Cognitive Learning Experiences as Facilitated in Group Process

Evaluation by John Perkins

1998 John Perkins

Peer Day held in Seattle, Washington on October 1, 1994. Conveners: Re'nice Schweitzer and Helen Livingston.

We agreed on this peer day during our Colloquium in Tiburon, CA. From then until now I have called this "A Peer Day on Peer Days." However, during our stay in Tiburon, we got some expert advice from a more experienced learner who worked with us to construct the official title at the top of this page. Part of my evaluation will be an examination of this change, and a discussion of its value. My intent is to understand the process of creating a valid peer day not to demean any learner or suggest that it was improper to change the name.

I understand that academia has evolved its own way of communicating, but by switching our title to academic style did we lose something in the translation? Was even the translation necessary as I had no difficulty in getting approval for my proposal for an Internet Peer Day entitled "Internet: A Peer Day." The title is not the peer day; the peer day lives in the passions and scholarship of the participating learners. Deans and core faculty can assess the quality of our thinking in the rationale and agenda for the peer day and in our written evaluations.

In 1947 Samuel T. Williamson wrote an essay called "How to Write like a Social Scientist." I apply his rules to our titles in the table on the next page. Williamson became disturbed after editing the writing of a young promising Ph.D. and comments, "after this long preparation for what was to be a life work, it is a mystery why so little attention was given to acquiring use of simple English."1

George Orwell spotted a similar trend in all types of writing and bluntly states, "Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones..."2 I raise an alarm to this mostly to remind myself that, though I am pursuing an academic degree, I still wish to communicate clearly.

To compare the two names, "A Peer Day on Peer Days" takes five words and as many syllables. In contrast, "Cognitive Learning Experiences as Facilitated in Group Process," takes eight words and 20 syllables. I can easily remember the first name because of its brevity and because of the repetition of the words "peer day."3 The self-reflective quality makes it memorable and descriptive of the purpose of the day.

Anyone familiar with Union Institute would understand what we mean by peer day. It suggests that we would spend a day discussing what we wanted from our other 9 peer days, delve some into various formatting possibilities (face-to-face, on-line, formal versus informal structure, etc.) and consider peer-based learning and support groups in other fields.

Table 1: Comparison of Alternative Peer Day Titles
Williamson's Rules A Peer Day on Peer Days Cognitive Learning Experiences as Facilitated in Group Process
Rule 1. Never use a short word when you can think of long one. 5 words; 5 syllables 8 words; 20 syllables
Rule 2. Never Use one word when you can use two or more Peer Day = Peer Day = Cognitive Learning Experiences Facilitated in Group Process
Rule 3. Put one- syllable thought into polysyllabic terms. One-Syllable words polysyllabic words
Rule 4. Put the obvious in terms of the untelligible A peer day: One of 10 days organized independently by and for learners. Little seems to be obvious with this title
Rule 5. Announce what you are going to say before you say it. [Doesn't apply.] [Doesn't apply.]
Rule 6. Defend your style as "scientific." The creation of beginning learners. Created with the help of an experienced learner to make it acceptable.
On the peer day itself we began on time, more or less, and casually considered how to structure our day over coffee. We decided upon this order of business:

The Confusion about the Internet Peer Day

A peer writing experience facilitated by me.

Review of books.

Planning for the Transgendered/Transsexuals Peer Day to be led
by Paula Wolfe (replaced the Internet Peer Day)

The Alcoholics Anonymous Peer Support Model led by Pat Knox

Visit to the UW Bookstore

I discuss our conversation about the Internet peer day in a separate evaluation.

I have been the host of a peer-based writing practice group we call Smokin' Pens Writing Circle for four years. The group meets in my apartment on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. We gather to write. When we started Natalie Goldberg and Peter Elbow5 inspired us, but now we follow our own path. I brought the necessary materials to this peer day so that my Union learners could experience what our writing group experiences. We begin by writing short phrases, words, images, etc., on small cards. We mix the cards, and then draw two out of a bag and read them to everyone. Within 8 to 12 minutes of writing, we each attempt to (a) keep writing without pausing and (b) incorporate the phrases from the drawn cards into our writing. We set an ordinary kitchen timer to alert us to when time has expired.

My peers willingly agreed to try it. In a Smokin' Pens meeting we read what we write, having learned the wisdom of Elbow's suggestion that this process of writing and reading what we write strengthens our confidence, and weakens the power of inner and outer critic.6

Re'nice and Helen, the conveners for this peer day, raised an interesting point about whether a learner could choose not to read. I answered that in our group we required everyone to read, as we find it useful to help them improve their writing.

Re'nice and Helen felt people should always have a choice. I reminded them that our group met the needs of writers; people who joined our group had a desire to write. A basic ground rule always allowing choice might be more relevant and appropriate to emotional or psychological peer support groups. I noted that the choice within the context of our writing group was to join or not, but once having joined a writer accepted our group rule that she or he read. Of course, a writer could always leave the group, as many had chosen to do.

After this discussion I agreed that if any one of the learners present wanted to pass, they could, since, properly speaking, this wasn't a meeting of Smokin' Pens.

We set the timer for 8 minutes and began to write. Some wrote the whole time, some stopped early. Everyone read what they had written. We discussed the value of this type of writing in a variety of therapeutic and educational settings. For example, teachers could use it with students at all levels to promote creativity and better writing skills. In a therapeutic or treatment setting, this exercise, with allowances for people choosing not to read, could be used to help clients express their feelings, or explore different subjects.

From my perspective, the remainder of the day proceeded smoothly. I was particularly fascinated by material Pat Knox discussed in relationship to Alcoholic Anonymous: copies of letters from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson one of AA's founders, and two articles by H. M. Tiebout on surrender in the recovery process. I intend to look up the Tiebout articles on one of my visits to the University of Washington library.

We spent a good amount of time discussing our programs to date including how our committee selection seemed to be going, possible seminars, good resources. Our discussion on how to keep track of our time inspired me to work most that evening drafting a log. I shared it the next day with the group.

I have had a great deal of experience in peer led situations including: study groups, emotional support groups, financial support groups and a three-person business partnership.7 I know that a peer day can accomplish more than getting together to compare notes about our committees and seminars--we can meet and challenge each other to grow and learn. Overall, I feel that we had a very successful peer day; in fact, more by accident than by design we covered a wider range of peer day possibilities than we might have predicted while in Tiburon.


1 Samuel T. Williamson, "How to Write like a Social Scientist," in Harrison Hayford and Howard Vincent, editors, Reader and Writer (Cambridge, Mass.: The Riverside Press, 1954), p. 470.
2 George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," in A Collection of Essays by George Orwell (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1954), p. 167.
3 In rhetoric this is called epanalepsis, or ending a sentence or clause with the same word or phrase which began it. From Arthur Quinn, Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase (Salt Lake City: Gibb M. Smith, 1982), p. 87.
4 Williamson, pp. 471-472.
5 Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Boston: Shambhala, 1986); Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).
6 Elbow, p. 126.
7 Study groups included: Neuro-Linguistic Programming, nuclear arms reduction, pedagogy of the oppressed, dream work and creative writing. Emotional support groups included: co-counseling support for peace activists, peer support group for friends and family of people living with AIDS, and groups exploring alternative healing methods.