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Doing Reviewing

by Roger Greenaway

It is ten years since I first became convinced of the value of reviewing. And I have spent much of my time since then encouraging or training others to develop their reviewing skills. This article describes some of the experiences which have sustained my commitment to combining adventure and reviewing - especially in work with young people.

[Terminology: In this article, the terms 'reviewing', 'processing' and 'reflection' are used interchangeably to mean "an activity that is used to encourage individuals to reflect, describe, analyze and communicate what they recently experienced."] [1]

Reviewing is an essential feature of experience-based learning, but some outdoor educators are still not convinced of its value. Even those who are convinced of its value, often find that reviewing is the most vulnerable feature of a programme:

"Things are going really well. Let's not spoil it by stopping for a review just now."
"Things aren't going too well. Let's wait until they're a bit happier before we stop for review."
"We've run out of time to do a proper review. Let's start with a review next time."

Next time … there are new priorities, or the experience has 'gone cold' and no-one is interested in going over what happened last time. [2]

Why is it that some adventure educators are more committed to reviewing than others? What is it that makes outdoor enthusiasts enthusiastic about reviewing?

Attitude shift

Conversion to reviewing is unlikely to result simply from being introduced to a toolkit of reviewing techniques. Becoming 'converted' to reviewing might require a major attitude shift which involves taking a substantial step towards a more facilitative style of working. Adventure educators already appreciate the value of experience as a means of precipitating attitude change, and it is through experiencing 'good' reviewing at first hand that they are perhaps most likely to come to appreciate the value of reviewing - and want to do it.

Adding value

I myself became convinced of the value of reviewing by experiencing it as a course participant. Once 'converted', I was keen to try out and develop reviewing methods which added value to experiences in the outdoors. I was especially interested in developing reviewing methods which kept the sense of adventure alive during reviews, and which sustained high levels of involvement throughout the review process. I felt this was consistent with my growing belief that both 'adventure' and 'reviewing' were part of a continuing process of curiosity and exploration. Rather than seeing 'adventure' as exciting, and 'reviewing' as dull, I soon discovered that the whole process could be a highly involving learning experience.

For example, I have just returned from running an activity-based weekend residential event in which (as often happens in my experience) young people singled out a review session as being a highlight of the course. It is my view that reviews can be as challenging or rewarding as any outdoor activity, and that they can add considerable value to the adventure under review.

The consequences of not reviewing

Other outdoor educators have been 'converted' to reviewing through experiencing the consequences of not reviewing (whether as a group leader or as a group member). For example: A teacher taking part in an outdoor personal development course was encouraged to take on responsibility for navigation on a mountain walk, but she made a route-finding mistake. As a result of this error no more offers of responsibility came her way throughout the rest of the course, and she felt less inclined to volunteer or take risks from that point on. None of this was reviewed because it was not part of the course culture to do so. A course which was designed to build confidence and encourage people to take risks was having the exact opposite effect. The leader was unaware of the negative impact of this incident on the woman involved.

Without a review, the leader was unable to learn much about the negative consequences of this event. Without a review, the woman had little chance to gain anything positive from the experience. The only positive outcome was the woman's determination to review experiences when she herself took others into the hills.

Power and responsibility

Any leader who does not review could be providing similarly counter-productive experiences. Adventure education is a powerful medium in which to work. With power comes responsibility: it is precisely because the medium of adventure can be so powerful that adventure educators have a responsibility to find out what kind of impact the experiences are having. And as educators, it makes sense to assist and assess the learning experiences which are aroused by adventure. Through reviewing leaders demonstrate that they …

Crossing thresholds

In adventure education, we frequently invite participants to cross 'thresholds'. We might try to inspire them with stories about how other 'adventurers' have crossed thresholds and have benefited from doing so. We might try to persuade them that if they can overcome a fear in a physical challenge, they might be better able to overcome other challenges in life [3]. Adventure is all about crossing thresholds. But 'reviewing' is a threshold which some adventure leaders are still reluctant to cross.

Some reluctant reviewers may be only a step away from crossing this threshold and becoming enthusiastic reviewers. It is likely that both believe first and foremost in the importance of the quality of the experience. Both are likely to see themselves as educators who wish to provide rich and meaningful experiences to complement (or compensate for) other kinds of educational experience. It is likely that both value doing and experiencing as the most vital elements in the kind of education which they provide.

Different experiences

For many young people the outdoor environment and outdoor activities are different. It is mainly because the experience of the outdoors is so different for many young people that it has such impact. Providers of outdoor experiences frequently go to great lengths to make things as different as possible - plenty of fresh air, staying away from 'civilisation', walking in the dark, camping in strange places, etc. Even working in groups is a new and different experience for many young people.

The reluctant reviewer may think that sitting around talking (especially if it is indoors) is not particularly different, adventurous or stimulating. The reluctant reviewer is likely to favour maximising the time spent doing adventurous things outdoors - believing that the more adventurous the programme, the more impact it is likely to have. The enthusiastic reviewer is likely to hold much the same beliefs, but is more likely to be in touch with what is going on, and will be better placed to adjust and adapt the programme to suit the needs and interests of the learners.

