Summary:Using the Liberating Structure known as What, So What, Now What? W³, students give feedback to an instructor in term so how the learning is progressing in the classroom. As well, student get a chance to reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of the teachers instructional strategies.
I am fascinated with the concept of Liberating Structures being “simple rules that make it easy to include and unleash everyone” in purposeful, productive work to improve the learning in the classroom (Lipmanowicz & McCandless 2013). Since I had attended a workshop on how to use a variety of liberating structures in various group configurations, I was interested in seeing whether I could apply one of the structures to a classroom setting related to giving feedback to an instructor on their teaching style and other factors in the student experience. In particular, the Liberating Structure known as “What, So What, Now What?” allowed for a collaborative activity for students to look back on the progress of the course and see what adjustments were needed in the teaching/learning approach. This liberating structure would allow students to “reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict” (Liberating Structures website). I felt like using Liberating Structures would offer a new, novel and likely not done before activity for students to engage in reflection on their shared classroom experience with the teacher, with a result of getting everyone involved with coming up with solutions for how to improve the learning experience.
It was really interesting to adapt an activity from what would be more of a corporate/business context to a classroom teaching context. I found that the Liberating Structures material and resources were adaptable enough to be re-designed for a classroom context. I would learn more if I had the opportunity to actually apply this to a real-life classroom situation, but because I have not had that opportunity I could only speculate that this activity would give all students an opportunity to engage in a non-threatening, productive way to discuss what would otherwise be a sensitive issue.
I found that the way that the liberating structure divided up the steps into What, So What, Now What was helpful in breaking down what the students needed to do in a methodical way. It’s definitely not as simple as a “Muddiest Point”, but a great solution for an instructor who wants to be very thorough in getting feedback from everyone in a rigorous manner.
The Liberating Structure known as “Wise Crowds” seeks to “tap the wisdom of the whole group in rapid cycles” (see LS 13 – Wise Crowds). I believe it can be used as a different approach to what Brookfield recommends in his The Skillsful Teacher as the CIQ or Critical Incident Questionnaire (Brookfield 2015, p. 34).
Normally in an anonymous CIQ, students are asked to describe their most engaging, confusing, helpful or surprising moments in the class that week. Their comments are then considered, tabulated and analyzed by instructors, who then respond by adjusting their teaching, lecturing, or assessment instruments for the following week.
I believe the CIQ is an incredibly powerful and sadly underused (at least at my institution) classroom research technique that has many merits. It’s an excellent way to get a snapshot of how students are doing with the learning at any point in the course. The challenge comes when you try to address the issues raised in the CIQ in order to help students better learn. Often you may not have time to address every single question or every confusing concept students raised in the anonymous survey. That’s where the Wise Crowds Liberating Structure comes in.
Rather than have the teacher trying to solve all of the students problems with the learning, she can use the Liberating Structure (LS) known as “Wise Crowds” (Lipmanowicz & McCandless 2013, pg. 217) to allow students to take control of their learning and consult their peers, the Wise Crowds, for answers to their questions. The Wise Crowds LS allows students to “gain more clarity and increase their capacity for self-correction and self-understanding” by consulting the expertise and inventiveness of everyone in a group (p. 217). A spinoff benefit of Wise Crowds is that students grow in supportive relationships and “deepen inquiry and consulting skills”. This is because student alternate in being a “client” and also a “consultant” to others. Here’s how you would structure it and set it up in real time.
Applying Wise Crowds to the Classroom
The following is an adaption to a higher education classroom setting of the “Five Structural Elements – Minimum Specifications for a small Wise Crowds” in Lipmanowicz & McCandless 2013, pg. 217.
Inform students they will be tapping the wisdom of their peers to help them clarify the most confusing aspects of the course experienced this past week. They will also get the opportunity to be consultants to other students with their own specific needs for clarity.
Each student briefly describes his or her challenge and asks their peers for help. Peers are consultants who ask clarifying questions and offer ways for student to be more clear about the concept raised.
How Space is arranged
Students get into groups of 4 or 5 facing each other, adapting the classroom chairs and setup as necessary
How Participation is Distributed
All students allowed to raise their most confusing concept they had last week
All students given equal amount of time to ask for or get help
All students have an equal opportunity to offer help to other students
How Groups are configured
Can either be randomly organized to allow for mix of students, or grouped by team based on the teams that are already set up to work on specific projects
Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
Every student given 5 minutes, broken down as follows: 1 minute to explain most confusing concept, 1 minutes for peers to ask clarifying questions, 2 minutes for advice given by consultants, 1 minute for client to provide feedback to consultants on how useful the advice was.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lipmanowicz, H., & McCandless, K. (2013). The surprising power of liberating structures. New York: Liberating Structures Press.
Liberating Structures content, including the image used in this blog post, is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
“By transforming learning into an engaging, interesting and enjoyable activity for both students and professors, [Liberating Structures] increase the learning capacity of all students and the teaching ability of all professors.”
Adult educators can often be faced with disengaged workers, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas. They will perhaps unthinkingly adopt conventional structures to organize how the students they teach will work together. As an ESL teacher for over 10 years, my experience has been that often the classroom can get very teacher-centric, with the format of discussion being the teacher speaking and the classroom either listening passively or repeating verbatim what the teacher says. More adventurous teachers may choose to do pair work or task-based learning in groups or teams. These efforts often do serve a useful purpose in getting students to talk to each other and practice their English, but done unsystematically and without careful planning it can also lead to a stifling of inclusion and decreased engagement.
The problem is that teachers can use conventional structures that are either overly structured and thereby inhibiting (especially teacher-focused presentations or micro-managed discussions) or the other extreme which is disorganized and poorly structured groupings that fail to engage students in the learning at hand.
What I like about Liberating Structures is that it provides instructors with very specific ways of engaging students in learning, particularly discussion, problem solving, and a host of other activities. In fact it offers 33 liberating structures that are simple and easy to apply. Specifically they are “easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination” and “quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone” (from Introduction to Liberating Structures). The idea is for these liberating structures, once set up in the classroom, to spark creativity and out-of-the-box thinking through structuring the way students interact while at the same time liberating students to discuss content matter freely.
The potential I see for Liberating Structures in terms of the instructor’s role is that it transforms the instructor into not only a facilitator and a guide-by-the-side but truly an empowering force in enhancing classroom dynamics so that individual brilliance and the communal wisdom of the group is unleashed. By adopting and implementing liberating structures in the classroom, the teacher is essentially distributing control to the participants and allowing them to shape the direction of the learning as the lesson unfolds.
For more information on Liberating Structures and for some great resources and videos on how to apply LS in your classroom, visit www.liberatingstructures.com. Also click here for a list of Liberating Structures on .pdf