Debriefing as Assessment

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Debriefing as Assessment

by Charles Gleek

Our challenge as educators is to construct meaningful learning experiences for the students we work with. While there is plenty of attention paid to ways in which we can create engaging learning activities, one of the most overlooked aspects of learning is how we include reflection and debriefing on what has been learned.

The intellectual liberty to interrogate a learning experience is unlike all other forms of classroom activity or assessment. Whether it’s a lab experiment, field work, a simulation or game, or even an in-class reading, lecture, or documentary, debriefing assessment allows learners and instructors alike to take stock of what has been understood from the experience, as well as what is to be learned in future lessons.

Debriefing sessions are not afterthought; they are the essential portion of the learning process itself.
Nicholson (2012) makes the case that debriefing activities help students think about not only what was learned, but how their learning can be connected to their prior learning and experiences in their own lives. The key idea here is that structuring a debriefing discussion with learners allows them to sound out their experiences in deep conversation in a supportive social setting. More importantly, debriefing activities are a perfect setting for instructors to seriously assess student learning and achievement without relying on outdated, inaccurate assessments such as quizzes or tests.

So what does debriefing look like?

First and foremost, a purposeful approach to debriefing begins by thoughtfully framing the discussion for learners. Visible Thinking Routines give students the opportunity to organize their thinking after a learning experience. These routines not only ask students to summarize and justify what they have learned, but also to explore new topics and raise additional questions from what occurred during their classroom experience.

Formal, structured debriefing formats such as Thiagarajan’s (2004) Six Phases of Debriefing offer both learners and facilitators to enjoy a meaningful conversation in a supportive social environment. Finally, games are not only engaging ways for students to review and synthesize information, but well-constructed games also incorporate a debriefing component that is essential to meaningful learning. I use all three of these practices in my Global Politics classes, whether its for an in-class reading or for a simulation.

Second, we can use easy to use technological tools to augment, modify, and redefine the way we assess learning. As Starr Sackstein (2014) points out, Google Drive is an essential technological component that all schools should incorporate into their suite of resources for students and teachers alike. This can be as simple and as elegant as using class time for students to write a response to a debriefing prompt in Google Drive, one that will eventually receive feedback using SE2R. Additionally, I use Google Forms to create robust survey instruments for students to reflect on their learning after a simulation. Both tools allow students differentiated, structured ways to articulate their reflection on their learning that goes well beyond an abbreviated classroom discussion.

One final, and additionally overlooked, component of reflection and debriefing is the issue of time. Debriefing sessions are not afterthought; they are the essential portion of the learning process itself.

Activities that take as little as 15 minutes to facilitate can and should generate 30 minutes of discussion and reflection. Class time and class work should be explicitly included in lesson design to allow for students to process their experiences. This may mean long periods of silence so that students can adequately formulate their ideas; and thats the point. Using debriefing as an assessment tool should be constructed in a way that encourages learners to express what they’ve learned in several different ways, as well as an opportunity for classroom facilitators to assess student understanding through detailed and critical conversation.

Barnes, M. (2014, April 1). SE2R feedback forever changes how teachers, students evaluate learning. Retrieved from

Nicholson, S. (2012). Completing the experience: Debriefing in experiential educational games. Proceedings of The 3rd International Conference on Society and Information Technologies, 117-121. Retrieved from

Project Zero. (2014). Visible thinking. Retrieved from

Sackstein, S. (2014, October 17). Why schools need Google drive. Retrieved from

Thiagarajan, S. (2004). Six phases of debriefing. Retrieved from

Dr. Charles Gleek teaches IB Global Politics at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida. Follow Charlie on Twitter @games_frontiers and online at

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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