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When Someone's Contribution In A Group Discussion Completely Transforms Your Thinking...

It can be absolutely liberating to be able to see a subject matter in new light.

We were reading about a water crisis in Uganda and about how the work of a non-profit organisation, Charity:Water's work has been making a difference to the lives of people who used to walk for miles to access water. This was a narrative essay written by Becky Straw, the Water Project manager for Charity Water. In the course of the essay, Straw shares an anecdote in which a few men chuckled when a woman said, “I can shower regularly now.” This anecdote raised different reactions from the group of teens at the Young Writers' Club. While some of us found the men insensitive and their act inappropriate, we got a chance to think again when a teen pointed out the possibility of them feeling cheerful like her, for the relief of having access to water for a regular bath. His point of view forced the rest of us to step back from seeing the situation only from the woman’s eyes but also from the men’s perspective. Perhaps they weren’t mocking at all but also joining in the cheer. Leaving room for another possibility than what it meets our eye right away or the first thought that occurs in our minds, was an interesting outcome of that group discussion. "While that may be true," said one of the teens towards the end, "the timing of that chuckle suggests that they were indeed mocking her." What is true, we wouldn't know unless we are on the ground and probing deeper. But, we are open to multiple possibilities and not prejudiced by a singular notion.

Opening up to new perspectives, helps in thinking differently. Could that help solve problems?

Adam Grant in his book Think Again recounts a group discussion at NASA about a launch. The discussion led to voting as a means to decide if they should go ahead with the launch. The year was 2006, roughly three years after the Columbia Disaster. That disaster is said to have reinforced the need for NASA to develop a stronger learning culture. In 2006, when the decision to make the next launch had to be made, extra caution was to be exercised. The decision was put to vote. There was one outlier, Ellen Ochoa voted against. Previously the outlier had to prove why it wasn't safe for a launch. The 2003 disaster changed the way decisions were made. The rest of the group had to prove to the outlier why it was safe to launch. In the words of Adam Grant, "That meant approaching their expertise with more humility, their decision with more doubt and their analysis with more curiosity about the causes and potential consequences of the problem." Some aspect evidently caused concern for the outlier who chose to vote against the launch. Taking a different approach to prove that the concern wasn't going to be a problem led to better problem solving.

Active listening and freedom to express sans the fear of judgement

The group discussion at NASA talks volumes of the culture that promotes active listening and more importantly provides room for free expression. As Ochoa explains, "It's not just that we are encouraged to speak up. It's our responsibility to speak up." When a group adopts that attitude for any kind of discussion, magic occurs. Even more so in a group of children trying to contribute. When every member feels valued, confidence grows automatically. Imagine this happening continuously over time, children grow in confidence and what's more, they learn to work in teams better.

Collaborative learning

The members of the Young Readers' Club, 8-11 year olds, were busy filling their writer's books, when one of them asked for help in finding a suitable word that would fit into her piece of writing. She was attempting poetry. The others joined in giving her words that they thought would fit in. If anyone thought something wouldn't work, they said so with reason. That led to more thinking and finally she zeroed in on the word that she deemed fit. Later she shared her writing. It was a fine poem and that troublesome spot had an apt word thanks to her peers helping her out. There were smiles on everyone's faces. It feels nice when you get a chance to help someone.

To reach the top, you need to work with others. Otherwise it is going to get lonely up there.

Education systems often tend to be individual focussed and performance assessments are based on what the child writes in the exams. The skills to collaborate, empathise and actively listen to others often don't get focussed on account of several factors. There is magic in collaboration and children adapt to it very quickly when given a chance.

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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-11 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 12-14 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.

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