbolic) objects to
their chart to help them tell the story.
Variation: Each person draws their Happy Chart on an index card
(for one-to-one sharing) or on a flipchart (for sharing with the
Applications: Happy charts are useful for bringing out individual
differences during a group activity as well as for helping
individuals talk about an experience outside the group (e.g. an
incident at school or at work).
2.6 GROUP HAPPY CHARTS
Recommended use: to discover the degree of individual variation
and to increase empathy within a group
The group stand in a horseshoe all holding the same rope. One end
represents the start of the group event being reviewed. The other
end represents - the end! Each person in the group now represents
a stage in the event (e.g. planning, preparation, first attempt,
second attempt, disaster, conflict, re-planning, bright idea,
time up). Ensure that everyone is now standing in the order in
which things happened. The group now turn the rope into a Happy
Chart. This is the interesting bit. There will probably be some
disputes as people learn that there was individual variation in
feelings at some points during the event. Allow some conflict to
develop if you feel it will be productive, but be ready to offer
a second rope. A second rope allows the group to draw two lines -
showing the highest highs and lowest lows at each point. (Picture
a temperature chart with two lines showing maximum and minimum
2.7 SKETCH MAP
Recommended use: for reliving a journey and discovering issues
that deserve more detailed review
After any event that has involved a journey, ask participants to
illustrate their journey with the help of a rope (or ropes) to
trace the route taken. Add labels with words (e.g. tie-on luggage
labels) or symbolic objects to mark out different parts of the
journey. This is best set up as a creative project in an area
(indoors or outdoors) where suitable symbolic objects can readily
be found. Much informal reviewing takes place during the making
of the map. Once the map is complete it can be used as a means of
re-telling the story and/or identifying key moments on the
journey for more detailed review.
Variation: Create a sketch map using more conventional materials
e.g. paper, pens, paints, and materials for collage.
2.8 FORCE FIELD
Recommended use: for helping groups or individuals to get unstuck
Symbolic Tug of War. Safety Note: discourage any real pulling
because of the risk of friction burns. Ask the group (or an
individual) to set up two tug of war teams. One team represents
forces for change and the other team represents forces resisting
change. Each individual represents a force named by the group or
individual setting up the teams. This is simply an active way of
reviewing forces that are in tension. The key question to ask (if
change is wanted) is how the forces can be changed to generate
forwards momentum - towards change. The advantage of having
individuals representing each force is that they can each think
about solutions from the perspective that they represent.
Dialogue between forces is also possible.
Issue and Solution: Having your whole group standing in a
straight line is not good for eye contact between group members
nor for generating discussion. So have each person tie one rope
onto a central rubber tyre or small rope circle. This allows
people to pull at different angles. It may be appropriate for
some people to pull sideways if they are representing distracting
or unknown forces rather than being forces that are clearly for
or against change.
Variation: Start and finish with written diagrams. Use the tug of
war to bring the diagrams alive and to encourage empathy (seeing,
feeling and being the forces) and creative thinking.
2.9 ACTIVITY MAP
Recommended use: to find out what makes people tick (or not)
This is an active and game-like way of sharing likes and dislikes
and getting to know each other's values. At the beginning of a
course it can also be a useful way of finding out participants'
experiences of (and attitudes towards) activities or processes
that you are expecting to use in your course.
Use two long ropes. Mark the ends of one rope 'Past' and
'Future'. Mark the ends of the other rope 'Happy' and 'Sad'. This
creates a quadrant in which the zones represent:
- Past/Sad: Activities I'll never do again
- Past/Happy: Activities I like doing
- Future/Sad: Activities I'll never try
- Future/Happy: Activities I'd like to try
Call out the name of an activity and ask everyone to go to the
zone where that activity would belong on their own personal map.
Keep calling out activities, pausing now and again for comments
and questions. To make it more of a game (and more risky) let
participants call out names of activities. Define 'activities' as
narrowly or broadly as you like.
