ACTIVE Reviewing Tips
for dynamic experiential learning


Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing

Roger Greenaway's Active Reviewing Tips ~ ISSN 1465-8046

is no longer published but you can view more back issues in the ARCHIVES

For Roger's blog and other writings please see the Guide to Active Reviewing

Do you recognise the traps awaiting facilitators of learning in groups?
Discover how you can avoid these traps in the first place.

ARTips 14.5 Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing

~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Two Halves

I hear that football is 'a game of two halves'.

Active Reviewing Tips is now also 'a game of two halves'.

You may remember that my last article about reviewing as a 'takeaway' skill stopped after describing just six 'takeaways' with an invitation for you (and other readers)  to add a few more - and maybe reach that round and satisfying number of '10 takeaways'.

I think there may be a few benefits for you and me if I publish my articles in two halves. During half time, we have a bit of a chat about the first half and maybe come up with some great ideas for the second half.

The end result will be ... a much better result. An earlier article about 'Reviewing with Different Ages' was a collaboration with a number of different writers who work with different age groups. I would welcome further collaboration.

I did receive encouraging feedback about the 'takeaway' article (much more than usual) but no extras 'takeaways' have yet been offered.

I then came across a much shorter article I wrote about takeaways last year. I have added it below in section 3. It brings the total number of takeaways to 7. There is still room for more!

When writing this month's article about 'traps' when reviewing in groups, it took me only a few minutes to list 10 common traps (and then a few hours to write about them!). Maybe there are simply more 'traps' than 'takeaways'. You are welcome to suggest extra 'traps'. There are other satisfying numbers beyond 10!

You will find the first half of the 'traps' article below. The second half will appear in the next issue of Active Reviewing Tips. If the final version has more than 10 traps you will know that readers have supplied some extra traps.

When articles are revised or extended, the latest versions can be found in my articles index at: http://reviewing.co.uk/articles

See you again in 2013. May it be a happy and successful year for you (and other readers).

Roger Greenaway

PS If you like this issue, please tell others.
If you can suggest improvements please tell me.
If you tweet, you can now follow @roger_review on Twitter
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~ 2 ~ Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing

by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

In this article I describe some of the many the traps awaiting those who facilitate learning in groups - and I provide some ideas about how you can avoid these traps in the first place.

What kind of trap?

A 'trap' is an attractive looking option that, once taken, has consequences that cause you to regret your choice (while you are busy working out how to escape from it!). Sometimes you do not choose the trap at all: the trap  chooses you if you do not realise that other options exist.

Do you recognise these traps?

1. Apologising for holding a review
2. Asking 'What did you learn?' at the start of a review
3. Speeding: expecting instant thoughtful responses
4. Trivialising: expecting brief answers to big questions
5. Controlling the whole review process, or trying hard to do so
6. Keeping the whole group together for every review process
7. Filling up flipcharts
8. Strongly favouring one learning style
9. Assuming that everyone had much the same experience
10 Welcoming certainty

Each of these traps also conveys unintentional messages that block learning. If you know enough about these traps you can avoid them.

Trap 1  Apologising for holding a review
(and promising that it won't take very long)

Unintentional message:
"This process is not that important. I am sure you would rather be doing something else. I'll not inconvenience you for too long."

Avoid trap 1  Raise Expectations and Commitment
  • Declare or negotiate a purpose for the review that is suitably ambitious.
  • Explain that however pleased or disappointed they are with what happened, there is extra value to be gained by reflecting on the experience.
  • Explain that a good review can easily double or triple the value of the learning that can be gained from an experience.
  • Give an example to support your extravagant claims! (The example could be a reminder of what participants have already learned through reviewing their experiences.)

Trap 2  Asking 'What did you learn?' at the start of a review

Unintentional message
"The learning has already happened - so don't expect to learn anything new in this review."

Just four words ("What did you learn?") transform an opportunity for new learning into a memory test.

Avoid trap 2  Follow a sequence that is designed to generate learning from experience during the review. For example:
  • Start by asking for descriptions of what happened and of what people were doing. (Consider how selective you want these accounts to be, and whether you want participants to focus on particular themes or perspectives.)
  • Ask yourself (or the group) whether visual aids would assist their reflection and communication (eg pictures, diagrams, photos, video or re-enactments of key moments).
  • Encourage participants to look out for different versions of events and experiences. Such curiosity helps to bring out new learning.
  • Notice how much description is 'external' (equivalent to CCTV footage) and how much reveals 'internal' worlds of feelings, reasons, intentions etc. Recognise that a lot of learning will arise from bringing out new information - both external and internal.
If you also want the group to recap what they have already learned, try to do so in a way that does not interfere with their expectations of new learning arising during the review process.

Trap 3  Speeding: expecting instant thoughtful responses

Unintentional message
"Reviewing involves saying the first thing that comes into your head - so we don't give you much time for reflecting, thinking or preparing what you might want to say."

The chances of getting a worthwhile response are even less if you direct your question to an individual, and are less again if the surprised individual rarely speaks up or tends to go along with what has already been said.

