I tend to stray from educational strategies that sound like corporate slogans. For the past couple years, I’ve heard educators using the “yes, and…” strategy, and even heard schools building their school missions after it. It intrigued me, but I guess I just wasn’t in the position to put it to the test.
Coming from a theatre background, and even having an improv background, I was very aware of the strategy that many comedians use, that allows the creativity to continue to flow on stage, and disallows the interruption of ideas. I’ve done improv with kids, and for many untrained student improvisers- you shouldn’t be surprised how those scenes usually end up.
I’m reminded of when I was young, my best friend and I used to act out boxing matches- usually ending up with someone getting (pretend) knocked out. This was very much like improv, however, with a dramatic ending. Verbally, we’d call this the “yes, but…” where the wall goes up, the scene is over, and there’s nowhere else to go. If you want to understand this in action, see The Office episode titled “Email Surveillance.” Michael Scott is a horrible improvisor.
So, I was struggling a bit with a group of kids that had wonderful ideas. They wanted to share them. They wanted to be listened to by others. But in our sharing sessions, they just weren’t getting heard. When we would share, instead of building on ideas, we’d get tangled up where students would start offering lists of how other students’ ideas wouldn’t work. I started listening to the students very closely.
It was fascinating. The minute they’d start talking after throwing out that phrase, ideas were clearly crushed. Stopped. Creativity halted. There was only one solution to this: “Yes, and…”
One thing that is clearly a skill, is learning how to listen to other ideas and build on them. I came in the next day, introduced the strategy to the students, and we re-shared our ideas from the day earlier, however, we were only able to use “yes, and…” in response to ideas. It was clearly a struggle for some, but the walls never came up. Creativity did not stop. And the conversation and ideas shared were fantastic. I was amazed. (So- this really works!) A couple students actually thanked me after this class, and I wonder if that wasn’t because- they were heard.
Coincidentally, this video was shared with me today about cooperative learning. It’s a reminder to me that learning how to work collaboratively is a skill. Working with others to build up their ideas, rather than bring them down is a skill that takes time to perfect.
One of my students actually tried to argue with me that “yes, but” has some value. I know that words matter, but there really is no downside to using “yes, and…” So why not use it? Some folks may interpret “yes, but” as a slight or criticism, and you never know who that may be.