2.10 ACTIVE REVIEWING CYCLE
Recommended uses: for enabling well-paced and well-sequenced
reviewing and for developing learning skills
A full explanation of the active reviewing cycle is at
http://reviewing.co.uk/learning-cycle but you can adapt the
exercise described below to your own preferred
Create a huge circle with the longest rope that you can find or
create four circles representing the four stages of the learning
cycle (facts, feelings, findings, futures). If space allows
create another circle at the centre for the joker or wild card -
as a reminder that no model is perfect and that there are always
Explain the sequence that learners will be following. If
participants need more guidance, then arm them with a handout
containing questions such as those listed in last month's Active
Reviewing Tips. (Missed it? Lost it? See
Participants now find a partner and walk round the sequence. One
person acts as a facilitator while the other responds. After each
circuit partners swap roles and/or swap partners. More ideas
about what you can do in each zone are described in the tutorial
Variation: Demonstrate the sequence by taking the whole group
around the cycle while facilitating a well sequenced review of an
activity they have just completed.
2.11 MISSING PERSON
Recommended use: for helping a group to assess its needs and
Create a rope outline of a body in the centre of the group
circle. Explain that this represents a person who can join the
group. Ask participants to think creatively about the kind of
person they would like this to be. The person will probably share
some of the characteristics already in the group (e.g. sense of
humour, good looks, friendly, enthusiastic) and may also
represent some characteristics that are missing (e.g.
time-keeping, leadership, telling decent jokes). Try to bring the
person alive by asking for a name, their interests, their
strengths and weaknesses. Now pull the rope away with a flourish
and ask the group what they will do now that this person no
longer exists. The response is not guaranteed, but this often
provides a lively and creative way into developing action points.
Some groups so like the idea that you will find that the rope
body reappears on the ground or that they regularly call out the
name of the missing person when they need help. Some take it even further ...
2.12 TALKING KNOTS
Recommended use: as a temporary gimmick for encouraging more
equal participation in reviews.
VERSION 1: This is a variation on 'rounds' or 'go-rounds' or
'conch' or 'talking stick'. It is a way of controlling
participation when people are talking over each other. It is also
a way of encouraging participation when it is low or uneven.
Tie a knot in a rope to make a rope circle. Everyone holds on to
the rope while standing or sitting in a circle. The circle should
be a suitable size for group discussion. There is just one knot
in the rope. The person with the knot in front of them may speak.
When that person has finished speaking they start moving the rope
in a clockwise direction. The knot keeps moving round until
someone with the knot in front of them wants to talk. That person
calls 'stop' and holds the rope either side of the knot. Make it
clear whether you, as facilitator, follow the same rule.
Variation: Tie a second knot in the rope to form a small loop
representing the letter Q. Anyone with the Q loop in front of
them may stop the rope to ask a question. The original knot works
the same as before and is not simply for answering questions -
unless you want to make it so. (Thanks to Jim Cain for the
original idea published at http://www.teamworkandteamplay.com)
VERSION 2: This looks a bit like 'Spokes' above, but is based on
'Matchsticks'. It is a method for encouraging equal
participation. Each person ties (say) 5 simple knots in their
rope. The ropes are arranged as spokes and everyone sits in a
circle. Each time a person speaks, they pull their own rope
towards them until their hand is on the next knot. When a person
runs out of knots they should continue to listen but may not
speak. Interruptions are not allowed, unless you choose to
establish and enforce a time limit on how long participants may
Variation: This method can also be used for voting or scoring or
scaling. You ask a question that can be answered with a number.
Each person pulls back their rope 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 knots to
show their response. If the pulling is done simultaneously with
eyes closed, responses are less likely to be influenced by
others - and the effect is more dramatic.
MORE IDEAS ABOUT REVIEWING WITH ROPES
Your comments, questions, news, ideas and feedback are always
welcome: write to email@example.com
Remember that you can also join the brand new discussion list
'Active Reviewing Exchange' and find others who share your
interests in reviewing. See section 5 below.
For an easy to print version of the above article go to:
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~ 3 ~ TIPPLES: CREATIVITY AND TRANSFER
There are many ways in which the transfer of learning can happen
and there are many kinds of transfer. But most writing about the
subject is about one kind of transfer (''near transfer'') and one
kind of transfer method (action planning).
The chances are that much of your work (especially if it is
developmental) is about ''far transfer'' which is associated with
a deeper and more versatile kind of learning. It is difficult to
represent such learning in a plan.
