I love running workshops! And one of my favorite strategies to use is something we, at Eduro Learning, call, Solution Focused Progressive Notes.

I recently ran a workshop at UWC in Singapore and we did this activity. One of the teachers asked me to share the directions so she can try it with her class! So here they are:

When it Works:

Whenever you have a challenging topic and you know there may be a number of possible solutions, but you don’t either have the time to address each one, or you want to empower your participants to solve their own problems. It’s especially great when you are a visitor and don’t know the inner workings of the institution so you need local expertise.

You can use this strategy with almost any content and any type of group, but it works best with at least 16 people split into around 4 table groups.

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Purpose:

The purpose of this activity is to ensure that  everyone’s concerns are addressed, so each individual participant feels like their voice has been heard. It also works to get a pulse of the room and see what needs to be followed up with (after the activity is done). And most importantly for participants to see that there are solutions within the room. The vibe is: “we actually have a lot of expertise in this room that can help us move forward,” which usually makes it a very positive experience.

Materials Needed: Big chart paper, sticky notes, pens. Tables to move around to, or wall space to hang the big chart paper (and something to stick it on the wall)

How it Works: Participants are seated at several different tables with sticky notes and one big piece of chart paper.

Facilitator sets the stage that we know there are still some outstanding concerns or issues that haven’t been addressed. We want to make sure we have a chance to talk about all of them, and we know that there is a wide variety of expertise in this room, so we’re going to be doing a 3 part activity.

Part 1: Identify Problems

  1. Individuals write their remaining questions / concerns on a sticky.
  2. Individuals share at their table to see if there are some themes.
  3. Table groups share back the themes that came up from their table.

Part 2: Identify Themes

  1. As a whole group we develop 5 – 10 themes that would fit pretty much everyone’s questions (facilitator notes the number of tables or chart paper as the limit for the number of themes we can come up with).
  2. Facilitator assigns each table one theme.
  3. Each table writes the name of “their” theme on their chart paper.
  4. Each person gets up and puts their sticky on the chart paper that represents their theme.

Part 3: Transition to Solutions

  1. Each group gets assigned a chart paper and has 5 minutes to strategize some solutions or ideas (no more problems). Write the strategies on the chart paper next to the sticky notes (so it’s clear which solutions belong to which problems).
  2. Each group rotates through all chart papers adding (but not repeating) solutions. Usually I start with a 5 minute timer, and drop down as more ideas are added so there is less to be writing on each paper. Note: it takes time to read the solutions that have been written, so it’s important to be mindful of how much information is on each paper.
  3. At the end, individuals go back to their original sticky notes to see the solutions proposed, and then come back to their starting table group and chart paper and see the results of everyone else’s feedback.

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Wrapping Up:

If you have a little bit of time at the end, it’s worth sharing some “aha! moments” from the gallery walk, or even just from their own post-it note solutions. I also usually like to ask if this strategy can be applied in the classroom or another setting that is relevant to them.

If this is something that needs further conversation, it’s also useful to take the big piece of chart paper and document all of the challenges and potential solutions to come back to at a later time. This is a great way to identify how to direct future training as well.

Final Thoughts

I have used this strategy with both teachers and students and it usually works quite well. It’s one of those activities I always have “in my back pocket” when I’m not sure where a conversation is going to take me, as well as one I plan in advance because it works so well! What are your favorite activities to dig deeper into challenging topics- either with students or with adults?

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