As teachers we are creative and innovative, always looking for unique and unusual ways to bring information to our students. We spend sleepless nights pondering how we can present this and that. We often wear ourselves out trying to help those who think differently, who need that unique approach. As yet another approach, I challenge you to use a method developed by gamers called Debriefing. Debriefing comes in two varieties: Debriefing as a macro or micro unit or debriefing in the large and in the small.

Debriefing is using the players or students to determine how the event, presentation, or game could be changed, redesigned, and improved. This is a perfect time to capitalize on the thought processes of students with ADHD, as they are often at their best when challenged to think out of the box. Debriefing is important at the end of every game play. According to Gert Jon Hofstede, the act of debriefing is as important as playing the game itself.

During play, the focus is on the activity, the maneuver, the acquisition, the quest. This is much like any lesson session in the classroom if the students are engaged. However, at the end of the session, students and players move on to whatever comes next. Many times the winner of the game is announced when the game is over, and losers move on. In the classroom, the lecture is over and student minds move on. The teacher or lecturer then creates an exam to determine what the student has learned from the experience.

There is, however, a step between. Debriefing is a period of optimal reinforcement and learning that comes at the end of the game or lecture.

There are simple rules for this debriefing:

  • Everyone has a chance to state an opinion, as we all see things in a different light.
  • No one can criticize another’s point of view, as everyone may not agree on your point of view either.

This is a time when the event can be critically reviewed. It has been shown that this is the time that fine-tunes short-term learning and begins to place knowledge in that reserve, so needed, in long-term capture. 

The process is simple:

  • What have you learned?
  • What do you know now that you did not know at the beginning of this process?
  • How did you like doing this experiment, event, game, or role-play?
  • How would you change it to be more fun?
  • Were things easier to learn?
  • How could this lecture, event, experience have been less boring?
  • What would you like to tell us about your experience? 

Reflect on the game I shared with you last month. The questions  

  • Which way of learning did you like best?
  • What did you think of having to respond in so many ways?

led to a discussion in which the students actually redesigned the content and varied some of the learning responses. Students found some of the words confusing, some of the response areas too similar, and were confused as to how they were supposed to answer.

The students’ creativity came immediately to light. They loved the interactive areas, moving cars down city streets, role-playing traffic scenarios. They were somewhat reticent to respond to the question, What would you do to keep those who were at a party and drinking from driving home? They indicated they wanted to help other players change their answers, and at times felt they knew what to do but questioned whether they could respond as expected when the time came. They were quite candid that some of the key instructional words were too confusing.

Together the students designed new instructional words for the acronym DRIVE that were clearer and had more meaning to them. Their results follow.

D         Demonstrate remained the same as it made sense and could be carried out easily. They loved to role-play. 

R          Reflect became R, Rapid Recall.

R, Reflect did not appear to the students to be significantly different from E, Examine. As a group, the designer, instructor, and players created an additional segment to the game and called it Rapid Recall. The player will identify and describe the meaning of as many road sign, shapes and signals as possible in 2 minutes. 5 points for a successful demonstration  (1/4 point per correct identity). 

The students determined that there was not enough chance to rehearse the road signs and that telling or describing what you would do under two areas was not beneficial. All of these questions or scenarios could be put together. They offered to cut traffic signs from the manual and make flash cards with the sign on one side and its descriptor on the other. Their involvement created initiative they did not have before and created a more interesting and involved section called Rapid Recall.

 I           Instruct  became  I, Illustrate.

Although I used the word Visualize when I asked the student to draw what the situation would look like, using sticker icons, and art material they interpreted Illustrate.  My instructions: Visualize what you would see, was interpreted by them as Illustrate as in drawing. We agreed that this was a better word to use and changed the acronym to I Illustrate, a much more meaningful scenario for the student. My instructions, which I thought were guiding them as to how to perform were obviously superfluous, and they could be more direct with their own interpretations.

V          Visualize

The V, Visualize acronym was retained as the student body determined that moving magnetized cars down printed street plots was actually a very visual representation. They kept all of the directions and activities intact for the I Instruct original acronym but the substitution of the word Visualize was more meaningful.

 E          Examine became E, Explain.

Again my terms and those of the students needed to be fine-tuned. The students said they “got it” when they read stories or scenarios of events and agreed they did have to examine the situation to determine what to do about it, but felt the word explain did the trick.

They liked the process, but clearer instructions were helpful.

Lastly: Get rid of the point system! In playing the game, it was difficult for the students to agree that anyone should not receive full value for his or her attempt, no matter how feeble, insecure, or inadequate the response appeared to the facilitator. This is a strong message as the student who is affected by ADHD is often fragile and in fear of failure. In a trusting situation students with ADHD often will reach out in sensitivity to the feelings of others, even if they can’t see their own shortcomings. Many of the insecure and impulsive students do not want a score, therefore insuring they are okay. Considering that students with ADHD often want to win, verbally show the bravado of being competitive, their underlying feelings are often more fragile and they wanted to get rid of the challenge to win. RESULT: “We learned a lot and had fun—we are all winners!”

This is a perfect example of the impact debriefing in the small can have on a game, activity or other interactive event. Giving the students ownership of changing what has happened, giving them the pride in being honest, and having someone listen to their suggestions and comments. Many youngsters with ADHD do not have the confidence to remark on their feelings as to how they learn, respond or interpret what goes on around them. In this way, the whole class has input, and the student with low self -confidence has a chance to respond.

What did I learn?

  • My terminology sometimes comes from my point of view and needs to be more direct. Keep it simple and to the point.
  • Students when engaged are quite aware of when their needs are met and when they are not.
  • Students can tell you how they understand best, and often how they learn best.
  • When trust is developed and a safe situation supported, candid dialogue can benefit both the student and the instructor.
  • Everyone doesn’t have to win. (This interpretation of what happened by looking at the experience as a whole is macro debriefing.)

Debriefing in the large is the process of stepping back as a teacher, instructor, or facilitator and reflecting on what has happened. Going to other professionals and brainstorming what you learned from your results. I found that I wanted to call Gert and reflect on the honesty of the results that developed during our debriefing session, agreeing with him wholeheartedly that the debrief can essentially be more important than the game itself.

Have a great month and I’ll be back with another teacup of trivia next month.


Reference:  de Caluwe, L, Hofstede, GJ, Peters, V, (2008). Why Do Games Work? In search of the active substance. Klower: NUR