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June 27, 2018

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Experiential Learning: Keeping it R.E.A.L.

March 28, 2018

Earlier this week, Ellen shared a framework for making the most of experiential learning. 


Our introduction to this approach came through David Kolb, but our passion for it has grown through the work of incredible practitioners in the field, like Dr. Jackie Gerstein.  This is because our research and our own experiences in schools and classrooms have confirmed, time and again, that experiential learning improves school culture.  This is especially true when teachers take the time to learn beside their students. 


There are many ways to moving learning beyond the walls of any classroom, and we plan to share more ideas here in the future. Today's conversation focuses on the one dimension of experiential learning that is constant in the best of those experiences: reflection. 


We've learned that when teachers engage their students in sincere, organic, and genuine reflection, each takeaway feels less like a classroom lesson and more like true relationship building. Many teachers value reflection for its ability to boost self-awareness, metacognition, and even the mastery of content and skills. Reflecting on experiential learning has other benefits as well. 


For instance, it helps us see our students, and it helps them see us, too. 


Here's how we keep it R.E.A.L.: 



As students participate in experiential learning activities, it makes sense to pause for a moment before, during, and after each event in order to process what has happened and more importantly, what's most meaningful about it. 


As students share their reflections, we might ask them to reveal their thoughts, feelings, and opinions, making it clear that there are no right or wrong responses but only an open space where everyone can think aloud. Shared reflection helps us come to know one another better. It gives everyone the opportunity to seek and appreciate diverse perspectives, too. 


The questions we ask inside of this space matter. Take care to suspend judgment while asking questions that can deepen empathy and engage diverse perspectives. Here are a few examples:


When were your instincts correct inside of this experience? When did they lead you off course?


Which biases did you bring to this experience? Where did you notice it in others?


When were you most comfortable during this experience? When were you most uncomfortable?


What did you do, in order to comfort others? Or, what could you have done?


What did others do to comfort you? Or, what could they have done?


What made this experience meaningful? What could have made it more meaningful?


Where did you need to speak up?


When did silence make the most sense?


Who was hurting? How did you try to help? Who else's help did you need?


How did you do your best? 


If you were to remain inside of this experience, what would you do next?


Finally, reflect on the whole of this experience yourself. Rather than worrying about covering content alone, lean in and listen hard to the kids who are speaking. Be intentional about your discoveries. Document what you see and hear. Look for trends in that data. 


See your students. Help them see others. 


This is how we design compassionate classrooms. 


If you're interested in exploring experiential learning further or unpacking tools that can be used to keep it R.E..A.L. at home or in the classroom, subscribe to our site (scroll to the bottom of our home page).  Those who do gain access to our freebie folder, where we drop new tools each Sunday. We're sharing experiential learning tools this weekend! Or, come chat with us on Facebook or Twitter. We're @AngelaStockman and @EllenFeigGray there.


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