Avoid Trap 3  Slow down! Provide the time and the tools for participants to prepare their answers or to choose the question they wish to answer.
  • Give more thinking time: just before a  break, announce the questions you will be asking after the break.
  • Wait until everyone has indicated they are ready to speak: ask everyone to walk around (alone or with a partner) and not sit down again until they have something to say.
  • Give more choice. Write down some of the questions you want to ask, each on separate card. Ask everyone to pick a question they wish to answer. If you want the questions to follow a particular sequence you can number or code the questions in advance.
  • Ask participants to first talk in twos or threes.
  • Ask participants to find a picture or object that helps them to answer the question.
  • Ask participants to find their own personal thinking space or 'magic spot' - indoors or outdoors.
  • Give participants notebooks and well-timed opportunities for using them.

Trap 4  Trivialising: expecting brief answers to big questions
(such as when asking for one picture, one word or one phrase that sums up the group view)

Unintentional message
"Simple, superficial or cliched  responses are OK - just be sure you do not exceed 3 words / 10 seconds / one symbol."

The one word, phrase or item that the group chooses is unlikely to communicate the range and depth of their experiences. Their exceptionally brief answer is unlikely to capture what was special about the experience. (A process that encourages 'groupthink' is even more out of place in a programme about personal growth and development.)

Avoid Trap 4  Find the level of detail that generates clarity and significance without pruning things right down to a single unsatisfactory statement.
  • Ask for 5 or more pictures (not just one) to be presented in a sequence or other pattern.
  • Provide pictures that are rich with possibilities for multiple interpretations (rather than simple pictures that have just one instantly recognisable meaning).
  • Ask the group to make a composite picture, or collage or  chart or map of their experiences and ideas.
  • Ask for several words (not just one).
  • Ask for several phrases (not just one)
These richer forms of expression are more inclusive than the 'one item' approach - they are more inclusive of people and their ideas. Participants choose the level of detail and richness that is most satisfying and significant for themselves.

For more ways of avoiding triviality see 'Getting Beyond Cliches' in Active Reviewing Tips 13.3.

Trap 5  Controlling the whole reviewing process
(or trying hard to do so)

Unintentional message
"You have very little responsibility for your own learning. I will guide you through the whole process. You must trust me even if my controlling ways betray a lack of trust in you."

Avoid Trap 5  Be selective. Decide which aspects to control (such as the time frame or the overall purpose). You can monitor or delegate other aspects rather than controlling them directly.
  • For each review method you have different controls. For example, in some methods you provide all the questions, but in other review methods you control the framework within which questions are generated.
  • If sharing control with participants keep these questions in mind:  Is everyone involved? Is everyone having a say? Are differences being resolved in productive ways? Is anyone so stuck that they need help to get unstuck?
  • The role of the facilitator in learning groups is explored in depth by David Jaques in 'Learning in Groups'  and by John Heron in 'The Complete Facilitator's Handbook' where he provides advice about when to control, when to share control and when to hand over control. I have summarised John Heron's advice here.

Traps 6-10 will follow in the next issue of Active Reviewing Tips.

Hopefully you have gained some fresh insights into some of the traps awaiting facilitators of learning. I hope you have also picked up some useful ideas about how to avoid these traps, and how to avoid giving out messages that are counterproductive. I welcome ideas for additions, changes and improvements. Your comments are welcome: please write to roger@reviewing.co.uk

Roger Greenaway
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~ 3 ~ RESOURCES: An Extra Takeaway

Takeaway Tools

I like to place reviewing tools in the hands of learners. For a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that I like to think of the reviewing tools themselves as 'takeaways'. This is not as generous as it may seem: I do not give away my valuable collection of pictures, nor my ropes, nor my tools for action replay. The real takeaways are the skills or know-how to use the tools. And these rarely depend on having specific resources available.

I do not see 'reviewing' as a magic art that is exclusive to facilitators. 'Reviewing' is a skill that learners already have and can develop further. Learners do not need a hotline to a facilitator every time they want to reflect on their experience. But having instant access to some 'hot tools' could be very useful.

By and large people depend on a very narrow range of skills and tools when it comes to reflecting on their experience. A wise choice from a broader set of reviewing tools can really help people to escape from ruts and routines and accelerate their learning and development. I'll give just one example...

Back to the Future is a reviewing exercise that is based on one simple question: "What do I already have that could help me achieve this goal?" Rather than rushing into making a plan, the goal-setter first makes an audit of their own values, skills, qualities, achievements, experiences and knowledge that they already have and that could also help them achieve their goal. The basic question can also be directed outwardly towards considering the support, resources, relationships, offers and networks they already have that could help them achieve their goal.

In Back to the Future, the person temporarily turns their back on a distant picture, word or object representing their goal and considers what they already have that could help them reach that goal. Whenever they identify a helpful factor they step backwards towards their goal. Large steps indicate very helpful factors; small steps indicate slightly helpful factors.

