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Making the Most of ‘Reporting Out’ after Group Work

Have you seen the following scenario take place? Students are engaged in some form of group work in class; think/pair/share, working through an assignment, or simply brainstorming ideas in small groups. The students may start out slowly, but soon they are actively engaged, everyone is sharing their ideas and the class is filled with energy.

Then, it’s time for “reporting out” the learning. Very quickly the energy is sucked from the room. Students don’t pay attention because they are busy thinking of what they will say, there is a lot of repetition, and some students simply tune out.

After observing this in several classes, including my own, I’ve come to realize that as instructors, we often do not give much thought to the debriefing aspect of such activities. Yet this is where important aspects of the activity occur: students compare findings, learn additional insights, and recognize patterns in the concepts at hand. If we keep in mind the importance of reflection in actually learning from our experiences (Dewey, 1938), we recognize that the debriefing time of an active-learning group activity is where the class as a whole has a chance to reflect on their collective ideas and make meaning from the experience.

Here are a few suggestions about how to make debriefing time less about individual reports, and more about deepening the learning and making meaning from the activity.

By viewing the reporting out aspect of a group activity as a distinct, yet vitally important, reflective component, we recognize it requires some thought and planning to fully maximize its benefits.

John Dewey, Experience in Education (New York: Touchstone, 1938).

Bridget Arend is the director of university teaching at the University of Denver’s Office of Teaching and Learning. http://otl.du.edu