The Processing Pinnacle: An Educator’s Guide to Better Processing

ISBN: 978-1-885473-63-9
SIZE: 6 x 9
PRICE $24.95

“Processing is an intuitive practice, and the processing pinnacle puts logic and structure to something that is not particularly logical.”

Experiential education focuses mainly on the idea that there are two components to experience: action and reflection.  The Processing Pinnacle offers a theoretical approach to more effective processing, the reflective component of experience.  Offering different points of view from the growing world of experiential education, the authors consider the difficulties of processing and suggest techniques to remove these “roadblocks.”

Utilizing the metaphor of the mountain, the authors demonstrate how and when certain facilitator methods may elicit immediate response and make a lasting impression on the individual, encouraging reflection as a personal response to life experience.  Readers are invited to take a quiz designed to help experiential educators clarify and interpret their processing tendencies.  Easy to implement and conversational in tone, The Processing Pinnacle contains valuable guidance for anyone who teaches experientially.


"The Processing Pinnacle is rooted in professional integrity, heaped with years of shared experiences and rich with an influence which may never be known… until you see the look in the eyes of your students. It’s bound to be a classic, reflecting a depth of best practices and a true understanding of the experiential process."
Michael Swiderski, PhD Book Review Editor, Association for Experiential Education

"This is the best book I have read on improving your performance as a facilitator, trainer and coach. An essential read for anyone looking to improve their processing technique."
Jason Kipps, Business Development Advisor, The Self-Management Group, Former President of The Challenge Course Advisory

"Processing Pinnacle, sharpened my thinking about the theory and practice of processing and experience. I was impressed by the authors’ use of a fresh approach to a time-honored topic in the field."
Clifford E. Knapp, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University

"One of the most useful and straightforward tools I’ve found for understanding and intentionally improving upon processing. I will use it over and over in my trainings."
Chris Cavert, MS, Adventure-Based Activity Educator, International Trainer and Author

"Processing Pinnacle gives the educator a rich abundance of resources and strategies to deepen transference and expand learning."
Reldan S. Nadler, PsyD, Author of the Leaders’ Playbook and Co-Author of Processing the Experience

"The philosophy and methods presented in Processing Pinnacle challenge and empower learners to take responsibility for their learning, creating more authentic and in depth reflection."
Jen Stanchfield, MS, Experiential Educator and Co-Author of A Teachable Moment

"Reading the Processing Pinnacle is like taking part in a conversation. The seasoned facilitator will find a more structured way to use the techniques they already possess, while those who are new to the art of processing will discover that there are many ways to process an experience."
Amy Smallwood, MA, Faculty, Department of Outdoor Leadership, North Greenville University

Excerpt from the Book

"Processing is like broccoli. Sometimes thought of as only a side dish, it usually is the most healthy part of the meal. Serve it too often, however, and people say, 'Oh no! Not broccoli again!'”

Most educators who pick up this book already know what processing is. Classroom teachers, interpretative naturalists, adventure programmers, ropes course facilitators, camp counselors, and other experiential educators do not read about processing to find out what it is; they read about it to become better processors. Still it seems that a short definition of processing is an appropriate introduction to the book. This introduction has three parts. The first defines processing, the second states several reasons that experiential educators process, and the third, with the use of a brief story, summarizes what may be the prevalent attitude toward the art of processing.

What is Processing?
At its most basic, experiential education programs have two overall components. One is the action, and the other is the reflection. Another term for the reflection is processing. Luckner and Nadler define it as “an activity that is structured to encourage individuals to plan, reflect, describe, analyze, and communicate about experiences.”1 Sugerman, Doherty, Garvey, and Gass say about the same thing by defining processing as “a cognitive activity where people recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over, and evaluate it.”2 Both of these definitions capture the key point that processing is a facilitator’s decision not to leave reflection to chance. As Joplin puts it, processing makes sure that the action components of an experience do not go unquestioned, unrealized, unintegrated, or unorganized.3 In other words, processing is a planned activity designed to give meaning to the action.
According to Chinese Tao thinking, action and reflection cannot exist without each other. The action, or yang component, of an experience connotes movement leading to change. Something exciting occurs, and the energy of this excitement moves people in new directions. Conversely the reflection, or yin component, of an experience connotes meaning.4 Reflection organizes and interprets the action so that any change that occurs is understood and appreciated. Without reflection, the positive aspects of the action are either fleeting or out of control. Without action, reflection is intellectual posturing without real-world implications.
Clifford Knapp, in his book Lasting Lessons, points out that the word processing has a number of synonyms, terms such as debriefing, critiquing, closure, elaboration, bridging, reviewing, and analyzing.5 In experiential education jargon, however, debriefing and reviewing are the two terms other than processing to show up on a regular basis. Sometimes, debriefing is used as an exact synonym for processing. At other times, it is used as a subcategory of processing, referring only to the processing that occurs after the action component. This is in contrast to processing that might occur before or during the action. Processing, debriefing, reviewing—all are equally descriptive terms for reflective practice. This book generally sticks with the word processing, but only for the sake of consistency.

Why Process?
The most common reason for processing is to make clear to all participants the lessons of a specific activity. Some lessons are self-evident to 80% of the participants, and processing reveals those lessons to the 20% who did not discern them on their own. Other lessons of an action are subtle, and just about all of the participants need a processing session to appreciate the implications. In these instances, processing brings to light the less obvious lessons of an experience.
There are many other valid reasons for processing. Some of the primary reasons to process include:
• Making sure all participants understand the lessons of the action component of the experience.
• Teaching participants about the importance of reflection and teaching them how to process.
• Allowing participants to express both their positive and negative feelings.
• Helping participants to clarify their thoughts by putting those thoughts into words.
• Analyzing the action. This means breaking down an activity into its component parts to better understand why things happened as they did.
• Synthesizing the action. This means trying to take the events of a specific activity and put them in a broader context; i.e., putting the component parts back together following the analysis.
• Helping give the experience permanence. Obviously, some experiences are so dramatic that they will never be forgotten. For other experiences, processing can help to cement the experience in participants’ minds.
• Transferring the lessons of the immediate experience to everyday life.
• Evaluating the experience as to whether it accomplished the stated goals and objectives.
• Promoting the value of experiencing and encouraging participants to fill their lives with a continuous series of educational experiences.
• Bringing closure to an activity.

Table of Contents

Section One Introduction
Chapter 1 A Conversation on Reflection
Chapter 2 What Is Processing?
Chapter 3 Ten Reasons Why Processing Is Difficult
Section Two A Processing Quiz
Chapter 4 A Processing Quiz
Chapter 5 The Processing Matrix and Interpretation of the Quiz
Section Three The Processing Pinnacle
Chapter 6 The Processing Pinnacle
Chapter 7 The Hammer
Chapter 8 The Standard: Developing Better Questions and Answers
Chapter 9 Participant-Directed Processing
Chapter 10 Reaching the Pinnacle
Chapter 11 Conclusion
Appendix A A Few Processing Activities
Appendix B A Facilitator’s Field Guide
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