Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing (2)


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

  Active Reviewing Tips 15.1


Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing (part 2)

~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Newish look and feel
~ 2 ~ ARTICLE: Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing (part 2)
~ 3 ~ RESOURCES: Active Reviewing articles in other languages
~ 5 ~ ARCHIVE: How Balanced are your Questions?
~ 6 ~ EVENTS: Reviewing Skills Training and other providers
~ 8 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

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~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: New look and feel

I hope you like this new look for Active Reviewing Tips. You can now click as well as scroll - as with the archived copies which have always had the convenience of a clickable index.

This email version will not usually be archived until the next issue is published. This 'early peek' also gives you an opportunity to contribute your own ideas or feedback while a topic is still current.

I hope this new format will receive your continued support and will even tempt you to read it more and use it more - and even write in. You may also now feel more inclined to recommend Active Reviewing Tips to others - see the 'forward' link in the very last line of this issue.

And the best of luck with your trap avoidance in 2013!

Roger Greenaway

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~ 2 ~ ARTICLE: Avoiding Common Traps in Reviewing (part 2)

by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

In part two of this article I describe more of the traps awaiting those who facilitate learning in groups. And I provide you with some ideas about how you can avoid these traps in the first place.

1. Apologising for holding a review [For 1-5 see part one in ARTips 14.5]
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
11. Talking too much as a facilitator

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

Trap 6. Keeping the whole group together for every review process

Unintentional message
"I do not trust you (to review without me)."

This is closely related to the previous trap: keeping everyone together helps the facilitator keep control. Staying in the group for every review process risks slipping into a suffocating sameness: once a group pecking order is established it is difficult for those lowest in the pecking order to find their voice. When the same few people dominate the conversation, the least heard voices lose interest and lose confidence in their ability to change the pattern. And even the more frequent speakers may feel uncomfortable with such unequal participation.

Avoid Trap 6 Make it a higher priority to facilitate inclusion and contribution.
  • Mix in time for individual reflection, learning buddy conversations and for small group reflection so that participants are ready to make a higher quality contribution to the whole group process.
  • If you are concerned that subgroups may not use their time well, ensure that you give them suitable review tasks - ideally with a process that is visible and with an output that demonstrates the quality of their independent reviewing.
  • For the design of such processes see my series of articles about design indexed here
Trap 7 Filling up flipcharts
(or asking groups to do so)
Even on those rare occasions when you feel the need to collect lots of information 'filling up flipcharts' is unlikely to be the most inclusive, efficient or dynamic way of doing so.

Unintentional message
"Writing things down is the main learning process here"

The number of flipcharts produced in a review is not an indication of its quality! The subtle and cumulative influences of the flipchart conspire to shape a review into a process that no-one wants. If a participant's words are recorded by the facilitator they feel acknowledged. The corollary is that participants whose words are not recorded are likely to feel less valued. The facilitator senses this (or is told so by the person whose words are not recorded) and starts writing down a much higher proportion of what is said. When the participants sense what you are trying to do, everything slows down so that you have time to do all the recording.

Avoid Trap 7 If you are trying to kick the habit of filling up flipcharts then plan to carry out some of your reviews in a place where there are no flipcharts, whiteboards, blackboards etc.
  • 95% of the reviewing methods described in the 'Active Reviewing Guide' do not need a flipchart.
  • If you need to collect lots of information then use a survey method in which small groups construct the questions, carry out the survey and report on results (without a flipchart!).
Trap 8  Strongly favouring one learning style

Unintentional message
"You needed all your senses, intelligences, resources and learning styles during the activity, but you can switch all but one of these off during the review."

Yes - an invitation to switch off! For example: if everyone sits in the same place doing nothing but listening for most of the review, this favours participants who prefer to learn by sitting and listening for long periods (and occasionally speaking up). But even such people will probably learn more effectively if you encourage a broader variety of learning opportunities during the review.

(Exceptions do happen: a group can get so engaged in a good review discussion that it could be intrusive to introduce a different method simply because you want them to be more 'active' or 'creative'.)

