Open to Outcome [Book Review]

In (arts) education, there are plenty of resources that discuss how art is in itself a method of inquiry and experiential learning (see the work of Jonothan Neelands, Gavin Bolton, Brian Way, and many others). In my last post, I shared how I am also deeply committed to inquiry-based, Socratic models for learning.

Fun fact: the word education comes from the Latin “educe,” meaning to draw out. In its most literal sense, education is the art of drawing out what is already there.

In these Socratic resources, there’s plenty of talk on incorporating reflection and discussion time during and after learning experiences. The question remains however, how do you do this?

That’s exactly what Open to Outcome aims to answer. The authors clearly note the challenges in writing a resource like theirs saying, “Many approaches to experiential learning and facilitation are either too simplistic to be valuable, or too thorough to be easily used by less experienced educators and facilitators.” They offer, as an alternative, a framework called the Five Questions. These questions, and the structures between them, offer a way to debrief learning that maintains integrity with the natural learning cycles that happen in experiential settings.

Before I dive in to the questions themselves, I feel the need to share that one of the main reasons this book appealed to me (and I think will appeal to other educators out there) is that the book gives the theory and research behind why what they do works, but spend the majority of their time focused on how to actually use the model they describe — all in less than 100 pages. I don’t even have the book with my right now (I left it at school), but I still feel comfortable sharing about this book.

The Five Questions model is also founded on three principles from improvisational theatre:

  • Yes, And: Build on what is given. An answer, even one that takes thinking in directions you didn’t expect, can still be a valuable contribution toward learning.
  • Go Big: In other words, give it your all. Active learning means active dedication, both from you as an educator, and from your students. Continually work to be bigger and more dedicated.
  • Total Support: To answer and participate is risky for students (or for actors). Total support says, “Hey, no matter what, we’re here for you, 100%.”

Without further ado, here are the questions:

  • Did you notice…?
  • Why did that happen? (e.g. the thing the facilitator pointed out)
  • Does that happen in life? (elsewhere, etc.)
  • Why does that happen? Why does that really happen?
  • How will you use this?

At first, I thought starting with a yes-or-no question seemed odd. But, the authors point out that a simple “yes” from everyone — even if it takes a few tries — gives participants the same starting point, and a lot of buy-in. From there, each of the questions builds on the last one, slowly ramping up the reflection and learning required to go there. what started as a simple, concrete experience becomes the starting point for noticing patterns and connecting the experience to the participants’ lives. It means being curious not just about the experience or the learning, but the future opportunities for learning and thinking that come after. The book asks teachers and facilitators to deliver on the ideas that guide experiential learning — if you want curiosity in the learning, show curiosity in the questions that follow.

I’ve now used the model in my classroom and after-school programs more times than I can count, with good results every time. The model has kept me committed to what I imagine for education — that it be curious, playful, responsive, and connected to our lives. This isn’t about the philosophy of questions, or why we need reflection — there are other books for that. Quite simply, the book is a way for us to be “open to the outcome” from a learning experience, seeing where the meanings and knowledge will emerge.

You can check out the book here. The publisher, Wood ‘n’ Barnes, is also an excellent source of books on engaged, experiential learning.

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2 comments

  1. How wonderful to find this review of the book I co-wrote with my friend Micah!! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and insights into the 5 questions. I use them often even still!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I use the 5 Questions both as a teacher and a teaching artist. It’s one of my go-to approaches when creating some sort of workshop or event. Superb work!

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