The key to ''far transfer'' is creativity. According to Robert
Haskell in his book 'Transfer of Learning' (Academic Press, 2001)
poets and innovators are 'masters of transfer'. Unfortunately,
Haskell's review of the research is short on practical examples.
But what is clear is that learners who are creative and
innovative increase the chances of ''far transfer'' happening.
Don't drop planning (''near transfer'' is important too) but do
try to unlock the creative potential in learners if you want them
to benefit from ''deep learning'' and ''far transfer''. By using
creative reviewing techniques, and by including creative projects
in action plans, learners will be creating new possibilities (far
transfer) and not simply applying lessons from the past (near
Learning is a creative process. So is the transfer of learning -
unless you are simply applying a new routine.
An index of creative reviewing methods will follow in the next
issue, together with some practical ideas about using creativity
in transfer. Meanwhile, feel free to experiment or share your
thoughts and experiences. (See section 5 below).
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~ 4 ~ LINKS: Slow down you're moving too fast
Here are links to two articles about slowing down to reflect:
CARVE OUT THINK TIME ...
''Here's my dilemma: I teach an hour-and-a-half course that meets
twice a week for 15 weeks. How do I get my students to reflect on
their lessons? I make personal, process-oriented reflection a
real priority by setting aside time for it. Ultimately, you have
to slow down to accelerate learning.''
Christine Canabou quoting Sara Beckman at:
THE ART OF GOING SLOW TO GO FAST ...
''The first step in effective conflict engagement is developing
the art of going slow to go fast. When people in conflict rush to
solutions before fully understanding the parameters and causes of
the conflicts they seek to address, they often end up solving the
wrong problems. Instead, conflicting parties need to learn new
frameworks for fully defining and analyzing their conflict before
selecting an intervention strategy.
in The"ARIA" Approach To Conflict Engagement
from The Systems Thinker® Newsletter Vol. 11, No. 10
by Jay Rothman
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~ 5 ~ NEWS: 'ACTIVE REVIEWING EXCHANGE' IS BORN
This is a brand new discussion list for readers of Active
Reviewing Tips. Think of it as the letters page of a printed
journal - but more dynamic and interactive.
''Active Reviewing Exchange is a discussion group for subscribers
to the Active Reviewing Tips newsletter (also hosted at Topica).
This group is for facilitators to exchange ideas stimulated by
the newsletter and to help each other develop ideas and practices
in active learning. The focus is on maximising learning from
experience - using reflection and discussion or more creative and
I know about information overload and the demands on your time if
you join and participate in a discussion list. So I have set up
this new list in a way that I hope appeals to your sense of
1) It is a moderated list. This does slow down the process of
sending and receiving emails but it saves you from receiving spam
or other unwanted emails.
2) For virus protection, it is a text only list that does not
allow email attachments or html coding.
3) For your privacy, your email address is only known to others
if you send them an email.
4) For your time management (and mine) the list will be open for
limited periods only - usually for about 10 days following the
publication of Active Reviewing Tips.
5) For focused discussion, I will be providing facilitation if
needed. I also hope that participants will facilitate. For
example, if you introduce a topic I hope you will also want to
respond to follow-up postings on the same topic.
6) For managing your own (free) subscription, you will find
unsubscribe information at the end of every email, and you can
temporarily suspend your subscription during vacation (or busy
spells) by visiting your subscription page at the Topica website.
You can also opt to receive emails in a daily digest.
7) I have called the discussion list an 'exchange' to encourage
subscribers to be active participants, but silent subscribers are
I hope you will try out this new service and help to make it
work well for you and others.
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~ 6 ~ SITE UPDATE: What's new at http://reviewing.co.uk
Reviewing with Ropes
An easy to print version of the main article in this issue.
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~ 7 ~ QUOTE OF THE MONTH: Each story influences all the others.
''Like these old pocket watches, Systems Thinking helps people
combine stories (the gears) into a comprehensive model. Each
story influences all the others. Each story, if changed, alters
the others. Most importantly, from the person's perspective that
is telling it, each story is sane. Systems Thinking provides a
blameless picture of the whole problem so that it can be solved
as a whole.''
If you want (or can give) advice or ideas about reviewing with ropes, please get in touch.
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