Avoid Trap 8  Make reviewing a holistic process that engages a variety of different senses, intelligences and learning styles. For example:
  • For talking about group dynamics, participants choose, move and arrange objects into patterns that show how the dynamics are changing.
  • For sharing an emotional experience, participants create a rope graph showing their ups and downs. Their 'story-line' serves as an aid for deeper reflection and communication.
  • For examining a critical moment participants re-experience the event by re-enacting it. This typically brings out greater honesty and understanding.
This rationale is described in more detail in a foreword I wrote on 'Why Active and Creative Reviewing' (pdf) and draws on the metaphor of 'broadband' representing enriched multichannel thinking and communication.

Trap 9. Assuming that everyone had much the same experience
(and will all come out of the review with much the same learning)

Unintentional message
"Difference is inconvenient. It would be so much more convenient if individual views or minority views make way for the emerging mainstream version of events."

Some useful learning can happen at a general level. For example, a group might say: "We all experienced the disappointment of running out of time to complete the task, and we all learned that we must manage our time better in future." But underneath this headline could be a whole range of different experiences that point to other factors that are far more significant and critical for group learning, for individual learning, and for better task performance.

Avoid Trap 9: Use methods that bring out the range of experiences and that acknowledge diversity and difference.
  • Discourage generalisations rather than asking for them! Look for exceptions.
  • Use reviewing methods that give everyone a voice.
  • Discourage statements beginning "We think ...". Until everyone has spoken, speaking for others is guesswork.
  • Check that statements made on behalf of others are based on facts, not assumptions.
  • Check that statements about learning are based on evidence.
  • When the evidence for learning is experience-based, check the connections (Are the findings over-generalised? Are people jumping to conclusions?).
  • When 'checking' it is better to prompt others to check ("How confident are you in your conclusion that ...?") rather than making your own direct assessment as the 'checker'.
Trap 10  Welcoming certainty

Unintentional message
"Learning is about creating certainty and agreement. It is not about casting doubt, or looking for holes in arguments, or introducing evidence that does not fit, or creating alternative explanations."

Your job is to generate learning. So whenever learning makes an appearance your instinct is to welcome it. But learning also comes in the form of 'unlearning' (finding flaws in previous learning). And 'unlearning' can be more difficult and more profound and more valuable than 'new learning'. 'Unlearning' is often accompanied by uncertainty. So we should perhaps have an even bigger welcome for uncertainty!

Avoid Trap 10: Unless you are doing fire drill training (or any other kind of training drill), appreciate the value of uncertainty and ambiguity and appreciate the value of mixed endings to a review: there may be greater certainty in some areas and greater uncertainty in others. To ensure the quality of learning:
  • Interrupt assumptions
  • Bring out alternative interpretations
  • Challenge confidence in conclusions
  • Explore ambiguities and other possibilities
  • Ask 'What else?'
  • Consider re-examining the conclusions of a previous review if they now seem unsound and/or too tidy.
While writing this article I learned of the death of Sir Patrick Moore the British astronomer who once gave a lecture entitled "What we don't know". This suggests an interesting strategy for avoiding the certainty trap. I think that 'What don't we know?' could become one of my favourite review questions.

Trap 11  Talking too much as a facilitator

Unintentional message
"I don't value what you have to say."

The facilitator who talks too much may actually prefer that participants speak up more. But this is a situation in which setting a good example as a role model (of someone who speaks a lot) is counterproductive.

Avoid Trap 11  Make it easier for participants to speak up.
  • Ask questions that you cannot possibly answer yourself.
  • Sit out silences if it seems that participants are still thinking about your question.
  • Ask an easier version of the question for which no response is forthcoming.
  • Avoid Trap 6 (always keeping everyone together) and have pairs or small groups prepare their responses (written or verbal or active or creative in any combination)
  • Ask pairs or small groups to discuss what would make it easier for them to speak up.
  • Set up review tasks that enable participants to generate the main stimulus for review discussions - allowing the facilitator to take a more responsive role.
A concluding note
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 by email 

A quick private review
If you prefer to reflect in private, go to the list of 11 traps and jot down the numbers in a rank order that applies to the frequency with which you (or your colleagues) stumble into these traps.