Now, I have always set up Back to the Future as a paired exercise with the traveller's 'coach' asking all the questions. But the other day I was working with an odd-numbered group and I was about to offer to be the partner of the 'leftover' person when I noticed that he was already fully absorbed in the exercise. He had chosen a picture to represent his goal. He had lain down his rope to represent the journey towards his goal. And he was clearly very focused in his thoughts while occasionally taking a step backwards towards his goal. I chose not to disturb him.

I suddenly realised that Back to the Future does not need a partner. And perhaps it does not need a rope or a picture. But in this case the rope and the picture had become vitally important safety features because we were on the roof of a skyscraper! Walking an unmarked route backwards while lost in thought (and without a parachute) would make this a high risk activity on a roof top. But choose a suitable place at home, in the office or a quiet, pleasant spot in nature and it becomes a DIY reviewing tool.

Roger Greenaway

This article was first published in the 'facilitate this!' newsletter which you can find at http://www.facilitatethis.co.uk
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Do ALL your Amazon shopping (not just books) via Roger's Active Learning Bookshop and not only do YOU get a good deal, so do CHILDREN around the world who need our help.

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~ 5 ~ ARCHIVES: ' F L I P C H A R T - F R E E ' R E V I E W I N G

Do you use a flip-chart as a reviewing aid? Do you over-use your flip-chart? What alternatives do you use?

A collective answer to these questions might simply be that the more reviewing methods you know and use, the less dependent you will be on any one particular method or resource (such as a flipchart).

An evaluation of your good and bad flipchart habits may help to wean you away from the trainer's 'comfort zone' beside the easel. Ask yourself - or a colleague, or participants - 'What is Plus, Minus and Interesting about how I use the flipchart as a reviewing aid?'

Such an evaluation could lead in any direction. It might lead you towards investing in the latest high technology visual aids. Or it might lead you 'back to basics' - to low technology (or no technology) communication methods.

A huge variety of communication methods are potentially useful reviewing tools. What matters most is that you choose tools that will help the people you are working with to reflect, express, communicate, analyse, imagine and plan (processes that are found in most learning cycles). Yes, these processes can all be aided by a flipchart - but is the flipchart chosen for the trainer's convenience or is it chosen to optimise reviewing opportunities for participants?

from Active Reviewing Tips 1.3

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In April I will be providing workshops in the USA, Taiwan and Shanghai.

In June I will be presenting workshops at the Metalog® annual learning event in Germany

In August I will be back in Malaysia with Fishcamp Learning

More details are published on my news page at: http://reviewing.co.uk/_news.htm

If you would like to host an open event or arrange for an in-house customised trainer-training programme please get in touch. Write to: roger@reviewing.co.uk

Or view the sample training workshops at http://reviewing.co.uk/trainingworkshops.htm


If you are a provider of facilitation training, please send me
the details if you would like the details included in future
issues of Active Reviewing Tips.

8th February 2013
METALOG® training tools Workshop
METALOG® training tools are multifaceted interaction activities
and learning projects for indoor and outdoor use

12-13th Febraury 2013
Facilitation Fundamentals
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
This 2-day course is dynamic, packed with tools, methods and
techniques and provides insight into the key facilitation

23-24th February 2013
The 7th Lindley Annual Festival of Outdoor Learning
CPD Opportunity for Outdoor Professionals, Teachers, Youth
Workers and Anyone With A General Interest In The Outdoors
Only £70 for the whole weekend - includes 4 workshops, 2 nights
accommodation and meals during the event

26th February 2013
UFA Young Researchers and Evaluators
Train to lead a 3 day programme for young people to develop their
skills in research and evaluation and become confident to lead a
project which evaluates some aspect of your school/organisation.
We use our Young Evaluator’s Toolkit to show how evaluation can
be interactive and even fun! ...

I do not guarantee anything about the quality
(or even the existence of!) events advertised in this message.
You are advised to make your own judgements about quality and
authenticity of any events listed above.

For the full Experiential-CPD Calendar see:

If you are a provider of facilitation training, please send me
the details if you would like the details included in future
issues of Active Reviewing Tips.

If you would like to host an open event or arrange for an in-
house customised trainer-training programme please get in touch.
Write to: <roger@reviewing.co.uk>

Or view the sample training workshops at

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Takeaways for Future Learning is now at: http://bit.ly/TEXXyW

Please let me know what you would like to see in a future issue of Active Reviewing Tips - whether from the above list or on another reviewing topic that matters to you.

If you like this issue, please tell others. If you want to suggest improvements please tell me: roger@reviewing.co.uk

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~ 9 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

EDITOR: Dr. Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
9 Drummond Place Lane STIRLING Scotland UK FK8 2JF
Feedback, recommendations, questions: roger@reviewing.co.uk

ARCHIVES: <http://reviewing.co.uk/ezine1/art001.htm>

The Guide to Active Reviewing is at
<a href="http://reviewing.co.uk/">http://reviewing.co.uk</a>

FROM GUESTBOOK: "I like the way you look at everything and then
return to what is simple, effective and memorable."

COPYRIGHT: Roger Greenaway 2012 Reviewing Skills Training
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