In Hack 7: Embrace Experiential Instruction, in our book, Hacking School Culture: Designing Compassionate Classrooms, Angela and I discuss how by providing students with opportunities for experiential learning we have the potential to help build empathy and compassion, while at the same time deepening their learning and retention of content. There are many ways to use authentic learning, role playing, simulation, and other ways to learn by doing as part of the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.
In Monday's Book Club post, I talked about the power of observing my son's preference for learning by doing, and education theorist and psychologist's David A. Kolb's view of learning as "a continuous process grounded in experience."
In this post, I'd like to reflect on how experiential learning can build empathy and compassion through reflection.
Reflecting on Reflecting
It is through facilitating reflection on an experience, whether inside or outside of the classroom, that teachers, and also parents, can help students:
Deepen their content learning
Find meaning in their experience
Apply learning across contexts
Strengthen relationships among learners
Build self-understanding, self-empathy, and self-compassion
Enhance their personal development
Build empathy and compassion for others
Inspire positive action for social change
A Rich Example of Experiential Learning
Recently, Angela tagged me on Twitter when she found the following example of experiential learning from Edutopia. The video, "Getting Their Hands Dirty," shows how teachers of a fifth grade class at the Riverside School in Ahmehabad, India used experiential learning to teach citizenship through empathy. This example includes authentic learning, role playing, simulation, and reflecting on the experience.
The goal of the exercise was to learn about social issues by actually experiencing them firsthand. Teachers began by working with their students to identify a problem in their world and to experience it. They selected the issue of child labor in India, and simulated a factory in their classroom where the children were laborers making incense sticks. They tried to make it as authentic as it could be, with dim lighting and cramped conditions, with the children working on the floor. Teachers role-played the strict and critical factory supervisors. For two consecutive days, the child workers rolled incense into sticks for six hour shifts with no breaks. When they finally had a break, they were fed what child laborers are normally fed -- simple chapati bread with onions or chilis.
The children were asked to reflect on their experience at various intervals throughout the simulation. At the beginning, the children expressed excitement at the prospect of having fun, but when the teachers as supervisors demanded the children produce perfect products that people would want to purchase, excitement quickly turned to frustration and sadness. When told by the teachers/supervisors that they couldn't smile and needed to do serious work, the children/workers felt deprived of much needed playtime, and focused on their physical and emotional discomfort of having to sit in one place, working for six hours at a time. They expressed dread at going back to work for the second day.
Through reflective questions at the end of the two days, teachers asked students what they learned from the experience. Students expressed empathy for child laborers, and gratitude and appreciation for what they have. When asked how they might take this experience ahead, the students came up with actions plans to respond to the issue, to raise awareness about child labor and working conditions.
As teachers reflected on the experience, they expressed the view that "to build citizens, you need to provide experiences that grow both heads and hearts." As one teacher said, "When you get content and character together, that's when the change happens."
Tools and Protocols for Experiential Learning and Reflecting on the Experience
In previous blog posts, Angela and I have offered tools and protocols for embracing experiential instruction and for reflection. Reflection can take place at various intervals of the experience, at the beginning, mid-way, and at the end of the activity or experience.
In discussing how parents might help build empathy by facilitating reflection with their children on their authentic learning experiences, such as "Take Your Child to Work Day," or field trips, we have suggested ways for parents and teachers to make the most of experiential education. We also offered a guideline for "Keeping it R.E.A.L." in the classroom and at home:
No matter what the activity, questions that facilitate reflective discussion at every interval of the experience, can provide opportunities to build empathy and deepen learning by prompting reflection about what happened, the "so what" of the experience, or what it meant to the participants, and the "now what" -- how the learning might be applied to other contexts or situations, and how positive action might be inspired by the experience:
Reflecting on the "What"
Questions that encourage students to reflect on and share what happened as they participated in an experiential learning activity experience may include:
What did you observe/notice/see/hear?
How did you feel during the experience? How do you feel now?
What were you thinking?
What was the most memorable part of this experience?
Reflecting on the "So What"
Questions that facilitate reflection on the meaning of the experience to students who participated may include:
What did you learn from this experience?
What new skill/s did you learn as a result of this experience? What skills did you build? How might these skills be important to you?
What was important or meaningful to you about this experience?
How might you have changed your mind/view/way of looking at a situation or problem/your feelings about ___________ as a result of this experience?
Reflecting on the "Now What"
What will you take away from this experience that you might use in the future?
How might you have changed or grown from this experience?
How might you use what you learned from this experience in the classroom when you're at home? In your community? At the playground? The athletic field? At work?
How might you have been inspired by this experience? How might you use what you learned for positive social change or for good? To help others in some way?
Reflecting on Building Empathy and Compassion through Experiential Instruction
As you consider how you might facilitate experiential instruction in your classroom, we invite you to dip into our Supplemental Resources folder for Hacking School Culture Book Club readers. Here, we have provided reflection questions for you, our readers, as well as tools and protocols for you to print and use.
We would love to hear about how you use experiential learning, and how you facilitate reflective conversation with your students. Please feel free to drop us a line, engage with our Compassionate Classrooms Facebook group, and Tweet us @EllenFeigGray and @AngelaStockman.
If you're new to the Hacking School Culture Book Club, please know that you can read at your own pace, in your own time. We are archiving all of the posts for you on our Book Club page.