Roger Greenaway
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~ 3 ~ RESOURCES: Active Reviewing articles in other languages

If you or your colleagues prefer to read about active reviewing in another language, help is at hand. Here are your choices:

  • Chinese (simplified): What do Facilitators Do? (2013)
  • Russian: Dynamic Debriefing, Doing Reviewing and The Art of Reviewing (2010)

  • Afrikaans: Ervaringsleer Kook (2008) since translated into English as 'Reviewing Really Rocks' (2011)
  • Chinese: The Power of Reflection (2010)
  • Chinese: Debriefing: Making Sense of Experiences (2006)
  • Danish: Anerkendende Procesøvelser (2010)
  • Dutch: Reviewingtechnieken (2009)
  • Hungarian: Tanitani a Tanithatatlant (2008)
You will find more details of these publications on this webpage

The quality of this service is continually improving. You can test it out by viewing my home page in another language of your choice. The easiest method is to select your language from the 'SELECT LANGUAGE' box you will easily spot near the top left corner.
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Thanks to your purchases, Roger's Active Learning Bookshop has now raised £2,550 for Save the Children. 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.
Thank you :-)

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~ 5 ~ ARCHIVE: How Balanced are your Questions?

[From ARTips issue 1.1 when the text-only format did not allow tables.]

However active or creative your reviewing style, the chances are that you will be asking a lot of questions. And that the chances are also that most of your questions will be 'looking for trouble'
rather than 'looking for success'.

Here is a list of some commonly used questions paired with some success-focused alternatives.

Negative/neutral question Success-focused alternative
What went wrong? What went right?
What are your needs? What are your strengths?
What did you learn?  What did you learn to do better?
What issues shall we put on the agenda? What issues can we now take off the agenda?
How can you improve? What strengths could you make more use of?
What's missing from this group? What are the assets of this group?
What would you do differently next time? What would you do the same next time?
What do you want to achieve? What is your recipe for success?
And what will you now apply that to?

For more questions, for more background and for several pages on the subject of reviewing success, start at the Questions For Success page from where you can readily find several more pages on the subject. 

Success is that important!

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~ 6 ~ EVENTS: Reviewing Skills Training and other providers

The Calendar of Reviewing Skills Training Workshops
This calendar provides details of training workshops I am providing this year in the USA, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Germany and Malaysia. I have some spaces in my calendar between now and the end of March. Please send me an email if you want to fill a space!

If you ever wondered about the value of these workshops, I have just added a quotation on my home page from a client who informed me that: "At a guess the training of 8-10 people that day has lead to the use of your tools to at least 500 people plus!"

The Experiential-CPD Calendar
This calendar lists 'trainer-training' and 'educator-training' events from several UK providers. The events listed here are of interest to facilitators who work indoors or outdoors. This monthly calendar regularly features a 'Thought for the Month' about experiential learning from the editors or from readers. This sister publication has also had a makeover to make it more user-friendly.
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The last issue ARTips 14.5 featured the first part of this month's article about Avoiding Common Reviewing Traps.

Topics in Future Issues will be influenced by questions raised during my training workshops and by questions/suggestions from readers. Most of my writing arises from issues and questions raised by facilitators who are excited by the possibilities and benefits of experiential approaches to learning and development.

One challenge that some facilitators struggle with is trying to convince 'others' that reviewing is a valuable process. Sometimes these 'others' are colleagues whose programme design includes little or no time for reviewing. Sometimes these 'others' are the people you are working with. So a future issue of Active Reviewing Tips (possibly the next one) will offer tips about productive ways in which you can respond when faced with people who lack your own enthusiasm for reviewing.
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~ 8 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

TITLE: Active Reviewing Tips for Dynamic Experiential Learning
ISSN: 1465-8046
EDITOR: Dr. Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
EMAIL: roger@reviewing.co.uk Feedback welcome - especially about this new format.
ARCHIVES: Index of back issues
HOME PAGE: Active Reviewing

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