Action-packed programmes

Having an action-packed programme is probably the first mistake if the purpose is to provide adventure education rather than simply to provide adventure. According to John Dewey, "Experience plus Reflection equals Education" [4]. It follows from this that experience without reflection does not equal education. Equally, reflection without experience would not equal education. The challenge is to get the balance and relationship right between experience and reflection - if education is to be the outcome.

An 'overdose' of active experience in the outdoors is not in my view an improvement on the 'underdose' of active experience in the 15,000 hours that young people spend at school. When working in the outdoors, and relatively free of timetable constraints, it should be much easier to get the balance right between experience and reflection - such that young people have a taste of learning through adventurous experience, and do not simply experience adventure.

Reviewing sequences

Starting with a programme of activities and then fitting reviewing around the activities is not a promising start for designing a programme of adventure education. Why not start with a programme of reviewing and fit the activities around the review programme? Just as there are natural sequences of activities (say, from icebreakers through to independent expeditions), so there are natural sequences for reviewing. One such sequence is described by Nadler and Luckner in their 'processing curriculum' which they describe as …"the thread that binds and weaves together diverse adventure activities with participants' emotional experiences." [5] This sequence starts with trust building and awareness raising, moves to responsibility and experimentation and ends with transfer of learning.

Keeping in touch

Thinking in terms of reviewing sequences is generally helpful, but can be overdone. One of the main purposes of reviewing is to keep in touch with what participants are thinking and feeling, and that may not happen to correspond with a pre-planned reviewing sequence. In adventure education, the priority for reviewing is surely to find out first of all what kind of adventures young people are experiencing? They may not be the kinds of adventures that were planned, and each individual may be experiencing (and learning) something quite different: "Adventures can happen almost anywhere with almost any activity. What is an adventure, and what sort of adventure it is, depends very much on the perception and previous experience of the 'adventurer'." [6]

Unexpected outcomes

Reviewing provides the opportunity for checking on what kinds of adventures are happening. For example: On a one week course for apprentices, the overnight solo was generally seen as the biggest challenge of the course. The apprentice least affected by the experience was the one who had spent much of the previous week sleeping out in a bus shelter because of problems at home. This was not revealed until the review.

On another course, a young trainee did not believe the positive things that others in the group were saying about him: His self-esteem was so low that he thought at first that they were being sarcastic. It took two further review sessions for him to accept that they were telling the truth. He had been blocking out the positive learning from adventurous experiences. However 'good' or 'big' the adventure experiences, it was in the review sessions that he eventually succeeded in overcoming this personal barrier. For this young participant, it was the review which provided the biggest challenge and the most significant learning.

In both of these examples, the reviewing process revealed to the leader that the programme was not working as planned: in the first example, an apparently 'big' adventure turned out to have little significance; and in the second example above, an apparently 'positive' sequence of adventures turned out to have been reinforcing a negative self-image. Through reviewing, the leader was able to find out what was happening, respond appropriately and bring about more positive and worthwhile outcomes.

Learning from experience

It often happens that a reviewing technique will add value to the adventurous experience for those taking part, while also providing information to the leader which helps him or her to evaluate the impact of the experience. Reviewing allows the leader to evaluate the success of a programme in progress while it is still possible to make changes, but the main function of reviewing is to enable participants to learn from their experiences. Improving young people's ability to learn from experience is arguably the most sustainable and dynamic outcome which adventure education can provide.

What did you learn?

The sleepiest and least productive reviews are those where the leader is exclusively concerned with evaluation. Starting a review by asking "What did you learn?" is not likely to turn into a memorable review session. Adventure experiences are valuable because they provide challenge and arouse feelings: they rarely provide ready-made lessons. Following an adventurous experience, participants are more likely to benefit if the review sequence allows them to express and sort out their thoughts and feelings. At the end of a good review, participants might be expected to respond more intelligently to the question "What did you learn?". At the very least, a good review will have stimulated reflective processes that might otherwise have been brushed aside by the next activity.

A good review helps to transform a powerful experience into an empowering learning process in which personal and social development is more in evidence. Reviewing can both enhance and demonstrate the educational potential of adventure.

1: L. K. Quinsland and A. Van Ginkel (1984), How to Process Experience, The Journal of Experiential Education, 7 (2), p.8-13
2: Roger Greenaway (1990), More Than Activities, Save the Children Fund, p.44
3: Stephen Bacon (1983), The Conscious Use of Metaphor in Outward Bound, Colorado Outward Bound School, USA.
4: John Dewey (1938), Experience and Education, New York, Macmillan: Reldan Nadler and John Luckner (1990), Processing the Experience, Theory and Practice, (Northern Illinois University), p.36
6: More Than Activities (see 2 above) p.60


Copyright 1992 Roger Greenaway
This article was the first in a series of three articles published in the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Leadership (1992-1993). This (slightly revised) version was published on the internet (1997) with permission from Chris Loynes, the editor.
  1. Doing Reviewing (link to the top of this article)
  2. Reviewing by Doing
  3. Reviewing Adventure Activities


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